How quickly an outlook can change.
From the get-go most of us have looked at this Ole Miss schedule as an opportunity for the Rebels to be 4-0 going into an Oct. 4 home game with Alabama.
As I looked at the first four games then I thought it was not an easy path to get there.
The Rebels, mistake-prone as they were, beat a good team last week and dominated them in the fourth quarter. They need to find that dominance earlier this week, and they will if they eliminate their blunders.
Vanderbilt in the off-season presented less of an unknown than Boise, even with a new coach. You play Vanderbilt every year. You know what a competitive series it’s been in recent years. You knew new coach Derek Mason was going to run a 3-4 on defense. There was more known here than with Boise.
Now after Mason’s team lost his debut 37-7 to Temple — a team that was 2-10 a year ago — there’s a tendency to write off this game as one the Rebels can coast through blindfolded.
I’m not all in with that line of thinking.
Vanderbilt has a lot of returning players who won 18 games over the last two years. Obviously the coach matters. Look what A&M was able to do at South Carolina with a brand new quarterback. Coaching matters.
The very fact that Vanderbilt looked unprepared on offense makes me think they’ll be better this week. They’ll be better at least in protection of the football. After seven turnovers last week that will be goal No. 1.
So Temple scored 37 points but did so with the assistance of seven turnovers. Ole Miss showed last week it has a defense that can be disruptive and cause turnovers, but you don’t go into a game and predict seven of them.
While I think Vanderbilt will hold on to the ball better I don’t think the Commodores will get enough done with it to win the game. When they did hold the ball last week they weren’t very good on offense. They gave up four sacks which led to a rushing average of 1.9 yards per attempt. Running back Ralph Webb had 70 yards on 14 carries, an average of 5.0 per attempt. He was the only thing that resembled a bright spot for Vandy on offense.
Did I mention Temple was 2-10 last year?
Mason played three quarterbacks, and if the word coming out of the Vanderbilt camp is to be believed, even the quarterbacks don’t know who will start against Ole Miss.
If the Rebels have truly approached this week of preparation with the proper focus it shouldn’t matter.
Here’s the gray area.
Vanderbilt wasn’t terrible on defense. Turnovers put the Commodores in a bad position, often having to defend a short field.
They held Temple to 3.3 yards per rush, but Temple was a team that ranked No. 81 in rushing offense last year.
That being said Ole Miss is a team that couldn’t run the ball last week. The Rebels were embarrassed by that and want badly to establish some sort of run game this week.
Vanderbilt also defended the pass fairly well, allowing only 202 yards but giving up two touchdowns.
Temple’s final yardage numbers might have been more if it had more of the field to drive. Four times Temple began drives on the Vanderbilt end of the field, three times inside the 40.
The fact that the Rebels are facing the 3-4, a scheme they don’t often see, plus the fact that Ole Miss looked undisciplined up front with a string of false starts in the first half, plus the fact that the Rebels couldn’t run the ball … all those pluses could work to Vanderbilt’s advantage.
My guess is the Rebels are better in the run game and that Bo Wallace makes better decisions. Wallace can’t seem to shake the turnover bug, so he’ll probably throw one interception.
Vanderbilt won’t turn the ball over seven times. The Rebels will score their points, but they won’t come as easily as they did for Temple.
Vanderbilt will again have a hard time scoring — It’s only points against Temple came when it recovered a mishandled punt snap for a touchdown — but reducing its turnovers will give it more of a chance. Ole Miss, dominant as it was for much of the Boise game, showed itself vulnerable to a missed tackle or a big play here and there.
Prediction: Ole Miss 33, Vanderbilt 13