By The Associated Press
OXFORD — When the schedule says Vanderbilt, many Southeastern Conference teams breathe a sigh of relief.
Not Ole Miss. Though the Commodores have struggled to get out of the bottom of the SEC for decades, they’ve certainly succeeded in being a huge pain for the Rebels in recent years, winning four of their past six in the series.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has dropped two of three against Vanderbilt during his tenure, a trend the Rebels are trying to change heading into Saturday’s game against the Commodores in Nashville. Nutt has multiple theories for Vanderbilt’s success in the series — but says maybe the biggest factor is how early the game is played, before the pounding of the SEC season can wear teams down.
“We always catch them early when they are healthy, fast and confident,” Nutt said.
Last season, interim coach Robbie Caldwell got his only SEC victory when the Commodores beat the Rebels 28-14 in Oxford.
“They compete to the highest level and never take a lazy snap against us,” Ole Miss cornerback Marcus Temple said. “They don’t make mistakes, so we have to cut down on our mistakes. Especially right now with their new coach. They’re going to have extra energy and really be hungry for this one.”
This year’s Vanderbilt team appears to be one of the better ones in recent years. The Commodores have won two games to open the season, including last week’s 24-21 victory over Connecticut. First-year coach James Franklin was confident during SEC Media Days in July that he could change the culture surrounding the program, and so far the former Maryland offensive coordinator has delivered.
But Franklin said Vanderbilt’s recent success against Ole Miss wouldn’t be an advantage on Saturday.
“We’re not talking about what’s happened in the past,” Franklin said. “The 2010 team that beat Ole Miss is nothing like this year. We’ve got to handle our business. That game last year in my opinion has no relevance this year this team it’s this year. Do they have some memories? Yeah, there’s no doubt about it, but I want those guys to focus. I don’t think we’re in any position to be overconfident against anybody.”
Ole Miss is just looking for a win — any win — against an SEC opponent after last year’s disastrous 4-8 season, that included a 1-7 mark in conference play. The Rebels are coming off a 42-24 victory over Southern Illinois that included some encouraging signs but also causes for concern.
Quarterback Zack Stoudt started his first career game for the Rebels, completing 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He’ll start again this weekend for the Rebels, though backup Randall Mackey is expected to get playing time as well. Third-string running back Jeff Scott, who was playing in place of injured seniors Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis, scored four touchdowns against the Salukis — three in the running game and one on a punt return.
But the defense was shaky, letting Southern Illinois back into the game midway through the second quarter when things appeared well in hand. The Football Championship Subdivision team scored two unanswered touchdowns to pull within 35-24 midway through the fourth quarter before Ole Miss scored a late touchdown to seal the victory.
Warts and all, SEC play beckons. Nutt has a 52-52 career SEC record in 13 seasons at Ole Miss and Arkansas.
“Nothing really surprises me,” Nutt said. “It is always very difficult and tough league. Anybody can beat anybody in any three-hour period. It is in between that time that you have to be your best. If you eliminate turnovers, play defense and execute on special teams you have a chance to win.”