Last night's game was one I've seen far too many Ole Miss teams lose. The Rebels looked overwhelmed and out-of-sync, making both questionable play calls and poor decisions on the field. Vanderbilt looked much more capable than expected, taking advantage of gaps in the Ole Miss defense and capitalizing on the Rebs' offensive miscues. Ole Miss needed some special teams voodoo and some big stops on defense to scrape out an 11-point win over a team that might not finish the season with bowl eligibility. But the important thing is that Ole Miss won, and did so in spite of itself. The Rebels didn't blow it. Yes, that's encouraging.
And let's give Vandy a little bit of credit here. Before the game, I spoke with some in-the-know Vanderbilt fans who were adamant that coach Derek Mason is better than his record would indicate. The jury's out, they told me, on his recruiting and "rah-rah"-ing, but few at Vandy doubt his football understanding and strategic thinking. As you surely remember, he was a Broyels Award finalist while the defensive coordinator at Stanford, and he now has the Vandy defense playing some solid ball.
Vandy held WKU to 12, Georgia’s offense to 17 (w/2 return scores) and has Ole Miss completely flustered. Damn.— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) September 27, 2015
So don't let last night's game discourage you too much. Good teams have bad games. It happens. Ole Miss, thankfully, is talented and deep enough to weather through such a game against a Vanderbilt team that, while not great, appears vastly improved from last season.
Can we get a #NkemdicheforPiesman hashtag started?
I think Ole Miss fans have plenty of legitimate complaints about the Ole Miss red zone offense, but having Robert Nkemdiche barrel up the middle against hapless defenders isn't one of them.
"That Didn't Sit Well"
We knew that offensive line depth was going to be a problem for Ole Miss this season, and that was even before All-American left tackle Laremy Tunsil was held out because the NCAA is arbitrary in its investigations and capricious in its decision-making. Last night's contest legitimized those concerns. Ole Miss was on the field with second stringers in at both tackle spots (starting right tackle Fahn Cooper has been moved to left tackle in Tunsil's absence) and injuries bugging center Robert Conyers and guard Justin Bell, two veteran interior linemen. A lot of younger players, like Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings, have had to put in significant snaps, and the Rebs have relied on a lot of guys who, during the preseason, were considered second- or third-string guys on the depth chart.
To their credit, the guys up front fought pretty hard and kept the offense moving - the Rebels finished the night with 472 yards of total offense - but struggled to keep the Vanderbilt defense at bay in the red zone. No, questionable red zone play calling didn't help either (Liggins up the gut isn't working, coach), but it was fairly clear that the push wasn't what it should have been. That's troubling heading into a game against a great Florida defense in the Swamp.
And, before you ask, Tunsil ain't playing next week. We don't know this for a fact, but we're now thinking it's safe to assume he won't play until something concrete to the contrary is confirmed.
"Going Back for Seconds"
Let's give Jaylen Walton some proper credit. The Rebel halfback had a monster performance, averaging 6.3 yards a carry en route to a 133-yard performance with a score. The Ole Miss rushing attack has been much maligned as the weak link of a squad that has its sights set on a college football playoff berth, but if Walton can perform against other SEC teams the way he did last night, then Ole Miss should be able to control the clock and earn shorter yards-to-go situations than it is used to.
"Yeah, yeah, but it's Vanderbilt," you're probably thinking. I know, I know, but we are still pretty impressed with what we saw out of the guy.
Also, Laquon Treadwell quietly put in a great day, hauling in eight catches for a career-high 135 yards. Chad Kelly wasn't as "on" has he has been in weeks past, and his receivers somehow looked less reliable against Vandy than they did against Alabama, but Treadwell still showed why he was one of the most coveted wide receiver recruits of his high school class.
If you've been an Ole Miss fan for a while, this will hit you a bit too close to home:
If Ole Miss football was honest with its fans pic.twitter.com/XLbZRuAET8— Brad Cole (@BradCole) September 27, 2015
(Also, this is a reminder that Bojack Horseman is one of the most well-written and clever shows on television. Watch it.)