By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Two teams couldn’t find their run game Saturday night, but Vanderbilt made the biggest and most well-timed play in the passing game.
Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers – with his brother Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, in attendance – passed 26 yards to Chris Boyd with 52 seconds left.
That lifted Vanderbilt to a 27-26 win before 60,572 fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Boyd catch was the first lead for the Commodores, who trailed 23-6 after Ole Miss took the opening third-quarter kick 56 yards to score on Bo Wallace’s 1-yard sneak.
The pass, a hitch-and-go, came after Ole Miss reached the Vanderbilt 9 with what could have been a game-winning drive but instead kicked a 27-yard field goal.
Ole Miss rushed for just 55 yards on 44 carries, the third straight game the Rebels have failed to gain 100 yards on the ground.
Vanderbilt lost its starting running back, Zac Stacy, on the game’s first series but still managed 104 yards on 36 attempts.
“I’m hurting for those kids, especially those seniors, who are helping us lay a foundation here,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The bottom line is they scored touchdowns, and we scored field goals.”
Ole Miss kicker Bryson Rose kicked four field goals, three of them from under 30 yards.
What the Rebels (5-5, 2-4 SEC) couldn’t get done on the ground, they often got done in the air as Wallace passed for a career-high 403 yards, completing 31-of-49 passes. It’s the fifth-highest single-game passing yardage total in school history. He threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Sanders after Ole Miss recovered a Vanderbilt fumble on the third play from scrimmage. The Rebels led 7-0 with 11 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Us not scoring in the red zone is inexcusable,” Wallace said. “You have the ball that many times in the red zone, you’ve got to punch in touchdowns. In this league it’s hard to score when the field gets that condensed. We’ve got to get down there and run the football and score touchdowns.”
Ole Miss has two remaining chances – at LSU next week and at home against Mississippi State – to qualify for postseason.
Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-3 SEC) was the team to earn bowl-eligibility, doing so for the second consecutive season and beating Ole Miss for the sixth time in eight years.
While Rose kicks from 22, 28 and 41 yards helped Ole Miss inch out to a first-half lead of 16-3, Vanderbilt was efficient near the end of the first half as well.
After punting the Rebels back to their 5, the Commodores forced a three-and-out.
It looked like Ole Miss might survive unscathed, but an off-sides penalty by Cameron Whigham moved Vanderbilt close enough to knock through a 44-yard field with little room to spare.
Rodgers finished 20 for 35 passing for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
Wallace’s numbers came against a Vanderbilt secondary ranked No. 7 nationally in pass defense efficiency.
Freeze said the Commodores were blitzing against the run, and the pass was just what was available.
“I love to run the ball, but after every game if we have 458 yards because of something they were doing … It’s hard to bang your head against the wall if they’re going to bring field blitz and boundary blitz. I tried. I wish I’d have thrown it more.”