OLE MISS PASSING DEFENSE
How Carta-Samuels will hold up against the pressure of SEC defenses remains to be seen. Limiting mistakes and trusting in a defense will be huge keys for the signal caller. Who will step up to contribute opposite senior receiver Jordan Matthews is also a big question for the Vanderbilt offense with the suspension of redshirt junior Chris Boyd.
Senior Jonathan Krause returns after posting nine catches for 69 yards a year ago which was sixth on the team and third amongst the receiving corps. Freshman Jordan Cunningham, junior Trey Wilkins, and redshirt junior Trent Pruitt could also see action. Redshirt sophomores Steven Scheu and Kris Kentera return at tight end after excellent endings to the 2012 season.
Due to injuries to cornerbacks Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson, the Rebels secondary is particularly thin. Sophomore Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins will have to help give some extra depth. Collins had 30 tackles and three interceptions a year ago.
Sophomore Trae Elston and started nine games at the rover position as a freshman and finished fifth on the team with 61 tackles. At free safety Cody Prewitt returns after a great sophomore season that saw him at second on the team with 80 tackles, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
OLE MISS RUSHING DEFENSE
One of the main problems over the course of James Franklin's first two seasons was depth and experience on the offensive line in the early parts of the season. As time went on they continued to improve steadily throughout the year. The Commodores are enjoying their deepest and most talented offensive line in Franklin's tenure with a stable of huge redshirt freshmen including Andrew Jelks, Barrett Gouger, and Blake Fromang looking for an opportunity to contribute. Vanderbilt should not have to wait until the fourth or fifth game of the season for the offensive line to be firing on all cylinders.
Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson led the team with 6½ sacks and added 55 tackles including eight for a loss. True freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche will start opposite Johnson. Nkemdiche was the consensus No.1 prospect in the country and brother of linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. Junior Bryon Bennett has 14 career starts on the defensive line and will start at defensive tackle. Sophomore Woodrow Hamilton will also get his first start after great spring and fall camps.
Senior middle linebacker Mike Marry was third on the team with 78 tackles, including 10½ for a loss, and 2½ sacks. Denzel Nkemdiche led the team with 82 tackles, including a team high 13 for a loss, with three sacks, three interceptions, five passes defended, and four forced fumbles after starting every game as a true freshman. Junior Keith Lewis played in every game in 2012 and started twice posting 22 tackles.
VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE
Quarterback Bo Wallace led the team with eight rushing touchdowns.
The Rebels return four starters on the offensive line but are very thing after that and could see true freshman Austin Golson and Laremy Tunsil. Sophomore right guard Justin Bell played in six games a season ago and get his first start against the Commodores.
The Commodore defensive line is stacked to the brim with senior Jared Morse, redshirt junior Vince Taylor and junior Barron Dixon in the rotation with redshirt freshman Adam Butler, and Ladarius Banks. At senior defensive end Walker May and redshirt junior Kyle Woestmann return to the rotation with sophomore pass rushing specialist Caleb Azibuke. As a true freshman, Azibuke was third on the team with four sacks with 21 tackles.
The linebacker corps will be headed by senior middle linebacker Chase Garnham who was second on the team with 84 tackles, including 12½ for a loss and 7 sacks a year ago. Backing up Garnham is sophomore Jake Sealand who saw action as a freshman in eight games adding 24 tackles.
Outside linebacker Karl Butler returns for his final season after posting 51 tackles with 11½ tackles for a loss. Opposite Butler is sophomore Darreon Herring who will look to increase his role after an outstanding freshman season with 33 tackles, two forced fumbles, and an interception returned for 40 yards. The 'Dores have more depth at outside linebacker where Larry Franklin saw action in 13 of 14 games a year ago.
VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE
After holding opponents to 191.8 passing yards per game in 2012, Vanderbilt's defensive backfield should be one of its strengths going into the opener. The Commodores were 14th in pass defense and sixth in pass efficiency defense. Senior Kenny Ladler was first on the team with 90 tackles and two interceptions and returns at free safety. At strong safety Javon Marshall had a strong leadership role in 2012 and was third on the team with 83 tackles.
At cornerback Andre Hal returns after earning All-SEC honors and has been named an All-American and Jim Thorpe Award candidate after posting 48 tackles and a team-high 14 passes defended a year ago. Senior cornerback Steven Clarke has seen action in 34 games over the last three seasons adding valuable experience in place of Trey Wilson.
Brian Kimbrow will return kicks after averaging 22.1 yards per return. Andre Hal also has experience returning kicks averaging 23.4 yards per return. Jonathan Krause was fourth in the SEC averaging 11.2 yards per punt return, while bringing two back for scores.
Senior placekicker Andrew Ritter has not attempted a field goal in his college career but will be relied on by the Rebels. Over his collegiate career senior punter Tyler Campbell averaged 43.6 yards per punt. Campbell is back after redshirting his 2012 season and has ranked as one of the top two punters in the SEC in two of his three seasons.
Sophomore Jaylen Walton was fourth in the SEC averaging 24.7 yards per kick return and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score against Texas.
As evidenced by their second half collapse against Vanderbilt last season, the Rebels have been working hard to get the depth needed to compete in the SEC. Ole Miss has plenty of excitement surrounding its program and reaped the rewards with a stellar recruiting class. The Rebels are fielding a relatively young team with multiple true freshman and sophomore expected to see the field. Head coach Hugh Freeze has voiced his concerns regarding depth issues in the secondary and on the offensive line. There may be growing pains for some as they adjust the college level. Ole Miss will be looking for revenge after blowing a 23-6 second half lead and there is expected to be a large contingent of Rebel faithful making to the trip to see the opener.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 30, Ole Miss 16.