Head-to-Head: Inside Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss

Vanderbilt faces the 1-4 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday. Howell Peiser gives us an in-depth look at the game matchups and provides us with a prediction on the game score.

Vanderbilt Vs. Ole Miss

Game 6

Saturday, 07-October-2006—1:00 PM CDT


Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio


For those living in the western part of Tennessee, Ole Miss          games can be heard on WHBQ 560-AM out of Memphis and WZCT 99.3-FM out of Lexington.  WHBQ's signal is quite strong during the daytime hours.  In fact, it has been known to drown out Nashville's WNSR 560-AM as close as Bellevue.           


TV: No live TV, but it is scheduled to be shown Sunday at 1 PM CDT on CSS (Channel 27 on Nashville Comcast Cable)


Getting There


There are three main routes to get from Nashville to Oxford; each has its advantages and disadvantages.


1. The quickest route:  This way will get you there the quickest, but it is a boring drive that puts you into heavy traffic in Memphis.  If you just want to get there quickly with no frills, this is your best bet.


 Take I-40 to Memphis.  Take I-240 following signs for Jackson, Mississippi.  I-240 loops south of downtown Memphis and becomes I-55.  Follow all signs for Jackson, Mississippi.  After entering Mississippi, stay on I-55 until exit 243 (State Highway 6/US 278).  Follow signage for Oxford (there may also be a sign for The University of Mississippi).  Follow State Highway 6 into Oxford and the Ole Miss campus.  Turn left at Coliseum Drive.  The stadium is to your right accessible from the first street on the right (Hill Brothers Dr.)


2. Bypassing Memphis via Jackson, TN:  This is a direct route that takes a little longer but has some scenic sights once you leave the interstate.  If you choose to take Highway 100 instead of I-40, it is quite beautiful early in the morning.  The problem with this route is when you get behind a farm truck heading to market at 35 MPH.


Take I-40 to Jackson, TN.  Leave I-40 at exit 87 (US Hwy. 70) and follow it southwest into Jackson.  Stay on US 70 as it becomes Chester St. and then head south on US 45.  Follow US 45 south to State Hwy 18.  Turn onto Hwy 18 when it veers off from US 45.  Cross Hwy 100 (if you took Hwy 100 from Belle Meade, turn south onto Hwy. 18 here).  Pass through Bolivar and US 64, staying on Hwy. 18.  You will enter Mississippi, and the highway name will change to State Highway 7.  Continue on Hwy. 7 through Holly Springs to Oxford.  Head West on State Hwy. 6/US 278 in Oxford until you come to the Ole Miss campus (it will be on the right side of the highway).  Turn right onto Coliseum Drive.


3. The Most Scenic Route: Taking the Natchez Trace Parkway is by far the most scenic route.  If you leave early enough, you can stop in one of several roadside picnic areas and also hike on parts of the original Natchez Trace.  There's lots of wildlife.  The last time I biked on the Parkway, two bobcats ran across my path.


Take Highway 100 past The Loveless Café and enter the Natchez Trace Parkway (obey the speed limits if you want to avoid an expensive federal speeding ticket).

Follow the Parkway into Alabama and Mississippi.  Leave the Parkway at the State Highway 6 exit ramp.  Turn right onto Hwy 6 (US 278) and follow it west to Oxford.  Turn right on Coliseum Drive.


The Statistics


Vanderbilt 0-2 in the SEC, 2-3 Overall

Ole Miss 0-2 in the SEC, 1-4 overall


This is the 81st game in the series.  Ole Miss leads the series 45 to 33 with two ties.   In Oxford, the Rebels lead the series 21 to three; Vanderbilt last won in Oxford in 1999 by a score of 37-34 in overtime.  The two teams have also played this game at Memphis's Crump Stadium eight times, with Vandy winning five of those contests. 


One of those Commodore wins in Memphis came on October 12, 1951.  Ole Miss entered this game undefeated at 3-0 with a devastating offensive attack out of the split-t offense.  They had two exceptional passers in the starting backfield.  Besides quarterback Jimmy Lear, the Rebels had a halfback who could sting defenses with the pass.  The big gainer for split-t teams was the double option.  Unlike today's option offenses, the hope of this offense was to pitch the ball to the trailing halfback.  When Rebel halfback Lea Paslay received that pitch, he was just as liable to pull up and throw the long pass.


Vanderbilt sported a 2-1 record coming off an upset win over Alabama. 

This was a Commodore team similar to last year's black and gold.  It proved back then that having the best quarterback in the nation can turn a so-so team into a contender for a bowl bid (and outperform two quarterbacks).  In 1951, the Commodores had the best passer in college football in senior Bill Wade.  Wade would prove that statement when he was the first selection in the 1952 NFL Draft.


On this day, Wade would guide Coach Bill Edwards' pro-style T offense to one of the most memorable come-from-behind wins in Vanderbilt history. 


