BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – In what might be considered a “renaissance” period and an improved product for Vanderbilt football, the Commodores have still had their share of losses under sixth-year coach Bobby Johnson.
Still, no single defeat sticks with him like last year's 17-10 loss at Ole Miss.
“That was Frustration with a capital F,” says Johnson, who is 16-44 at the school.
Vanderbilt controlled the game, outgaining the Rebels 400-179.
The Commodores also fumbled six times, losing four, and had one pass intercepted. Two of the turnovers came inside the Rebels' 10-yard line. Vanderbilt had 23 first downs to Ole Miss' seven and held the Rebels to a 1-for-12 performance on third-down conversions.
It was another closely contested game that swung the Rebels' way in the end as many in this series have. Such was not the case the last time Ole Miss visited Nashville. In 2005, Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron's debut season, Vanderbilt built a 24-3 lead but hung on to win 31-23.
Following last year's disappointing loss in Oxford, the Commodores went on to finish 4-8.
With high expectations this season, Vanderbilt players say they can't afford another slip against the Rebels when the two teams meet at 6 p.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“This game has a sense of urgency, and we're looking at it from that standpoint,” Vandy defensive end Curtis Gatewood said. “We do have to win this game. We're willing to accept that and prepare to win it.”
Gatewood could have a lot of say in whether the Commodores win it or not.
Gatewood had seven tackles, two for loss in Vandy's 24-10 loss to Alabama last week.
Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron says Gatewood, a 245-pound fifth-year senior from Memphis, is the Commodores' “best defensive player.”
Johnson doesn't disagree.
“Curtis is a very mobile defensive end. He's got a lot of strength,” the coach said. “One time against Andre Smith (of Alabama), I thought he pressed him out and threw him to the side. Curtis doesn't let being a little bit small bother him. He's going to play hard. He makes plays.”
While Gatewood has shown an ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage, the Commodores' collectively have not always made plays against the run.
They beat Richmond 41-17 but gave up 149 rushing yards in the process.
Alabama ran for 221, led by redshirt freshman Terry Grant's 173 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
With Ole Miss tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming off a career-high 226 yards against Missouri, that's a matchup that could favor Ole Miss.
Johnson, however, hasn't lost faith in his team's run defense.
“At times it's been good,” he said. “We've made some big plays behind the line of scrimmage. Our guys are playing hard on defense and playing pretty well.”