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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss thrills, speed kills

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Run, run, run till opponents take the ground game away.

Vanderbilt v Mississippi Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Ole Miss is 3-3 after a 31-6 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday night.

In a week where Rebel nation needed something to smile about, head coach Matt Luke and company stomped the Commodores into a mud hole. Well done.

Here are the five major takeaways from a game against a bad SEC team:

Run, baby, run.

Former Pac-12 Coach of the Year Rich Rodriguez came to Oxford in the offseason with an impressive resume, and a history of fast offenses. His option-first system blows by defenses while they try to figure out who has the ball. It shined on Saturday.

Four players ran for over 60 yards individually, and the Rebels rushed for 413 yard as a team— their most in an SEC game since 1979. Ole Miss, who has not been known as a dominant rushing team in recent years, could not seem to fall any way but forward.

The offensive line opened holes, and the ballcarriers darted through them. When the Commodore defensive backs tried to catch up, the Rebels turned it up another gear. John Rhys Plumlee, Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner each broke runs over fifty yards and scored.

Going forward, it is clear where the priorities lie. Rodriguez is going to run until the defense forces him to throw. It’s new and different for Ole Miss fans, but it was pretty darn fun to watch explode. The question now is how it holds up against, well, not Vanderbilt.

It’s happening on defense too y’all.

Mike MacIntyre was another welcomed addition to the Ole Miss coaching staff this spring. Holding a 2014 Pac-12 Coach of the Year title of his own, his philosophy revolves around creating chaos. In his eyes, stopping the run forces a team to pass, and passing plays create opportunity for deflections and turnovers.

Saturday’s showing against a sinking Commodore offense was impressive. The pesky Rebels went to work in the trenches and recorded nine tackles-for-loss, eight quarterback hurries, and three sacks. Senior defensive tackle Benito Jones led the charge with 2.5 tackles-for-loss, four quarterback hurries and a sack. Even when he wasn’t involved on the stat-sheet, Jones wreaked havoc on a weak offensive line.

Vanderbilt ran for just 62 yards, but when a stray Commodore did get past Jones, the linebackers locked down the second level, and Lakia Henry led the Rebels with a career-high 15 tackles, followed by Jacquez Jones with nine.

The secondary allowed six catches over ten yards, but kept the receivers in check overall, forcing only 202 total yards from the Vanderbilt quarterbacks. There were moments of rip-your-hair-out frustration, like Kalija Lipscomb breaking for 43-yards on a short in-route, but the performance was an improvement for a position group that has struggled through the early part of the season.

As a whole, the defense allowed six points. Keep it up.

The Quarterback Indecision.

Matt Corral began the season 2-2 as the starting quarterback. John Rhys Plumlee is now 1-1.

After a week full of speculation and opinion, it was Plumlee who led the Rebels out of the tunnel on Saturday. The true freshman took over for Corral late in the game against California Berkeley and has won over the masses with his raw athleticism.

In pregame warmups, Corral was dressed and going through walk-throughs; something he had not done a week prior. Throughout the game, he stood in the vicinity of Luke. Despite appearing to be ready at a moment’s notice, he did not see a single snap.

Luke attributed the redshirt freshman’s time on the sideline as health-related.

Regardless of reason, Plumlee played the entire game and dazzled with his legs once more. A week after rushing for a team-high 109 yards on 25 carries against Alabama, he led the Rebels again with 165 yards on 22 carries against Vanderbilt.

While his explosiveness is unquestionable, his arm leaves a lot to be desired. The true freshman completed 8-of-15 attempts for 67 yards in the first half, and completed 2-of-3 in the second. The game plan didn’t call for an passing attack, and Rodriguez certainly didn’t need to turn to one. However, it was the first Ole Miss win with less than 100 passing yards since 2010, and it would have been nice to see a better showing from Plumlee in that respect.

Corral, who was better rested against a bad Vanderbilt team, is the gunslinger. Assuming his health returns to full strength before the weekend, Luke seems to want to play both quarterbacks.

Luke is making the right decision in giving both guys a look, but it would have been better if that evaluation could have come against an abysmal Vanderbilt team, as opposed to a Missouri squad that hovers around the top-five in total defense. We will see.

Youthful abundance.

It has been said before, and it will be said again; it is a rebuilding year. There is no expectation to win, and a bowl game is the ceiling.

With that in mind, the number of underclassmen that saw playing time on Saturday exceeded that of their upperclassmen counterparts. Much of the offensive line is getting its first looks at SEC competition, the team’s three leading rushers were true freshman, and half of the receiving core is either true or redshirt first-years.

Because of their polarizing nature, Plumlee, Conner and Ealy stand out over the rest, but there is youth all over the offense. Of course, the three-headed backfield is exhilarating and broke off some grown-man touchdown runs. That was fun.

On defense, Ole Miss started true freshmen Jay Stanley and Deantre Prince at defensive back, and A.J. Finely also saw playing time in his sixth collegiate game.

There is room for development, but the Rebels have the time to mature. This year is for gaining experience and growth.

It will require patience, but the future of Ole Miss football is here.

.500 is good.

The Rebels cannot lose more than they win.