Rebels, Vanderbilt is in town Saturday, and it is the first day of the rest of your life.
Beating Alabama is a wonderful mountaintop experience, but the true value of the win is measured by what you do with it moving forward.
Sunday and Monday were great days to savor the first win in Tuscaloosa since 1988, just the second road win over Alabama in program history.
If Alabama was clearly the team to beat in the SEC West going into the game – and it looked that way – what does that make Ole Miss?
The answer is the next king of the hill, but it’s not a position the Rebels will hold unless they focus and execute each week.
There were plenty of national talking heads who picked Ole Miss to beat Alabama but more who did not.
Alabama looked like a more vulnerable Crimson Tide team than I’ve seen in quite some time, but it still looked like a very solid team.
Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette cancel each other out when Alabama and LSU meet. Henry will put up better numbers if the Tide commits to him more. Fournette, as good as he was against Auburn, had massive holes to run through. They won’t be there every week.
Alabama is better at quarterback and better with the front seven, though LSU is better with the secondary.
The bottom line is Ole Miss beat an outstanding team last week, a team that will be better in mid-October than it is now.
So, too, should be the Rebels.
Which brings us back to this game, Vanderbilt.
The Rebels are four-touchdown favorites. They will cover if they are focused and prepared. Coaches like Hugh Freeze earned their $4.3 million a year with wins like the ones at Alabama. They lift the program is every possible way. Those coaches also earn their money with games like this one, getting their guys ready to play the next week.
Freeze’s task this week is complicated by the Rebels’ health. Freeze rattled off a handful of players he listed as “questionable” as his Monday presser. That included guards Justin Bell and Rod Taylor and center Robert Conyers on the line and cornerback Tony Bridges in the secondary. Only Bell was not at practice by the time Tuesday rolled around.
That doesn’t mean all those guys are full strength. They’ll need heads snapped on right to play through ailments and to execute against a team that they’re expected to beat handily.
Vanderbilt is an improved football team.
That doesn’t mean the Commodores are outstanding. It just means they’re better. It’s not hard to be better when they were rarely functional last year.
It does appear, though, that the Commodores are getting some things done on defense where head coach Derek Mason is serving as his own coordinator. That’s the job in which he was so successful for Stanford before moving to Nashville.
Vanderbilt is fifth in the league in scoring defense, seventh in rushing defense, the latter being three stages higher than Ole Miss. Both have played one very respected SEC foe.
Vanderbilt gave up 281 yards rushing to Georgia, 189 on 19 carries to Nick Chubb.
After that, the Commodores were outstanding against Western Kentucky, which doesn’t really care about the run, and against Austin Peay which is Austin Peay.
There will be some opportunities in the run game for Ole Miss. It’s important that the Rebels take advantage of them and further establish that they are improved and can run the football.
They had 92 on the ground against Alabama. It’s the most a Freeze team has rushed for against the Crimson Tide, which has one of the better front sevens in the country, but it left a lot of talking heads shaking their heads wondering if the Rebels really can run the ball.
Vanderbilt appears to be moving the football between the 20s. Quarterback Johnny McCrary is averaging 293.3 passing yards a game, but the Commodores have struggled to score against teams not named Austin Peay.
McCrary has thrown four touchdown passes with five interceptions.
Georgia beat this team 31-14 but required a late pick six off McCrary, an 88-yarder, to put the margin at 17.
The guess here is that Freeze preaches focus and intensity to his players and that the leadership – with memories of last season’s fade still strong – responds.
I don’t see an Alabama hangover for the Rebels.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Vanderbilt 14