By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
NASHVILLE – If a matchup between two SEC teams who combined last year to win two SEC games was important to determine would escape the cellar this season, Vanderbilt clearly has the upper hand.
The Commodores limited Ole Miss to 234 yards and intercepted quarterback Zack Stoudt five times in a 30-7 win before a Saturday morning crowd of 34,579 at Vanderbilt Stadium. It was Vanderbilt’s largest margin of victory in the series since winning 24-0 here in 1930.
The Rebels were down 30-0 when they scored with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left on a 47-yard pass from Stoudt to freshman receiver Donte Moncrief. It was the first offensive touchdown this season for Ole Miss against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Ole Miss coaches and players were stunned by the outcome, more so because it came after what they called a very good week of preparation.
“After the week of practice we had, I’m very disappointed. It looked really bad,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “I’ve never felt that way on the sideline. We just didn’t have that confidence, didn’t make first downs or move the ball like we normally do. That was a first.”
The late touchdown, meaningless in the big picture, did serve to help Ole Miss avoid its first shutout since 1998. That was a 34-0 loss at Arkansas – in Nutt’s first season as head coach of the Razorbacks.
Nutt acknowledged the difficulty in generating program support moving forward.
“It will be negative. It will be hard not to be. I understand that,” he said. “I have to let my guys know I still believe in them. We can do a better job, and I have to get them ready to play.”
Aside from some strong defensive plays early, readiness on Saturday was difficult to see.
The Rebels (1-2, 0-1 SEC) sacked Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith twice in the first quarter and also forced the Commodores to turn the ball over on downs.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin responded with quicker passes for Smith and found a spark in his run game, too.
The Commodores (3-0, 1-0) seemed to find favorable matchups when they needed them like Ole Miss linebacker Joel Kight in one-on-one coverage with running back Jerron Seymour. The resulting pass interference call was big on Vanderbilt’s first touchdown drive, which ended on Smith’s 19-yard option run at the 5:40 mark.
Vanderbilt quickly made it 14-0 when safety Trey Wilson returned a Stoudt interception 52 yards for the end zone. Halftime couldn’t come quickly enough for Ole Miss.
After a three-and-out series for the Rebels, Vanderbilt took over at its 43 with 3:02 left and moved 57 yards in eight plays to score on Seymour’s 9-yard run with 25 seconds left.
It was 21-0 at the half.
Not so Stoudt
Stoudt was sacked only once, but was hurried many times more.
“Sometimes I had enough time and didn’t do anything with it. Sometimes we had something (open) and didn’t have enough time to throw,” he said.
The three-touchdown deficit swelled in the third when a shotgun snap sailed over Stoudt’s head resulting in a safety, and Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy ran 77 yards for a touchdown.
Vanderbilt’s Franklin experienced the other end of the emotional spectrum.
“It’s a tremendous sense of pride. I know how hard they’ve worked,” Franklin said. “It means a lot to me.”
Stoudt finished the day 13-for-26 passing for 139 yards.
Backup quarterback Randall Mackey played in both halves and left in the fourth quarter with a thigh bruise. He rushed seven times for 31 yards and was 2-for-4 passing for for 10 yards.
Brandon Bolden played for the first time since sustaining a hairline fracture in his ankle in the second quarter against BYU, but neither Bolden nor Jeff Scott, who started the game, could establish consistency in a run game that netted 85 yards.
“The defense played well enough in the first half, but we should have had points,” Nutt said. “We couldn’t get that seven to help our defense, and the defense needs help too.”