Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss: All you need to know

Like Christmas, it's never too early to contemplate the opening of the college football season. Vanderbilt opens up 2003 with a serious bang — a Southeastern Conference clash with Eli Manning and the Ole Miss Rebels Saturday. Before you tailgate, prognosticate and situate yourself in the bleachers of Vanderbilt Stadium, here's a survey of everything you need to know (but forgot to ask) about the season opener.

Editor's Note: Information for this report was compiled by Tony Lane and the Vanderbilt Athletic Department

Series history

  • Ole Miss leads 42-32-2 overall, but Vanderbilt leads 24-20-2 at home. The Commodores won the first 19 meetings, sporadically staged from 1894 to 1938. During that span, the Rebels scored just 16 points.
  • These two teams haven't kicked off a season since 1929, a 19-7 VU victory.
  • The last overtime game in which Vanderbilt was involved was a 37-34 win over Ole Miss in Oxford in 1999. The Rebels have had just a bit more OT history since then, losing a seven-OT, 58-56 thriller to Arkansas in 2001, the longest game in NCAA history.
  • In 1910 Ole Miss shut out seven of its eight opponents. The one that got away was Vanderbilt, which beat the Rebels 9-2. That year, the 'Dores were 8-0-1, the only blemish being a scoreless tie with Yale.
  • Two years ago, the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game was moved to December 1 after the 9/11 attacks canceled games for that week.
  • Here's a real indication of how young Bobby Johnson's crew is: The only current Commodores to register offensive stats in that game were Norval McKenzie (1 rush for minus-1 yards), Brandon Smith (1 reception, 3 yards) and Chris Young (1 reception, 2 yards).

Last Year

The Commodores were the in-laws who just couldn't take the hint that they had overstayed their welcome in Oxford last season.

The Rebels produced the first 13 points of the game before Kwane Doster hinted at bigger things to come with a 24-yard TD run. Another Rebel field goal made the halftime score 16-7.

When Eli Manning hit Chris Collins and Mike Espy for consecutive scoring strikes of 70 yards or longer, then tossed a 5-yarder to Vashon Pearson to give the Rebels a 38-17 lead, Vanderbilt seemed on the verge of bowing out quietly.

But the 'Dores displayed a gritty comeback spirit. Doster returned a kickoff 95 yards to set up one score, then quarterback Jay Cutler punched in from the 1 to close the gap to seven. After the Vandy defense held Manning to three-and-out, fullback Matt Tant pounded into the end zone from three yards out. Suddenly it was 38-38, a whole new ball game, with less than seven minutes remaining.

Ole Miss responded with a touchdown drive of its own, but the Black and Gold drove back to the Rebel 27 before Cutler was stripped of the ball with 15 seconds left. Ole Miss gratefully ran out the clock on a 45-38 win.

Despite the outcome, it was a record-setting day for Vandy. Doster set an SEC record with 243 yards on eight kickoff returns. The then-freshman also posted his first 100-yard rushing game; coupled with his returns, Doster accumulated an SEC season-high 344 yards of total offense.

Norval McKenzie also rushed for 101 yards, a career-best. Vandy's 257 rushing yards was the best output against an SEC team since 1994.

Nashville Rebels

Memphis is an Ole Miss hotbed for recruits, so it's no surprise there are 18 Rebels hailing from the Volunteer State. Eight of those 18 grew up within radar range of Nashville: redshirt freshmen QB Ethan Flatt and WR David Dorris from David Lipscomb; sophomore fullback Craig Holcomb from FRA; freshman lineman Terrance Houston from Hillsboro High; freshman placekicker Travis Wolfe from Dickson County High; sophomore QB Johnny Wickham from Clarksville Northeast; senior LB Jamil Northcutt from Tullahoma; and senior LB Tremaine Turner from Springfield High.

Mississippi Commodores

On the flip side, five 'Dores were raised in Mississippi: junior OL Jordan Pettit from Olive Branch; sophomore DE Chris Booker from Brandon; redshirt freshman OL Adam Dossett from McComb; junior WR Chris Young from Batesville; and sophomore LB Marty Morgan from Canton.

Coaching trees

There isn't much overlap between the coaching staffs of Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Of course, Rebel head coach David Cutcliffe spent 17 seasons at Tennessee before arriving in Oxford for the 1998 Independence Bowl and drew several of his assistants from the Volunteer staff. Somehow orange, black and gold rarely mix.

VU strength and conditioning coach John Sisk served with Rebel offensive coordinator/offensive line coach John Latina at Clemson from 1997-98.

VU linebackers coach Warren Belin, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Chuck Dreisbach and Rebel linebackers coach Jim Knowles were all at Cornell in 1991.

Vandy running backs coach Charlie Fisher was a grad assistant at Ole Miss from 1983-84.

Ole Miss wide receivers coach T.D. Woods is a Gallatin, Tenn., native and cut his teeth with the Gallatin High Green Wave in 1995.

Eli Manning vs. Vanderbilt

His older brother, Peyton, used to have fits trying to pass against Vanderbilt's stout defense of the mid-90s, but Eli has prospered. In last year's victory, Eli completed 24-of-41 attempts for 386 yards and two long touchdowns. He also spearheaded a fourth-quarter comeback in 2001, completing 23-of-40 passes for 286 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs as the Rebels won 38-27.

Potential Keys

Obviously, Vanderbilt's young secondary will have its hands full with Manning. The VU defensive front must generate a pass rush to throw everybody's All-American off his game.

However, the Rebels showed little resistance to the Commodores' running game last season. If Justin Geisinger, Brian Kovolisky, Kenan Arkan and the rest of the offensive line stonewall Ole Miss' smallish defensive front, Doster and McKenzie could run all day. A high-scoring affair not far removed from last year's game is a distinct possibility.

North End Zone Facelift

The north end zone of Vanderbilt Stadium has a completely new look. Gone are the aging wooden bleachers that had become somewhat of an eyesore. In their place is an attractive open area that will serve as a food court and family area. Fans are encouraged to head to the north end zone during a game to see the play at field level and enjoy great food. Top Stories