NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It has been nearly three weeks since Vanderbilt has stepped on the field against another opponent. That will change at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Commodores are finally in line to suit up against Ole Miss after a loss to South Carolina on Oct. 10, a postponement Oct. 17 against Missouri and a scheduled bye week this past Saturday.
“We haven’t necessarily loved this time because we want to be playing games,” Vanderbilt fifth-year senior Drew Birchmeier said. “But it’s been good to get back to the basics and really focus on some of those fundamental things. They’re so important to the game and so important to every position.
“I think everyone is super excited and the preparation started well (Tuesday). Just got to keep going from there and building on that.”
Vandy (0-3, 0-3 SEC) is hopeful moving into this weekend that it has recovered from the issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those issues were part of the reason the Dores’ game against Missouri was postponed and why practices last week saw smaller numbers of available student-athletes.
But those numbers are on the uptick as Vanderbilt prepares for the fourth of 10 SEC contests in 2020.
“Our football team is slowly but surely starting to look the part as we’ve been able to get guys back and get a lot of key guys back in critical spots,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “Now what we’re going to do is push it forward. We’ve had two really good practices (this week).”
Vanderbilt isn’t the only program that has had to pull in the reins on football activities during the pandemic. Florida and LSU also postponed their matchup Oct. 17 and last week Ole Miss reportedly feared it may have to halt its game with Auburn due to low possible low numbers of player availability.
Instead, the Rebels (1-4, 1-4 SEC) lost 35-28 to the Tigers in Oxford, Mississippi, and will come to Nashville on a three-game losing streak.
Ole Miss is second among SEC teams with 521 offensive yards per game and fourth in scoring (34.8 points per game).
“They’re predicated on tempo. We’re going to see some unbalanced (formations) from these guys. We’re going to see two quarterbacks,” Mason said. “They’re going to look at film from 2019 and figure out how they want to attack us and it’s critical for us that we get our cleats in the ground, we get lined up, we get our eyes in the right spots and we play smart football.
“For them it’s about motions, shifts, a lot of deception just to do simple things. So for us it’s about getting lined up, making sure that in critical situations we take in the information that they give us, we’re able to play top-down in the secondary and we’re able to tackle well.”
While Ole Miss’ offense has been dangerous under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, the Rebels’ defense is allowing a league worst 44.6 points per game – more than 11 points per game more than any other SEC team. That could be a good sign for a Vandy offense that has averaged just eight points per contest and that is 3 of 8 in red zone conversions.
Saturday’s contest, televised live by the SEC Network, could very well come down to whether the Commodores’ offense can score against the Ole Miss defense and whether or not the Vandy defenders can slow down the Rebels’ offensive attack.
“It’s about players. Everybody’s got schemes, but players have to make plays,” Mason said. “We’ve got playmakers, you’ve seen it in spots, but we haven’t been consistent enough about plays being made whether it’s down the field or whether it’s on the perimeter – and that’s slowed us down.”
Set The Expectation
Saturday’s contest is designated as the team’s second annual “Set The Expectation” game.
The Commodores became the first SEC program to host a “Set The Expectation” game in the 2019 home opener versus Georgia. The event originated in June of 2019 when Brenda Tracy, a registered nurse from Oregon, shared with the football team her devastating personal story and vital message of preventing sexual violence.
Tracy, who spoke with the team again this fall, also serves on the NCAA’s Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence.
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.