"I just felt like this was a game where we wasted away so many opportunities," head coach Houston Nutt said. "You just can't do that."
Ole Miss' receivers dropped three would-be touchdown receptions. None were worse than Ferbia Allen's, who was wide open in the first quarter from 36 yards out. Bryson Rose had been perfect in his field goal attempts this season, only to botch a rather routine 32-yarder.
Senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, for all his brilliance, threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. His second ended the game, a fourth-down, final-gasp attempt. Masoli finished 19-of-35 for 190 yards and no touchdowns. He was also the team's leading rusher, accounting for 104 yards on 13 carries.
"Way below par," Masoli said of his performance. "That first interception got away from me. You can't have that. It's unacceptable."
A much-maligned defense looked better, if marginally, though the scoreboard would indicate otherwise. But it also surrendered a devastating blow at the most inopportune of times.
After Masoli shimmied and shook his way for an impressive 28-yard touchdown, tying the score at 14 apiece midway through the third quarter, Warren Norman busted through the middle of the defensive front and scampered 80 yards to paydirt.
"That hurt," senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "Momentum and everything was our way, then all of the sudden, the air went out of the ball. We still have to come out and battle, come out and play. But it was unfortunate. We just couldn't get back into it."
Saturday was a perfect storm of ineptitude for a team that simply can't afford to beat itself up. The Rebels aren't remotely good enough to overcome spotty play, especially when faced with a conference opponent, even if the opponent is Vanderbilt.
"We've got to come together, man," sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford said. "We've got to come together. We've got to have confidence in what we do and buy into the scheme. It's been working for three years, man. You've done seen back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins. We've really got to focus in."
Ole Miss stubbed its collective toe far too many times en route to an ugly 1-2 (0-1) start to the season.
The Commodores, as they were supposed to, took advantage of three turnovers. Ole Miss, meanwhile, forced none.
Korvic Neat filled in for injured running back Jeff Scott. He accounted for the Rebels' first touchdown, a 4-yard run just before halftime. But he, too, had his forgettable moment.
The Ole Miss defense held, giving its offense the ball with a chance to knot the score with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. On the very next play, Neat coughed up a fumble. Vanderbilt recovered.
On cue, Commodore quarterback Larry Smith followed with a touchdown run of 15 yards.
"I thought I had it wrapped up, but a defender got his hand on top of the ball," Neat said. "It just came out. Everybody told me to just keep my head up. Live to play another down. It just popped out."
Shackelford was visibly disappointed during postgame interviews, making an open call for his team to step up. He'll need to do his best coaching yet. The Rebels' already slim bowl hopes are on life support after only three games.
"Not more of when we're up, but when we're down. When something bad happens," Shackelford said of what has bothered him the most. "Adversity is going to strike. That's in life, that's in football. But you've got to find a way to come back at it. I feel like we're not throwing that punch after we get punched. After they score a touchdown, we've got to pick it up. That's where we have to come together."
But the clock for coming together is ticking at an ever-rapid rate. Lockett will say as much. He never expected to be in this position, a season on the brink in mid-September with two home losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt.
"It's here now. It's something we've got to battle through and get on top of," he said.