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Upon Further Review: Ole Miss Rebels vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

With a few days to digest, here's a look at the key factors and plays leading to Ole Miss' 39-35 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores last week.

Frederick Breedon

When I watch games live, I have trouble watching anything other than the ball. I can say whether a quarterback, running back, and receiver played well and talk about big plays. That's pretty much it. I'm going to try to watch the replay of every game I can this season and try to go more in depth with things of which I take note. Here's where I'll regurgitate that information. Hope you like it.

So, what led to Ole Miss' win over Vandy?

1. Respect for Donte Moncrief dictated Laquon Treadwell's success

Laquon Treadwell had an awesome performance. He was all over the place and caught most of what came his way. On one drive, he made a one-handed circus catch, and then later made two defenders miss to pick up a crucial third down (after a shovel pass from Bo Wallace). Two touchdown drives centered around Treadwell's ability to take screen passes in the slot and turn them into solid yardage. He did so well that, when the game was over, a lot of people asked to where Donte Moncrief had disappeared. After watching the film, it's obvious. We all kind of assumed that Moncrief was regularly doubled or blanketed by all-SEC corner Andre Hal, allowing Treadwell to pick up easy yards. It turns out that was maybe even more the case than we thought. On the two "Treadwell drives," Moncrief made a big play on each.

Essentially, here's how each drive progresses. Moncrief is alone on one side. Treadwell and Logan are on the other with Treadwell in the slot. Wallace dunks the ball to Treadwell several times on screens in single coverage. Ole Miss picks up a couple of first downs. Vanderbilt decides to take Treadwell more seriously, devoting a safety and corner to him. He still catches a screen and only gets a few yards. The next play, Wallace throws to Moncrief who is single covered because of the devotion to Treadwell. One of these results in a long gain from a post Moncrief run. The other yields a pass interference call. Then the offense goes back to a single-covered Treadwell. Moncrief makes it all possible.

2. When Jordan Matthews lined up in the slot, Ole Miss was generally unprepared.

The first four times that Vanderbilt was put in a third down situation, they moved Jordan Matthews to the slot. He was covered by Denzel Nkemdiche (zone), Tony Conner (zone), Elston, and Prewitt. He was relatively open each time, but was only able to actually convert twice. Later, Matthews was in the slot for a screen that he took 55 yards. He was covered by Mike Hilton (who was playing a shallow zone), Trae Elston (deep zone), and an indiscriminate corner who was blocked by the receiver who was out wide. That block removed both the corner and Elston from the play, and Hilton was too far away to stop what ensued.

Essentially, what the Rebels needed to do was put their best corner on Matthews all day. Even that wasn't necessarily enough to stop him, but it might have made things harder. Instead, they didn't adjust enough to where he ended up on the field, and it cost them. Hugh Freeze alluded to this in his post-game press conference.

3. Tony Conner had three big plays on Ole Miss' first three defensive possessions (which combined result in zero points)

On the first three Vanderbilt drives, here are the three plays Conner made:

First possession: On third down, Conner finds an interception where he rips the ball away from a receiver who is better-positioned.

Second possession: He lines up in the slot, follows Austyn Carta-Samuels on the rollout, and jumps to deflect the third down pass.

Third possession: On second down, Conner sheds a block and tackles the ball carrier for a short gain.

4. The Ole Miss defense needs to figure out how to stop the power running game

Too many times everyone in the stadium knew Vanderbilt was running the football and watched them successfully pick up major yardage. This stemmed from poor tackling, bad gap assignments, and lack of size. Nothing can be done about the third reason, but the first two have to come along if the Rebs are to improve. I'm not going to call anyone out here, but there were a couple of defensive linemen who took angles to make a big play too often and lost their gap assignment, letting the back scamper through.

It worked out alright against Vanderbilt. Will the same work out against Texas, the team that had its way with the Rebels on the ground last season? Probably not. If the Rebels can't figure out an answer to that problem, Texas could score at will like they did last season.

5. Evan Engram really did play well.

I liked what Engram did in the game and thought he had made an impact. I kind of expected to go back and see a lot of flaws in his game, seeing as how he's kind of small for a tight end and wasn't expected to come in and play football at a high level immediately. Boy, was I wrong? [ED: Yes you were.] He is limited (can't block linemen or big linebackers), but he's a very special player in the slot.

When Engram matches up against a corner, he has the necessary speed to get enough separation with good route-running. He also can absolutely block that corner. We saw this on several long Jeff Scott sweeps in which Engram and Moncrief would both keep their assignment contained, allowing Scott to essentially have one player to beat before a big gain.

When Engram has a linebacker assigned to defend him, he can likely abuse coverage and get open. He's a big target who knows how to use his size. He attacks the ball at the height of his jump and is athletic enough to pursue poorly-thrown passes.