Mustering just enough offense, aided by a stingy Rebel defense, No. 21 Ole Miss topped Vanderbilt 23-7 Saturday in front of over 39,000 fans in attendance.
With the win, the Rebels improved to 3-1 overall for the first time since 2002 and split their first two SEC games for the second straight year.
"There's nothing like a celebrated locker room," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "The guys worked hard throughout the week after a very disappointing week last week. To pull together and stay together, we needed this victory in the worst way.
"It's always tough beating Vanderbilt, if you go back through the history. Y'all know it better than I do. This is always a tough, very close ballgame. We knew that. We knew what to expect from Bobby Johnson's teams. They always play hard. They're sound. They're well-coached, and they're tough, especially at home. This was a good win."
A Tale of Two Halves:
Despite totaling a season high 237 yards and three touchdowns in the win, Saturday was far from perfect for junior quarterback Jevan Snead.
Entering the day, the 6-foot-3, 220 pounder was completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes. That trend didn't end against the Commodores, as Snead tossed three interceptions on 19-of-34 passing.
"Personally, I put the offense in some bad positions," he said. "Still, as an offense, I think we played well. But there were definitely some throws I'd like to have back that hurt our offense. It wasn't anything they did or anybody's fault. I take sole credit for those picks."
While only one of Snead's turnovers turned into points for Vanderbilt, the alarming inconsistency shown in previous games continued.
However, according to offensive coordinator Kent Austin, the positives of his star pupil's performance far outweighed his struggles.
"Jevan made some real good throws on third down," said Austin. "He was very sharp for most of the game. He also made a couple of big runs for us. When you are converting over 50 percent of your third downs, you've got a chance. We were also 4-for-4 in the red zone, which is a good day's work."
Dating back to last season, Snead has completed at least one TD pass in 13 consecutive games, which is three short of Eli Manning's school record.
With his three scores against Vanderbilt, the Stephenville, Texas native has now tossed multiple TDs for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
"I definitely think as an offensive unit, we leave here with some momentum," said Snead. "This game will be a great film to watch. As far as my picks go, I don't think as an offensive it's going to hurt us. Those are just something I'm going to have to watch film and get better at."
Through the first four games of 2009, one constant has been the play of the Ole Miss defense.
Limiting the Commodores to only 240 yards of total offense, 88 in the first half, the unit dominated throughout. Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith was limited to only 69 yards passing, while failing to complete a pass in the first half.
"We started the game off very well and did some good things in the red zone," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "We got several three-and-outs in the first half and were able to rest and give the offense the ball. In the second half, we gave up a couple of big plays, but we still held strong in the red zone except for the one score we gave up. I was pleased."
Led in tackles by linebackers Patrick Trahan (10) and Jonathan Cornell (8), who each recorded or tied career-highs in stops, the conference's fifth-best rushing offense was held to 88 yards on the ground in the first half.
While the Commodores did finish with 171 yards on the ground for the game, the sight of a linebacker corps who had been absent in the early stages of the season was a welcomed sight.
"Our linebackers made a lot of plays tonight," said Nix. "Patrick Trahan had 10 tackles and seemed to be very active, along with the rest of them. Jonathan Cornell, Allen Walker. We were playing without D.T. Shackelford, but we had a nice five-man rotation going there that worked well."
Even better, the "landsharks" stiffened in the red zone, allowing only one score, while intercepting the Commodores final scoring attempt in the middle of the fourth quarter.
"It's pride," junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "We have to be known for something - might as well be in the red zone. Coach Nix shows us what to do and we just have to go out there and do it. I've been pleased with the way we have buckled down in the red zone. On them getting into the red zone, I guess I should have a little concern, but I'm not because everything we did wrong are things we can fix, little things. We had fewer mistakes tonight and will keep having fewer and fewer. If we eliminate some little issues, we have a chance to be dominant."
Tide Rolls In:
With the team's first conference win in hand, Ole Miss enters next weekend's CBS matchup with No. 3 Alabama with a bit of momentum.
Though the Rebel offense has yet to put together a full 60 minutes worth of good football, Nutt is excited about the opportunity facing his squad.
"They're tough. They're one of the best football teams in the country right now, because No. 1, their defense. I don't think anybody's scored very many points on them," Nutt said. "Their defense is very, very good, led by McClain. Their offense is not making any mistakes, and they're scoring points. So, it's going to be a real battle. I'm glad we're playing them at home. Looking forward to it. We're going to watch this film and we're going to get after it this week. It's going to be fun."
Last season, the Rebels scored 17 unanswered points in the second half in Tuscaloosa. However, the comeback bid fell short, as a failed fourth down pass attempt by Snead dropped innocently to the turf late.
Following Saturday's win, Snead admitted the offense still needs improvement. However, after regaining a dose of 2008's late-season momentum in the first half at Dudley Field, he feels the unit is better equipped to take on such a daunting opponent.
"We've just got to come out and execute," he said. "I can't turn the ball over like I did tonight. Like I said, that's solely on my back and I know exactly what I need to do to get better. We just have to come out and execute. Our defense is going to do a great job. We just have to keep them off the field as much as possible. We need to go out and play ball."
Notebook: Streaky Snead
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