SEC play is here, an opportunity for the Rebels to show a positive direction for the program.
They did that, to some degree, in the 14-13 loss to BYU, but how they lost overshadowed the growth exhibited by the defense.
Defense was not dominant against BYU but was very good.
It was impressive that a defense frequently victimized in 2010 didn't give up the really big plays against BYU.
Offense was a struggle, but quality of opponent had to be factored in.
Then came the Southern Illinois game, a chance to really shine against an FCS foe, but questions remain.
The defense picked off four passes, but the big plays allowed were back, and the offense couldn't run consistently.
Ole Miss goes to Vanderbilt healthier in the run game than it was against SIU. The offensive line has come into focus in the first two games, but the Rebels were able to run with Jeff Scott last week, and this week it appears they'll return Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis. It may be that both senior backs are in limited roles, but both have been at practice the entire week. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt calls Bolden and Davis “day to day.”
Then add Randall Mackey into the equation. It's likely the Rebels' backup quarterback will have an expanded role this week with a chance to give Vanderbilt some looks it hasn't seen.
There are reasons to expect the Rebels to run the ball better.
How much better will depend on the line's ability to pick up stunts and shifts within Vandy's front seven. Right tackle Bobby Massie says to expect improvement.
Zack Stoudt, having now taken over as the starting quarterback, has been consistent in the passing game for two weeks. He's also had a fumble that led to a touchdown each week.
Personally, I think it's easier to correct the fumble than interceptions. He hasn't thrown one of those yet, but he's facing a Vanderbilt defense that has been opportunistic with five pick-offs in the first two weeks.
Vanderbilt is playing with the confidence and enthusiasm that comes from a 2-0 start after a coaching change.
They've beaten Elon, an FCS team not as highly regarded at the moment as Southern Illinois, and a UConn team that trended about sixth place in most Big East projections.
Vanderbilt managed just 259 yards of offense and had three turnovers against the Huskies.
Like Ole Miss, Vandy expects to be better in the backfield with the return of running back Warren Norman.
The attitude may be changing in Nashville, but it's not clear yet that the quality of play is.
That being said, there's something to say for confidence and playing at home, and Vanderbilt has both of those elements in its favor.
Ole Miss players say Vanderbilt always plays them hard, but Vandy has done more than that lately, winning four of the last six in the series.
With two teams trying to prove they can win, confidence and momentum will be huge in the game.
I like the Rebels' chances to run the ball better and to cut down on the big plays allowed in the SIU game.
The secondary that has improved against the pass will need to be strong against the run this week. There hasn't been great passing from Vandy in two games.
This will be a test for the Ole Miss defense against the run. The Rebels couldn't stop Vandy last year. The Commodores rushed for 227 yards in a 28-14 win in Oxford, and their key players are back.
Prediction: Ole Miss 23, Vanderbilt 20