COLUMN: Uninspired, But. . . .

A big win on the road in Tuscaloosa resulting in a No. 3 ranking did not give the Ole Miss Rebels cause for slacking off or having a letdown, but they were not at their best against Vanderbilt. Even so, a win in the SEC - any win - is a keeper. The Rebs staved off an upset by beating Vandy 27-16 in a yawner compared to the first three high octane games of the year.

The Rebels avoided the pitfalls of a letdown, but not by much, there were definitely remnants of one, as they escaped from a ho-hum effort and remained undefeated.

But what should anyone expect? After all, this is Vanderbilt, a team that has become a thorn in the Rebs' side for no discernible reason. They just are. And because they are, this was the first time since 2006 - if you can believe it - that Ole Miss has defeated Vanderbilt at home. Yikes. . .

So how does one "weigh" this one, a game predicted to be a blowout, but was anything but that.

Reb Coach Hugh Freeze used terms such as "unprepared" and "off" and "not quite sharp" to describe his team's play, but he was also quick to praise Vandy and the job Derek Mason is doing there.

So before we do much critiquing, let's run out the tired old cliche' - a win is a win is a win - and get that out of the way. It became a cliche' because it is true and no win in the Southeastern Conference can be taken for granted.

As one insider said, "you have to win ugly sometimes in this league, and maybe more than once."

While one is inclined to stop short of calling this one ugly, it certainly fell below the standards of the first three games.

To wit:

* The Rebs' 3rd-down plan, said Freeze, was below par and something he's going to look into. (Ole Miss was a paltry 3-13 on third downs.)

* The Rebs were anemic in short Red Zone situations, unable to move the Dores out of the way until they got extra chances due to Vandy penalties. The push from the OL down deep was not what Rebel coaches were hoping for, for sure.

* In the first three games, explosive plays were the norm on offense. Even though the Rebels gained nearly 500 yards, there wasn't a lot of explosiveness in the output.

* QB Chad Kelly had managed to play three games with one interception, and even it wasn't his fault. Against the Dores, he threw two atrocious passed that were picked off. Even though he was 24-42 for 321 yards - respectable numbers, his performance just didn't seem to have the "umph" Reb fans had become accustomed too in the previous outings.

* The defense buckled down when it needed to, but they didn't seem particularly sharp either. Vandy kept the ball 34:25 minutes and converted 10-22 third downs.

* The Dores didn't give up a sack and the Rebs, who had been very opportunistic in causing turnovers, got zero turnovers on this night.

On the good side, the fun side, the wideouts were superb with Laquon Treadwell leading the way with eight catches for 135 yards, DeMore'ea Stringfellow snagging four for 71 yards and Markell Pack catching six balls.

TE Evan Engram got into the flow as well, catching three ball for 41 yards. He has been missing a little from the attack thus far, but surfaced against a salty Vandy defense.

TB Jaylen Walton went for 138 yards on just 21 carries and scored the game-clinching TD on a short burst with roughly 7 minutes to go in the game.

On defense, Vandy only scored 16 points and that's the only thing that really and truly matters. Also, after one of Kelly's interceptions, the defense was faced with a short field at a critical time in the game and held the Dores to nothing but a field goal try that was missed.

And seldom-used WR Cale Luke, nephew of Matt and son of Tom, blocked a punt that led to a critical score in the tight game.

So here, as we oft say, is the bottom line.

There was a bit of a hangover, there was a bit more of Vandy than the Rebs bargained for, there was a bit of not being prepared as well as Freeze wanted them to be, there was a little bit of a lack of leadership in avoiding said hangover and there was something the Rebels are going to have to get used to with a Top 5 ranking. . . .

. . . they will get everyone's best as the hunted and not the hunter.

The other bottom line?

4-0, baby.

Take it and move on. The Swamp awaits.


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