The Vanderbilt Commodores travel to Oxford, to do battle with the Ole Miss Rebels for the 82nd time since this series began in 1894, a game won by Vanderbilt in Nashville 40-0.
Vanderbilt, the only private school participating in the Southeastern Conference, dominated this series so much in the early days that the Rebels didn't even score until the 1910 game won by the Commodores 9-2. To make matters worse, the Rebels did not win a game in this series for the first 45 years.
The Rebels' first win 14-7 came in 1939 at Memphis, breaking a 19-game winning streak by the Commodores.
Since 1939, the Rebels have dominated Vanderbilt winning 45 games, losing 14 and tying two. The Rebels have won 11 of the last 13 games with Vanderbilt winning last year in Nashville 31-23.
Jay Cutler passed for 314 yards against the Rebels leading the Commodores to their 33rd win over Ole Miss. Overall, the Rebels lead the series 45-33-2.
Vanderbilt enters today's Homecoming game, scheduled for 1:00 P.M. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, with a 2-3 record and 0-2 in SEC play. The Commodores lost their opening game of the season 27-7 to Michigan at the Big House before a crowd of 109,668.
Vanderbilt traveled again the second week to Tuscaloosa and lost a hard fought game to the Crimson Tide 13-10. Arkansas came calling to Nashville in week three and narrowly escaped with a 21-19 victory when Vandy missed a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the game.
The Commodores picked up their first win 38-9 over Tennessee State and last week the Commodores defeated Temple in Nashville 43-14.
Bobby Johnson is in his fifth season as head coach of the Commodores. Johnson came to Vanderbilt from I-AA Furman where he won a National Championship and was named the I-AA National Coach of the Year. Johnson is a 1973 graduate of Clemson and has coached on the college level for 31 years. His 12-year head coaching record is 73-74 with 11-35 of that record being at Vanderbilt.
Johnson is a well-respected coach among coaching circles who is gradually building a pool of talent at Vanderbilt. The Commodores closed the 2005 season with a 28-24 victory over in-state rival Tennesse for their first win over the Vols since 1982. Fifteen of Johnson's 22 starters in Saturday's game will be underclassmen with several being considered for postseason awards. The Commodores utilize their speed, quickness and sound fundamentals to make plays.
Statistically, the Rebels and Commodores have numbers in the same general range. The biggest difference is that Vandy ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 164 yards per game on the ground while the Rebels have had problems stopping the run, allowing almost 204 yards rushing per game through five games.
The Dores average 23 points per game and have scored on 18 of their 57 offensive possessions. The Rebels are averaging just over 12 points and have scored on only 10 of their 56 offensive possessions.
Vanderbilt is giving up almost 17 points per game while the Rebels are allowing 26. Both teams convert third downs in the 30-31% range and both teams are allowing their opponents to convert third downs at a 46% rate.
Offensively, the Commodores present problems for the Rebel defense similar to the problems, Memphis, Missouri and Kentucky presented.
The Commodores have several playmakers including quarterback Chris Nickson who can pass or run, plus he can run the option off the Commodores' spread formations. Earl Bennett is one of the premier young receivers in the SEC and nation.
Managing the offense for Vanderbilt is Ted Cain who is in his 30th year coaching. Cain is a 1974 graduate of Furman and coached on Johnson's staff at Furman before coming to Vanderbilt with Johnson as offensive coordinator. Cain's offensive line averages 306 pounds per man and is led by All-American candidate Brian Stamper. Vanderbilt will likely start four seniors, five juniors and two sophomores Saturday.
KEY VANDERBILT OFFENSIVE PLAYERS:
- QB # 3 Chris Nickson, rSo. 6-1, 200 - 56 of 107 passing, 4int., 633 yards, 6tds, Has rushed 60 times for 236 yards.
- WR # 10 Earl Bennett, So. 6-1. 200 - 23 receptions for 285 yards, 12.4ave, 2tds, Biletnikoff watch list.
- WR # 82 Marlon White, Sr. 6-4, 205 - 7 receptions for 88 yards, 12.6ave and 2tds.
- RB # 22 Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jr., 6-1 225 - 65 carries for 347 yards, 5.3ave, 2td, long run of 43 yards.
- RB # 31 Jared Hawkins, rFr. 5-9, 195 - 18 carries for 174 yards. 9.7ave, 3td, long run of 41 yards.
- FB/TE # 17 Steven Bright, Sr., 6-4, 245 - 13receptions for 185 yards, 14.2ave, 2tds.
- RT # 72 Brian Stamper, Sr., 6-5, 305 - 2005 2nd Team All-SEC, Outland Trophy watch list, 37th start.
Defensively, the Commodores run a 4-3-4 similar to the Rebels. Their junior, middle linebacker is in the mold of Patrick Willis - smart, fast, aggressive and uses his 6-4 height to his advantage.
Bruce Fowler is the Commodores defensive coordinator and is a 1980 graduate of Furman. He is in his 26th year coaching and came to Vanderbilt from Furman with Bobby Johnson. The Commodore defensive front four averages 273 pounds per man, they have good speed and quickness coming off the football. Vanderbilt will probably start three seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and three freshmen, one being a true freshman.
KEY COMMODORE DEFENSIVE PLAYERS:
- MLB # 47 Jonathan Goff, Jr., 6-4, 240 - 35 solo tackles, 10 assist, 45 total, 1 sack, Outstanding player.
- DE # 48 Curtis Gatewood, rJr. 6-3, 245 - 15 solo tackles, 9assist, 24 total, 3 sacks.
- RT # 54 Theo Horrocks, Jr. 6-4, 290 - 18 solo tackles, 5assist, 23 total, 1 sack.
- SLB # 24 Marcus Buggs, rJr. 5-11 232 - 17solo tackles, 3 assist, 20 total, 1 sack, 7 tackles for loss.
- SS # 33 Reshard Langford, rSr., 6-2, 218 - 12 solo tackles, 4assist, 16 total, 2 interceptions.
VANDERBILT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS:
Punter/KO: # 19 Brett Upson, Fr. - 25 punts for 37.8ave, long punt of 69 yards.
Placekicker: # 8 Bryant Hahnfeldt, So. - 12 of 14 PATs, 3 of 5 Fgs, long of 51 yards.
KO Return: # 26 Alex Washington, rFr. - 8 returns for 178 yards, 22.2 ave.
Punt Returners: # 10 Earl Bennett, So - 8 returns for 33 yards, 4.1 ave or
# 26 Alex Washington, rFr. - 2 returns for 29 yards, 14.5 ave.
THOUGHTS: This is a huge game for both teams because both teams need an SEC win. Vanderbilt believes Ole Miss is a winnable game and is favored for the first time in Oxford since 1982. Look for the Commodores to be sky high. The Rebels need to contain Nickson and force some turnovers. Vandy is a plus five in the turnover ratio while the Rebels are a minus three. The Rebels have to run the football and keep Vanderbilt's offense off the field. Brent Schaeffer has to improve his 45% completion percentage.
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