The Commodores grabbed the early lead when Dick Foster ran in from the four and then converted the point after.  Vandy held onto that 7-0 lead through halftime.


Ole Miss began to run the ball for large chunks of real estate in the third quarter, mixing in some long gaining pass plays.  Both Lear and halfback Paslay completed long passes in the third quarter, and the Rebels scored two touchdowns to take a 13-7 lead with 15 minutes to go.


When Ole Miss opened the final period with a touchdown pass from Lear to end Bud Slay, the Rebels looked to have the game clinched with a 20-7 lead.  It began to look like the game would be a slaughter when the Johnnie Rebs marched deep inside Vanderbilt territory looking to go up by 20 points. 


That's when things started to change.  Slay caught another long pass from Lear around the Commodore 25 yard line and attempted to fake Commodore defender Wimpy Golden in order to race to the goal line.  Instead, Slay ended up faking his arms and not Golden.  When he spun around to break free, he forgot to bring the football with him.  Golden pounced on the ball at the 21, and Vanderbilt was on its way.


Wade drove the Commodores 27 yards to the Vandy 48.  Then, he dropped back and spotted back Roy Duncan open deep.  Duncan had split the seam between two Rebel defenders, and that was all that Wade needed.  He dropped a bomb right in Duncan's hands, and Duncan strolled into the end zone for the touchdown.  The point after made it 20-14 Ole Miss with 12:21 to go in the game.


On the following possession, Ole Miss punter Will Dillard shanked a 13-yard punt that gave the Commodores the ball just shy of midfield.  Wade fired a couple of quick tosses to end Ben Roderick to move deep into Ole Miss territory, but the drive stalled at the Rebel 17.  On fourth down and four, Wade dropped back to pass for the first down, but he faced a blitz.  He narrowly avoided getting sacked twice and scrambled free into open field.  He passed the first down stick and kept going.  When he got a fantastic block by back Malcolm Cook, it left no Rebel in his wake.  When the point after was good, the Commodores led 21-20 with 8:14 to go.


Ole Miss didn't keep the ball long on the next series.  Freshman defender John Hall forced a fumble with a hard hit and the ball was recovered on Ole Miss's side of the field by teammate Bob Hines. 


Wade completed a short pass to Duncan who turned it into a long gainer.  He was finally brought down at the Rebel two.  On the next play, Foster dove into the end zone.  The point after was wide, leaving the game in doubt at 27-20 Commodores with 6:22 still to play.


Ole Miss launched a final effort to go for the tie (no two-point conversions until 1958).  Lear passed the Rebels into Commodore territory with a minute to go.  He dropped back again with intentions of throwing long.  Hines got a hand on the ball and batted it high into the air.  Commodore Bob Farris caught the dying quail at the Vandy 33 and had open field in front of him.  He moved by the one Rebel who could stop him and was on his way.  67 yards later, the Commodores scored their fourth touchdown in 12 minutes.  Foster booted the extra point and Vandy won 34-20.



The Matchups


When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball


It's plainly obvious that Vanderbilt absolutely must succeed with the run if they are to have a chance to win any game this year.  The first two games, they couldn't move the ball on the ground, and they couldn't score.  Michigan and Alabama held them to a combined 122 yards on 49 carries (<2.5 avg), and the black and gold scored just seven and 10 points.  The running game began to get untracked early against Arkansas.   Although the Commodores lost, they began to show signs of life on the attack side, rushing for 240 yards on 39 rushes (6.2 avg).  In the two wins, Vandy rushed for 458 yards on 68 attempts (6.7 avg).  As the running game improves, so does the number on the scoreboard.


Ole Miss has an above-average defensive front seven, but they are not in the same league with Michigan or Alabama.  They are marginally better than Arkansas.  The key to gaining yardage against the Rebels is to prevent the linebackers from making great plays.  Patrick Willis is capable of making 15-20 stops and ruining Vandy's offensive game plan.  Since the Commodores don't employ a lead blocking fullback, they will have to keep the Rebel linebackers off guard by use of the short pass into the hook and flat zones.


Look for Cassen Jackson-Garrison to carry the ball 20 times this week.  Jared Hawkins will see limited action, while Gaston Miller may only be in the game for a play or two if CJG stays healthy.  Jackson-Garrison needs to gain 85 yards on 20 carries if the Commodores are to outscore the Rebels.  Chris Nickson needs to use the spread option play to keep Willis getting a quick jump on pursuit.  If Nickson can run the counter off the fake to CJG and get five yards or more just a couple of times in the first half, it ought to encourage the linebackers to stay home a fraction of a second longer.  It can mean the difference of two yards on all perimeter runs.    


