Any late-season momentum that Ole Miss built up with its dramatic upset of Texas A&M was torn asunder in Nashville on Saturday night. After cruising to an early 10-0 lead, the Rebels watched impotently as Vanderbilt—yes, Vanderbilt—piled up 31 unanswered points en route to an eventual 38-17 win.
Shea Patterson, the hero of College Station, completed just 20 of his 42 completions, though fault lied largely on the receiving end. Receivers that helped carry their freshman quarterback against A&M couldn’t hold onto anything against the ‘Dores, dropping an obscene number of passes. A week after hauling in a one-handed catch of the year candidate, Damore’ea Stringfellow had two of the most damaging bungles: a sure touchdown on the opening drive and a fourth-down attempt that stalled a promising drive in the second quarter.
Patterson deserves criticism for missing some throws later in the game (including an easy touchdown to a wide open Quincy Adeboyejo) and bailing from the pocket far too frequently, but it was his experienced offensive teammates that let the freshman down.
The real culprit in this game, however, was an Ole Miss defense that allowed Vandy to score more points than it had against any other Power 5 opponent in the Derek Mason era.
Here are some other sobering measurements of the Rebels’ defensive ineptitude.
- Coming in, the ‘Dores ranked dead last in the SEC with 4.87 yards per play. They averaged 6.33 against Ole Miss.
- Vandy scored 17 points or less in its other seven Power 5 games this season.
- It was the first time Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur threw two touchdowns in a game all season.
- The ‘Dores came in ranked last in the SEC with 5.8 passing yards per attempt, but Shurmur averaged 9.1 against the Rebs.
- Shurmur also posted the second highest adjusted QBR of his career (his highest came three weeks ago in a loss to Auburn).
- The ‘Dores scored just eight touchdowns in their other seven Power 5 games this season. They scored five in a span of 37 minutes of game time against Ole Miss.
Ole Miss’ defense has been dismal all season. Even before Saturday’s debacle, the Rebs ranked 88th in the country in opponent points per play and 86th in opponent yards per play. According to Bill C.’s advanced numbers, they showed up in Nashville ranked 91st in limiting explosive plays, 60th in defensive efficiency and 84th in points allowed per opponent trip inside the 40-yard line. All of those numbers will be considerably worse once the damage from the Vandy game is factored in.
The blame lies partially on a lack of resources—the secondary is inexperienced and the transfers who were expected to save the day at linebacker have turned out to be busts. Frankly, Ole Miss lacks the physical tools to be an elite defense. But it should certainly possess the baseline competence to prevent the SEC’s worst offense from looking like the Dallas Cowboys. The most concerning thing is that the unit is regressing, something defensive coordinator Dave Wommack freely admitted to The Ole Miss Spirit after the loss.
"We have just not done a good enough job of coaching. Our kids are making the same mistakes over and over."
On Saturday night, the young secondary looked just as lost as it did in the second half of the season-opener, and the linebacker situation is somehow worse than it was two months ago (and it got even worse in Nashville: DeMarquis Gates was ejected for targeting in the second half and will miss the first half of the Egg Bowl). Wommack, to his credit, owned every bit of that.
"I haven't seen a year like this before, to be honest. Somehow, we are not reinforcing our principles to them enough or clearly enough or something," he said. "It really hurts. We have built our program up pretty good the first four years and were proud of some of the things we had done defensively, but this season is so disappointing to me and I can only look in the mirror."
That regression should also be of major concern for Hugh Freeze, who will have to look long and hard at making changes to his defensive staff this offseason. That may very well begin with Wommack.