NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt begins its last road trip of the season with the first of back-to-back games away from home to end the 2021 campaign. First up is a visit to Oxford, Mississippi, and No. 10 Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on SEC Network.
The Commodores (2-8, 0-6 SEC) fell 34-17 to Kentucky on Saturday in their home finale. A 31-3 halftime deficit was too much to overcome even though Vandy did outscore the Wildcats 14-3 in the second half.
Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 SEC) is coming off victories over Liberty and No. 11 Texas A&M, respectively, and has won eight straight in Oxford. Saturday’s contest is the final home game of the season for the Rebels.
Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have met 95 times since 1894 with Ole Miss leading the series 53-40-2.
Here is more on how to watch, listen to and follow Saturday’s contest as well as five key matchups to consider when the Commodores face the Rebels:
When: 6:35 p.m. Saturday
Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (64,038)
Television: SEC Network
Tom Hart (play-by-play), Jordan Rodgers (analyst), Cole Cubelic (sideline)
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 6:30 p.m.
Pregame Show: 5 p.m.
Affiliates: Nashville WQZQ 830 AM, 93.3 FM; Chattanooga WALV 105.1 FM; Lewisburg WJJM 1490 AM, 94.3 FM; Memphis WMPS 1210 AM, 103.1 FM
Satellite: SiriusXM 383; SiriusXM online 973
51 degrees at kickoff, zero percent chance of rain
1. Contain the Run
Vanderbilt hasn’t faced a better run offense all season. All it can do Saturday is hope to contain the running Rebels – because only once this season have they truly been, “stopped.”
In six out of 10 games this season Ole Miss has rushed for more than 200 yards. In three of those games it has surpassed 300 yards.
The Rebels rank third nationally in rushing with 239.8 yards per game. They average nearly 5.2 yards per carry. Three running backs and quarterback Matt Corral have more than 500 yards rushing this season.
Ole Miss also ranks near the bottom of the nation in time of possession which means it’s going to come at the Commodores quickly and relentlessly. A tall task indeed for the nation’s 105th-ranked rushing defense.
2. Flip the Script
As good as Ole Miss’ offense is at racking up the yardage on the ground, the Rebels’ defense has had their own issues – at times – at stopping the run.
Vanderbilt’s offensive game plan should include a healthy dose of running backs Rocko Griffin and Patrick Smith as well as quarterback Mike Wright. The Commodores have been inconsistent at best in the run game this fall and average just 114.9 yards per game – yet twice this season Vandy has totaled at least 247 yards in a single contest.
Ole Miss has given up at least 100 yards in every game but one in 2021 and five times has allowed 200. So if the Dores can flip the script a bit, by lengthening their possession and finding big gains on the ground, they’ll have a chance to keep this one close.
3. Corrale Coral
The aforementioned Corral is a Heisman Trophy candidate who had his way with Vanderbilt’s defense in 2020. The Commodores have to scheme up a game plan to slow the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior down.
Corral was 31 of 34 passing in 2020 at Vanderbilt Stadium and threw for 412 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran the ball six times for 23 yards in a 54-21 win.
Corral comes into the weekend ranked 10th in total offense and among the nation’s top 20 in passing yards and passing yards per game. Vanderbilt will have to find a way to contain one of the SEC’s great quarterbacks if it has any hopes of victory.
4. Youth Movement
As Vanderbilt closes in on the final two games of the 2021 season, the first for head coach Clark Lea, there’s a good chance some relatively unfamiliar names will begin to populate the box score over the next couple of weeks.
Vandy’s large freshman and sophomore class should begin to see more reps for a myriad of factors, one of which being late-season injuries to key veteran contributors and the other being the new-age redshirt rule which allows true freshman to play at least four games of their first season.
Having a small roster to begin with in August, and with that total number shrinking over the previous few months due to injuries and transfers, Lea will need some of his younger Commodores to begin making big plays – not only Saturday but the following weekend at Tennessee as well. If one or two or a few of the younger Dores can spark either side of the ball Saturday it could lead to much bigger things through the course of 60 minutes.
5. Stay Composed
One of Vanderbilt’s more positive features in 2021 has been its ability to cut down on the penalties.
While Lea would certainly like to see fewer penalties, especially those which he likes to call, “self-sabotaging” infractions, Vandy is among the nation’s top-40 teams in terms of fewest penalties, fewest penalty yards and fewest penalty yards per game. That will be a key component to Saturday’s game plan when the Commodores are up against a hostile and hyped night crowd.
Ole Miss, conversely, is one of the most-undisciplined teams in the nation with more than nine penalties per game (only Toledo is worse). Vanderbilt could easily make part of its mindset making sure that if the Rebels make mistakes to make sure they pay for those penalties throughout the course of 60 minutes.
(6.) A Tribute to Mullins
Ole Miss will wear powder blue helmets, navy blue jerseys and gray pants for Saturday’s affair against the Commodores. The uniform combination is in remembrance of former Mississippi student-athlete Chucky Mullins.
Mullins was injured during a game 32 years ago against Vandy in Oxford. He died less than two years later May 6, 1991.
A defensive back from Alabama, Mullins wore the No. 38 during his playing days – a number which has been retired by the program.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.