Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 41-3 win over Vanderbilt …
Vanderbilt is indeed as bad as advertised. It’s surprising, really, to see so many returning players who helped win nine games over each of the last two seasons struggle so mightily.
My first thought is that coaching matters. That’s not to say that Derek Mason was a bad hire. Clearly he hasn’t gotten off to a very good start.
Ole Miss has gotten off to a good start and has now been proficient on offense in six of eight quarters this season.
By not allowing themselves to be distracted and take Vanderbilt for granted by virtue of the Commodores’ 37-7 loss to Temple, the Rebels were able to further distance themselves – specifically Bo Wallace was able to distance himself – from three turnovers in the first half against Boise State.
Yes, Ole Miss players said all the right things last week about not looking past Vanderbilt. It’s one thing to say that, another to put it in action. Hugh Freeze admitted in the postgame interviews that he was a little unsure about his team’s emotional state before the kickoff.
The Rebels were focused and took care of business the way a ranked team should against a struggling opponent.
Ole Miss left Nashville feeling good about itself on offense. The false starts by the offensive line were far fewer, though Fahn Cooper is still figuring out some things up there.
The run game was better, though there’s clearly room for more improvement.
The biggest change was Wallace. He didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t “create opportunities for the defense” as ESPN’s Joe Tessitore put it.
When your quarterback plays within the offense, makes good decisions and manages the game it’s amazing how a feeling of confidence settles over the entire unit.
Here’s tight end Evan Engram:
Cooper isn’t the only guy still figuring things out of up front. Matt Luke pulled starters Ben Still and Aaron Morris and let them watch some things from the sideline in the first half.
There was more playing time for freshman Rod Taylor, as expected. I think I saw him at both guards. Robert Conyers played a little more also with most of his time at center.
The run game was better, but there’s still room for improvement as Ole Miss averaged just 3.6 yards per rush.
It’s still running back by committee, and it’s a big committee as five different running backs plus backup quarterback DeVante Kincade and short-yardage quarterback Jeremy Liggins had rush attempts.
I suspect that Eugene Brazley earned himself at least a little more practice consideration. His opportunities came late in the game, but he showed shiftiness and vision in running for 34 yards on six carries.
Honestly, several of these running backs have had moments over the first two games. Surprisingly, the one who has been the least effective through two games has been I’Tavius Mathers. He’s leading all running backs in rush attempts with 14 but averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.
I liked what I saw from the receivers for a second straight game. Aside from an end zone drop by Derrick Jones – who just moved back to the position during practice last week – there were no drops. That sure-handedness is allowing Wallace to complete passes at a 72.7 percent clip over two games.
Laquon Treadwell never got loose like he did against Boise and finished with four catches for 31 yards. There was plenty of good play around him, however.
Cody Core showed up again, finishing with four catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Vince Sanders had five catches, but the most impressive receiver was Quincy Adeboyejo. He’s the wild card, the guy who didn’t have a great camp and lost a starting position to Core. He had five catches for 57 yards, and one or two of them were rather difficult.
A couple of times in camp Freeze noted that he wanted Adeboyejo to be more consistent in just making catches. The athleticism is there, and if Adeboyejo can get past the drops of August he’ll be a big part of this offense.
Speaking of making tough catches, Engram had a few of those too and finished with game highs of seven catches and 112 yards.
It’s clear that teams will focus on Treadwell, and through two games Ole Miss receivers are making plays.
Defensively I thought the Rebels did a good job of adjusting in the run game after Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb had some early success.
Ole Miss began to fit in its schemes better and settled things down. When Vanderbilt abandoned the run it played into the Rebels’ hands.
Webb is impressive and will be a good player in the league. There aren’t many good players around him right now.
It seemed that no matter what happened Mason was going to stick with Stephen Rivers at quarterback after playing three quarterbacks against Temple.
Rivers seems to lack quickness, and another thing he’s lacking is Jordan Matthews. It was a much different Commodores offense with Matthews last year.
A lot of guys played on defense and played well. The leading tacklers had only four. Those were Serderius Bryant, Trae Elston and D.T. Shackelford.
Robert Nkemdiche is still hard to block. He had three tackles and a sack. He doesn’t just make tackles around his space at the line of scrimmage. He’s around the football even when it’s downfield.
Cliff Coleman’s interception and subsequent 39-yard touchdown really kind of changed the tone of the game. It was already 20-0, but if Vanderbilt had any fight for the second half that pretty much snuffed it out on the second play of the third quarter.
That was a difficult catch as Coleman grabbed it off his shoestrings. This is a guy who appears to have turned around his career.