Pregame thoughts

Even though Vanderbilt is 2-0 and has the homefield advantage in the contest with Ole Miss this weekend, from this admittedly Rebel perspective, it's still about "our" improvement.

Call me stupid - many have through the years, but I didn't spend a whole lot of time fretting about Vanderbilt the past two weeks.

The scouting report I know on them wouldn't fill up a photo caption. It would read like this: Jay Cutler, Jay Cutler and more Jay Cutler.

It has nothing to do with lack of respect or an it's-just-Vandy attitude. On the contrary, the Dores may be fielding their best team since George MacIntyre was their coach in the mid 1980s and they have - arguably - the best quarterback in the SEC this year in Cutler, who I swear must be 27 years old as long as he has been there.

No, I didn't bite my nails over Vanderbilt because of another reason - I'm still biting them over the Rebels.

There's an old adage in coaching that states the most improvement is made for a team during a season between the first and second games. That should be doubly true for the Rebels because they had an open week sandwiched in between their first two contests.

But this Ole Miss team still has a boatload of question marks, despite an aggressive approach by the coaching staff to fix what ailed them in the opener with the Tigers.

Before going any further, I feel compelled to make a point. I have never been around a staff that refuses to stand still and take a breath when something is wrong until I "met" these guys. By that I mean they don't let problems fester and they don't give non-performing entities - be it scheme or personnel - a second thought. They see a problem or lack of productivity and they attack it immediately, no hesitation, no second-guessing or procrastination.

Having said that, have they been able to repair an anemic running game? We don't know that yet, even though they have changed some things philosophically, have moved freshman Michael Oher into the starting lineup to beef it up and have switched tailbacks, opting to go with Alan Abrams this week because his cutback style better suits the blocking scheme, in the coaches' opinions.

Has the kicking game improved? Frankly, I didn't see it during the week, and they were given ample opportunity to do so. The coaches tried everything under the sun, including new kickers and a new holder - Rob Park. But in the end, like the running game, it's a wait-and-see proposition.

Are Center Darryl Harris and DT McKinley Boykin, considered two of the Rebs' better players, going to be healthy enough to perform at a high level? Don't know that yet.

Has QB Michael Spurlock settled in with his passing accuracy since missing several open receivers in the Memphis game? In practice he has, but what he does in the game - despite a nice showing against Memphis - is another uncertainty as the game with Nashville's finest approaches.

Is Oher ready for his debut? Have the inexperienced offensive linemen who made their collegiate debuts just two weeks ago made progress since their first game? Are LBs Patrick Willis and Kelvin Robinson - who had no contact during the week - really healthy for what promises to be a good old-fashioned SEC war? Has the punting gotten a bit more consistent? Will the Rebs get pressure from the front four, which they need to do with Cutler, or will they have to manufacture pressure, which is dangerous sometimes against a guy with as much experience as he has? (See Eli his senior year - you didn't want to blitz that joker too much.)

Some will scoff when they read this, but I really do believe Vanderbilt is a formidable opponent - all things considered - even if improvements by the Rebels are evident. I believe we will have to play better than we did against Memphis to win against the Dores. Have they gained that improvement? We shall see.

But I also believe this - the Rebels will win the game if they play the way I know they are capable of playing.

That puts the ball squarely in the Rebs' court. Again, this game is about Ole Miss. Here's hoping we keep it that way and make it an Ole Miss day to remember.

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