Ole Miss survives scare from Vandy, 27-16
Ole Miss had not defeated Vanderbilt at Vaught-Hemingway since 2006, and for a while Saturday night Rebels’ fans held their breath as they watched their No. 3-ranked team avoid an upset at the hands of the Commodores. For the majority of the game, Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) looked a bit off-balanced and out of sync following the team’s big win over Alabama last weekend, but they managed to pull out a 27-16 win and remain undefeated on the season.
Freeze credits Vandy
Head football coach Hugh Freeze saw every little mistake his team made on both sides of the football, from the 11 penalties to the misplacements of the defensive line. But he didn’t blame his team’s mediocre performance on the win over the Crimson Tide. He gave Vanderbilt a lot of credit for being prepared.
“Compliments to Coach Mason and his squad. Coach Mason is doing a really great job there,” Freeze said following his team’s victory. “He cares so much about the mentorship of his team. He has kids ready to play.”
The Commodores (1-3, 0-2 SEC) kept the game interesting heading into the fourth quarter, down only 20-13. Vanderbilt sliced the Rebels’ lead to four after Tommy Openshaw capped off a 12-play, 70-yard drive with the 34-yard field goal.
Missed opportunities for both teams
On Ole Miss’ third play of its next drive, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly scrambled and lobbed the football towards the sideline, only to be picked off by Jahmel McIntosh who returned it to the Rebels’ 37-yard line. The Commodores had a chance to cut the deficit to one or take the lead, but Openshaw’s 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left and that was the end of the potential upset for the Commodores.
“I went into the locker room and talked to my football team about this game we just played. We had opportunities,” Vanderbilt’s head coach Derek Mason said. “Tonight we lost to a good Ole Miss Rebel football team. I tell my guys there is never any solace in that. We play the game to win.”
The Commodores sophomore defensive tackle Nifae Lealao blocked Gary Wunderlich’s 29-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter, and on Vanderbilt’s ensuing drive running back Ralph Webb caught a 7-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Johnny McCrary to tie the game at 13-all with 7:39 to go.
McCrary, Webb lead Vandy offense
McCrary, who came into Saturday night’s game ranked third in the SEC in passing yards (880), completed 23 of 42 passes for 194 yards. Webb rushed for 96 yards on 25 carries and was the catalyst in setting up the tying score off a big 43-yard burst onto the outside to the Ole Miss’ 37.
The Rebels went four-and-out on their next drive, but got a boost from the special teams when wide receiver Cale Luke blocked the Commodores’ punt. The blocked punt shifted the momentum back to Ole Miss, which scored on its next drive, using defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche as a fullback to run through the middle in the Power-I formation for the one-yard score. It was Nkemdiche’s third offensive touchdown of the season and gave Ole Miss a 20-13 lead.
First half struggles
For most of the first half, the Rebels couldn’t muster the offensive rhythm they were accustomed to showcasing for the fans who were on their feet cheering. Some of Chad Kelly’s passes were batted back his way, which had the visiting Commodores believing they could pull off the upset.
The Commodores scored the game’s first points off a 28-yard field goal by Openshaw at the 3:25 mark of the first quarter. Vanderbilt led 3-0 and for the first time this season, Ole Miss was trailing in a game.
It didn’t last long.
Kelly, who completed 24 of 42 passes for 321 yards, connected with wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow for the 20-yard touchdown pass, which was the game’s first touchdown and only one of the first half. Kelly, who came into the game with 898 passing yards, was picked off by Oren Burks in the first quarter, but the Commodores weren’t able to capitalize on the turnover.
The Rebels went into halftime leading 13-3 after Wunderlich notched field goals of 39 and 19 yards, respectively.
“We just do what we do. I do not think there is any secret sauce. I think it is who we are and how we play and how we function,” Mason said about his defense. “I know we lost our composure late in that ballgame. Just in terms of getting lined up and making plays. We have to get off blocks. For us we are going to line up, keep playing football, and coming at you.”
Offensive and defensive leaders
While the offense for Ole Miss struggled at times, the defense held Vanderbilt to 322 total yards of offense, 120 yards shy of its season average (442). Denzel Nkemdiche had another dominating performance, totaling 14 tackles, 12 of them solo. Fadol Brown and Trae Elston each finished with 7 tackles.
Freeze on third Downs and penalties
Ole Miss was 3 of 13 on third downs and Vanderbilt was able to pin the Rebels into 3rd and long situations, which had the offense off rhythm. Additionally, Ole Miss got called for 11 penalties for 119 yards, which kept the Commodores very much alive throughout the game.
“That is not stuff that is elite football. We just did not play well. I have to start with myself and say that I did not prepare them well enough. We didn’t have a good third down plan, and we need to correct that,” Freeze said about his team’s miscues.
Freeze on Chad Kelly’s performance
“I don’t have to watch the film on the two picks. There were just really, really bad reads. We have to coach Chad Kelly on that. He threw a fade ball into the boundaries of a cover two safety. Both picks were into the same coverage.”
Feature image credit: Amanda Swain