Vandy Opponent Preview: at Mississippi

The ‘Dores first road game of the season comes up in week four with a trip to SEC West crossover opponent Mississippi. This trip will be an excellent test of the rebuilt defense, while those who put a lot of stop in letdown style trap games will be interested to note that the game occurs the week after Ole Miss visits Alabama.

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC, Third in SEC West) – Lost 42-3 to #6 TCU in the Peach Bowl.

Series Record: The series between two schools is one of the best when comparing Vandy to any SEC opponent. The ‘Dores are 38-49-2 against the Rebels in a series which was first played in 1894. One of the more interesting facts about the series is that Vandy had a 19 game win streak from 1894-1938, which included a ridiculous 91-0 victory in 1915.

Last Meeting: Vanderbilt took on Mississippi in both teams SEC opener in early September last year and for the ‘Dores the game proved to be a foreshadowing of the season to come. The Rebels handled the Commodores in every conceivable way, pushing the black and gold around on their way to a 41-0 third quarter lead and a 41-3 final score.

Head Coach: Hugh Freeze is entering his fourth year as the Rebels head coach and he has put together a win/loss record of 24-15 (0.615). Freeze engineered a quick turnaround in Oxford, taking a team which had gone 2-10 in Houston Nutt’s last season (2011) and coaching them to a winning record (7-6) a year later. Freeze led Mississippi to an outstanding 9-4 record last fall.

Spring News: The key for Ole Miss over the spring was finding a quarterback to replace the dynamic dual threat that Bo Wallace became over the last two seasons of his Rebels career. Chad Kelly seems like the most likely to step up and fill the void, but his history of acting out and getting in trouble with both the school and the law makes the Clemson transfer a risk. One player who the Rebels need to be at full speed by the fall is wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell was about 80 percent recovered from his horrible injury last fall and looks set to be back by the end of the summer.

Projected Strengths: If Treadwell comes back as expected then the Rebels are going to be loaded at wide receiver. When he went down last year, the offense fell apart with him as he is as pure a match up problem as there is in college football today. Treadwell has dropped 11 pounds during his rehab and is claiming to be faster and more explosive than ever before. If this is true then not only will Treadwell put up huge numbers himself, but he will be drawing double coverage leaving space for the likes of Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and Markell Pack to work in.

The Rebels have one of the best defensive lines in the country and their top four players are going to be a nightmare to block for even the best offensive units. The stand out name is edge rusher Robert Nkemdiche, a former #1 overall recruit, and he is poised for a breakout season. His compliment on the other edge is Marquise Haynes, who had his breakout last year as a freshman with 7.5 sacks. The defensive tackle rotation is deep enough to keep everyone fresh and have this unit performing at a high level.

Projected Weaknesses: The Ole Miss secondary will not be bad this year, but they do have to replace a couple of All-Americans in Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt. The backups, Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard, are more than capable, but you have to assume there will be some growing pains as they move into a unit which was one of the very best in all of college football a year ago. Look for nickel back Tony Conner to continue his outstanding collegiate career as a specialist covering slot receivers.

Running back is an area which may not strike most as a problem seeing as Ole Miss is returning their leading ball carrier from a year ago. The truth is though that Jaylon Walton rushed for a pretty pedestrian 586 yards on the year. This would be fine if Wallace was back again, but the feeling is that Ole Miss will have to rely on their ground game a little more in 2015. With I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson transferring out of the program, the position could be in trouble if Watkins picks up an injury.

Prediction: It is hard to see Vanderbilt winning this game based purely on the strength of the Rebels defense. By this point, a third of the way into the season, both teams should be much more settled under center, but it is one of those contests where a few bad turnovers by either quarterback could definitely skew the game one way or the other. What is certain is that the ‘Dores cannot afford to be blown out by Ole Miss again if they have any chance of winning SEC games later in the fall.

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