Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 27-16 win over Vanderbilt …
I fully expected some degree of sluggishness for Ole Miss last night, but I expected the Rebels’ offense to be operating much more smoothly and efficiently by the middle of the second quarter.
It was not.
Hugh Freeze told us after the game that all wins should be celebrated, that their hard to come by and, in essence, should not be taken for granted.
It’s true. But last night’s game should not be celebrated long, and the Rebels’ should be held accountable for their lack of preparation and focus. I believe they will be starting today.
There’s another important train of thought here. No matter how much you prepare and focus so is the other guy. Sometimes he imposes his will.
It should not be overlooked that Vanderbilt is an improved football team. The Commodores are not so improved as to dictate things the way they did, but when you add that element to an Ole Miss idea that last night would be easy because you’re Ole Miss and they’re Vanderbilt – and I believe there was some of that going on – then this is what you get.
Remember, the veterans on this team remember a game at Vanderbilt last year when the Commodores could barely function in a 41-3 Ole Miss win.
Combine that memory with last week’s memory of a 43-37 win at Alabama, and overconfidence is the result.
Vanderbilt made Georgia look bad too. The Bulldogs eventually won 31-14, but that was a 10-point game until Georgia got a pick six of 88 yards with about a minute left.
Maybe it supports the theory of Ole Miss as an elite team given the fact that the Rebels could finish minus-two in turnovers, decisively lose third downs on both sides of the ball and still win a conference game by a two-possession margin.
Vanderbilt is indeed an improved football team, but when Jaylen Walton punched it in from 3 yards out with 6:47 left it was over. Vanderbilt wasn’t about to score twice and convert a two-point conversion after the touchdown.
That won’t necessarily be the case in years to come if Derek Mason recruits more athletes, and the Commodores continue to trend upward.
Walton was huge on the last drive with runs of 24 and 14 yards before the touchdown.
Ole Miss rushed for 151 yards and ran better later in the game. Not only was Vanderbilt softened up by that time the Rebels were just simply more committed to the run then.
For the first time this season Chad Kelly was just average. He made a couple of questionable decisions and was off target as much as on early in the game.
The play of Damore’ea Stringfellow in the game reminded us that there’s a lot talent at wide receiver, and these guys are good enough to bail out a quarterback if he just gets the ball close to them. Too many times last night Kelly did not. He finished with 321 passing yards but was barely over 50 percent with his completion percentage.
The defense had its moments. There were some pass coverage issues as the Rebels continue to re-make themselves at Huskie in Tony Conner’s absence. Those contributed to Vanderbilt’s third-down success as the Commodores converted five third downs on their 73-yard field goal drive in the first quarter.
The Rebels were better, not perfect, on third downs afterward. Their biggest stand of the night was limiting Vanderbilt to a three-and-out after Kelly’s second interception gave the Commodores the ball at the Ole Miss 20 in a four-point game early in the fourth quarter. The missed field goal that followed was one of few Vanderbilt mistakes on the night.
Denzel Nkemdiche was really flying around last night. The older brother from his outside linebacker spot had 14 tackles and two tackles for loss.
That was good news.
Sophomore safety C.J. Hampton played a lot and played in some big moments in the second half. It appears that level of trust in Hampton is increasing, and with that, it wouldn’t be a surprise this week to see Mike Hilton drop down to Huskie in the absence of Tony Conner. That’s the last move the staff can make to bring some level of certainty to the Huskie position in Conner’s absence.
The bottom line is Ole Miss was able to play through its sluggishness and still win.
It was this week at Florida, not last night at Vanderbilt, that was thought by many to be a trap game, and the next assignment just got a lot tougher with surging confidence from the Gators who trailed 27-14 with five minutes left but rallied to win 28-27 against Tennessee yesterday.
Though Tennessee was perhaps its first real test Florida has been pretty good on defense this year.
Ole Miss will need to execute far better than it did last night to be 5-0 the next time Day After Observations rolls around.