NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt returns home at 3 p.m. Saturday to host No. 9 Mississippi, the second of three straight top-10 opponents for the Commodores.
Vandy (3-2, 0-1 SEC) has been off since Sept. 24 when it lost 55-3 at No. 2 Alabama. It has used that time to rest and recover while simultaneously readying itself for the high-octane Rebels.
Ole Miss (5-0, 1-0 SEC) is riding high off a 22-19 victory over No. 7 Kentucky in Oxford, Mississippi. That allowed the Rebels to enter the top 10 in the national rankings and remain undefeated.
Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have played 96 previous times in one of the Commodores’ more closely-contested rivalries. The Rebels have won three in a row.
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: 3 p.m. Saturday
Location: FirstBank Stadium (40,350)
Television: SEC Network
Drew Carter (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (analyst) and Alyssa Lang (sideline)
Available via WatchESPN
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 2 p.m.
Affiliates: Nashville WQZQ 93.3 FM; Chattanooga WALV 95.3 FM; Lewisburg WJJM 1490 AM, 94.3 FM; Memphis WMPS 1210 AM, 103.1 FM
Satellite: SiriusXM 190; SiriusXM online 961
Vanderbilt Athletics App (Free)
66 degrees at kickoff, zero percent chance of rain
1. Stop. The. Run.
Sometimes it’s easy to make things a bit more difficult than they have to be. Such is the case for Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Let us keep it simple: The Commodores must figure out a way to, at the very least, slow down the Rebels’ fifth-ranked rushing attack which averages 261.8 yards per game. Ole Miss uses tempo, a bevy of running backs and its quarterback to moves the chains and eat up yardage at an alarming rate.
Vandy was able to hold the Rebels to 139 yards rushing in 2021 in 31-17 loss, a result which came about more so do to the Commodores’ offensive shortcomings than its defensive game plan. But if Vanderbilt is able to follow a similar playbook Saturday it will give itself a chance to be victorious.
If it lets the Rebels run wild it will become a long afternoon quickly.
2. Takeaway Time
Vanderbilt now has a takeaway in 14 straight games dating to 2021. That’s good news considering Ole Miss has already lost seven turnovers through five games this season.
Vandy’s defense has to find a way to pounce on loose balls against an offense that has at least one turnover in nine contests in a row.
3. Clock Grinders
Perhaps Vandy’s best defense Saturday could be its offense.
The Commodores did a masterful job in the 2021 matchup by holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes and running more than 90 offensive plays, the first time it totaled that many offensive snaps since 2010. Vandy clawed its way back to within 14 points with just less than eight minutes to go, but that comeback was too little, too late after giving up too many explosive plays before then.
This season’s Ole Miss team ranks near the bottom of college football in time of possession but is scoring more than 37 points per game. That timing means the Rebels are scoring rapidly more often than leaving the field after quick three-and-outs.
So it’s imperative that the Vanderbilt offensive sustain drives and also ends those drives with points. That, in turn, will gives its defense all the opportunity to be fresh and rested.
4. Eyes on the Kicks
Vanderbilt associate head coach Justin Lustig, the team’s special teams coordinator, has his work cut out for him Saturday. There is a serious area of concern when it comes to scouting the Rebels, yet also an area to exploit.
Ole Miss ranks as one of the worst teams in the nation in defending kickoff returns. The Rebels allow nearly 30 yards per return, a spicy number for Vandy’s kickoff return unit and for speedy return man Jayden McGowan.
The Commodores must be wary, though, in the placekicking game. Ole Miss has already blocked three kicks and two punts and last week, in a 22-19 win over Kentucky, got its hands on two extra point attempts.
If Saturday’s matchup becomes a back-and-forth, close affair, special teams play may turn out to make the difference.
5. Open the Playbook
Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea has hinted that a possible way to reignite the offense after a lackluster, three-point performance at Alabama could include getting Mike Wright back on the field in some sort of capacity.
Wright, a junior quarterback, has 426 passing yards and 264 rushing yards this season but hasn’t played since the Sept. 10 loss to Wake Forest. With AJ Swann now the team’s starting quarterback, Lea and offensive coordinator Joey Lynch could use Saturday’s game to reintroduce Wright to the playbook—whether that be for a single snap or an entire offensive series.
Getting Wright involved could also be part of a bolder strategy to open the playbook and employ so-called trick plays to offset an Ole Miss defense that has been very stout this season. With an extra week to prepare, and with Saturday marking the halfway point of the regular season, it may be time to pull out all the stops.
(6.) Hilinski’s Hope/Lindsy McLean
Vanderbilt and Mississippi will partner this weekend to raise awareness for Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization formed to promote awareness and education of mental health and wellness for student-athletes. The Foundation’s mission is to educate, advocate and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness while funding programs that provide student-athletes with the tools and resources that support their mental health and wellness.
It’s CFB Mental Health Awareness Week. We’ve partnered with Hilinski’s Hope Foundation:“Fighting for the mental health of student athletes.”
We proudly support mental health and wellness in our Vanderbilt Football Community, our CFB Community, and our Higher Education Community. pic.twitter.com/FxBacxUBbw
— Kaelene Curry, MA, CMPC (@CoachKCurry) October 6, 2022
Meanwhile, before Saturday’s annual homecoming game, Vanderbilt will recognize Lindsy McLean.
McLean, BA’60, won five Super Bowls while working as an athletic trainer with the San Francisco 49ers. He also spent time with California Santa Barbara, San Jose State and Michigan after graduating from Vanderbilt.
Inducted into the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame in 1988, McLean will drop the anchor ahead of kickoff Saturday.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.