When Ole Miss Runs The Ball


This is the mirror image of Vandy's offensive composition; not only do the Rebels have a new scrambling quarterback who has struggled with his throws in the first five games, they have an all-purpose back with a hyphenised last name.  Ole Miss must succeed with the running of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  In fact, the Rebels need Green-Ellis to succeed more than Vandy needs CJG to succeed.  Ole Miss can still be shut down if he rushes for 135 yards, as he did last week in a 14-9 loss to Georgia.  Holding him to 80 yards or less is the key to stopping the cardinal and navy offense.  Missouri held him to 69 yards on 16 carries, and Ole Miss scored just seven points.  Wake Forest held him to 54 yards, and the Rebels scored just a field goal.  Of course, neither team really stopped him; they just forced Ole Miss to pass the ball by jamming the running lanes.  Once Ole Miss was behind by two touchdowns, they had to try to move the ball by passing it.


If Green-Ellis runs the ball 25 times, he's going to end up with well over 100 yards rushing, and Ole Miss is going to score on Vanderbilt.  Vandy must do everything to force Ole Miss to pass the ball and limit Green-Ellis to 15-20 carries for less than 100 yards.  If they can do this, and keep Brent Schaeffer from running 10 times for 75 yards, Ole Miss won't score enough points to win the game (although they could conceivably win a 10-9 game).


When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball


Maybe the Commodore coaches learned something in the last two games.  If Chris Nickson is struggling with the short, spread passing game, why not let him go with deeper routes.  A long pass, even when it is incomplete, forces defenses to stop that option first.  If a quarterback throws four long bombs per game and completes one, that can be enough to decide the outcome.  That maneuver is enough to weaken the run defense.  It's the old tried and true strategy from days gone by.  Run the ball and sting them with a long pass, and pass the ball vertically to force them to drop defenders backwards away from the line of scrimmage.


Nickson only needs to go 9 of 20 for 140 yards to be quite effective.  In fact, those stats would do more for the offense than 16 of 24 for 155 yards (his production against Alabama).  Not only is it more yardage per attempt, it forces defense to loosen.


When Ole Miss Throws The Ball


Again, Ole Miss finds itself in the same situation as Vandy.  Brent Schaeffer has not frightened any of the five defenses he has faced this season.  He has only completed 45.6% of his passes; he's thrown interceptions at a 5.3% rate; and he's only averaged 5.2 yards per pass attempt.  I've heard coaches say you shouldn't have a passing offense if you cannot average at least 6.5 yards per attempt.


This is not to say that Schaeffer doesn't have the tools to be a good passer.  He's been hampered by poor pass protection and young, inexperienced receivers.  Eventually, the Rebels are going to put it together and break out with a 200+ yard passing day.  If it's this week, then Vandy's cooked.  Reshard Langford, Brent Trice, Ryan Hamilton, and Dalron Spead will be major factors this week.  If they can handle the middle zones, then Jonathan Goff can spend more of his time concentrating on stopping Green-Ellis and containing Schaeffer.


Special Teams Play


Vanderbilt had to worry about Steve Breaston when they opened the season with Michigan, but Breaston didn't do much on special teams that day.  This will be the Gold Men's stiffest special teams' challenge so far.  Ole Miss has two excellent return specialists; they can block punts better than any other conference team; they have a good punter and field goal kicker; and they cover well on kicks and punts. 


Vanderbilt should hope that special teams do not decide this game and play Ole Miss to a standoff in this part of the game.


The Predictions


PiRate: Vanderbilt 20  Ole Miss 16


Vanderbuilder's Guess: Ole Miss in a squeaker


Average of 41 Computer Rankings: Vanderbilt by 3 points.  33 of the 41 pick Vanderbilt to win the game.  This game has a wide range of predicted margins.  One computer picks Ole Miss to win by 10 points, while another computer picks Vandy to win by 22.


Summary:  On paper, and at full strength, Vanderbilt should cruise to a double digit win in Oxford.  Since we aren't playing paper football and Vandy comes into this game with the status of some key interior linemen up in the air (even if Marcus Buggs and Brian Stamper play, will they contribute their usual performance?), it opens the door for the Rebels.  Toss in a huge revenge factor and a possible subconscious belief by the home team that this game is their only chance to win in October, and I'm guessing the Rebels will play just like they did last week against Georgia.  Since I don't think that Vanderbilt is within five points of Georgia, even with the Bulldogs struggling on offense, I see Ole Miss winning a close game.


For Vanderbilt to win, they will have to come up with a defensive performance similar to the game against Alabama and an offensive performance the equal of the Arkansas game.  They also need to be at least +1 in turnover margin.


It will be a close, exciting, hard-fought game.  The most recent games in this series have been higher scoring than expected.  I don't see that happening this year.  Call it a 17-16 type game.  Ole Miss has about a 55% chance of being the winning team.  Still, a 45% to win an SEC game on the road is not that bad.

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