Turnovers will be the Difference vs. Ole Miss

"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it" I doubt George Santayana was thinking about SEC football when he wrote that line, but I have a feeling it will ring particularly true Saturday night in Oxford. Journey with me all the way back to October 7, 2006, the last time the Vanderbilt Commodores traveled to the Magnolia State.

Despite out-gaining Ole Miss by a greater than two to one margin and dominating time-of-possession the Commodores managed to lose the game 17-10. There is only one explanation of how Vanderbilt could manage to lose a ball game in which they were so statistically superior: turnovers. Great teams value possession of the football; not-so-great teams cough it up with regularity. The Commodores were -3 in turnover margin that afternoon, and it cost them the game.

Things have changed a little since then. Vanderbilt managed to win 31-17 last year in Nashville, a relative blowout given the traditionally small margin of victory in this rivalry. Vanderbilt once again managed to dominate statistically, and lo and behold they only turned the ball over once in en route to the victory. But that was a Mississippi team that won three games and played with the intensity of an old hound dog under the porch on a hot summer day. Just a year later things are looking up for the Rebels. Ole Miss has a quarterback for the first time since Eli Manning in Jevan Snead, and new coach Houston Nutt has Rebels fans believing they are in the hunt for an SEC West title. Snead is not wasting any time making his case to enter the upper echelon of SEC quarterbacks. The Texas transfer thus far his displayed an uncanny knack for escaping pressure, as well as for finding the open man. Snead was electric on what was a potentially game winning drive against Wake Forest two weeks ago, and has not skipped a beat since then. The offensive line, anchored by future NFL first-rounder LT Michael Oher, has not surrendered a sack this season. Ole Miss also boasts a robust running attack, and if not for a questionable pass-interference call late in the game against Wake Forest the Rebels would be sitting pretty at 3-0. All-SEC defensive end Greg Hardy will also see his first action of the young season against the Commodores, adding an explosive pass-rush threat to an already stout defensive front-four. While Ole Miss seems to have improved from last year's disastrous season, they haven't been tested outside of the Wake Forest game.

One of the biggest, and most pleasant, surprises for the Commodores thus far has been the phenomenal play of the defensive line. Vanderbilt leads the SEC with 10 quarterback sacks, and with the kind of speed that defensive end Broderick Stewart brings off the edge for the Commodores the Ole Miss offensive line will face their toughest challenge to date. Additionally, Vanderbilt will attempt to bring pressure from other positions in order to negate the size of the Ole Miss offensive line. Myron Lewis and D.J. Moore have both been productive blitzing from the corner position, and linebacker/one man wrecking crew Chris Marve has shown an innate ability to get to the quarterback.

The key to this game will be the play of Chris Nickson. While it is rudimentary to say the quarterback will dictate the outcome of the game, when Ole Miss stacks the box to stop Jared Hawkins Nickson must be able to deliver the ball accurately. If Chris Nickson can continue to make great decisions when throwing the ball the Commodores will force Ole Miss to respect the pass and opening up running lanes for Hawkins.. The offensive line will face a tough test with Hardy & Co., but expect to see Ted Cain moving the pocket, rolling Chris Nickson around, and getting the ball to Moore and Jamie Graham in space to take some of the pressure off the young line. Vanderbilt has played the smart and fast football that teams need to win in the SEC, and will be in a great position to win on Saturday if they continue to do so.

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