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Game Primer: Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt for Homecoming

Game Primer: Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt for Homecoming

OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss (6-1, 3-1 SEC) hosts Vanderbilt (2-6, 0-4 SEC) this Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT and can be seen on the SEC Network. Here are your game notes for the matchup.

What to Watch For

  • This is the 98th meeting all-time between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt dating back to 1894.
  • Ole Miss-Vanderbilt is the third-most played series between the Rebels and their 2023 opponents (Miss. St., LSU).
  • Ole Miss leads the series 53-40-2 and 26-6 in Oxford … The original record is 55-40-2 with Rebel wins in 2013 and 2014 vacated by the NCAA.
  • Ole Miss has won eight of the last 10 vs. Vanderbilt, including the last four by an average of 24.0 points per game.
  • Saturday marks the 96th Homecoming game at Ole Miss since 1924 … The Rebels are 72-16-2 (.811) after vacated wins on Homecoming.
  • Ole Miss has hosted Vanderbilt 20 prior times on Homecoming, owning an 18-2 record since first doing so in 1948.
  • Ole Miss is one of 10 FBS teams nationally with two AP Top 25 wins.
  • A win on Saturday would make Lane Kiffin the second-fastest in Ole Miss history to 30 wins.
  • The Rebels are at least 6-1 to start for the third straight season, the best such streak at Ole Miss since 1957-63.
  • Ole Miss is the only FBS team with both a 500yd passing (524, vs. Mercer) and a 300yd rushing game (317, vs. LSU).
  • Ole Miss has held consecutive SEC opponents to less than 300 yards of offense for the first time since 2009.
  • Of Ole Miss’ 3,361 total yards, 2,360 (70.2%) have come from transfers.
  • QB Jaxson Dart ranks third in the SEC, 10th in the FBS at 312.3 yards of total offense per game.
• At 2,134 career rushing yards, RB Quinshon Judkins ranks ninth in Ole Miss history.
  • LB and SEC Defensive Player of the Week Ashanti Cistrunk has played in 55 consecutive games
  • LB Suntarine Perkins leads all SEC freshmen with 3.5 sacks.

Commodores Scouting Report

Vanderbilt comes to Oxford at 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the SEC this season. The Commodores started off 2-0 after wins against Hawai’i (35-28) and Alabama A&M (47-13), but have lost six in a row, including two ranked losses to No. 22 Missouri (38-21) and No. 1 Georgia (37-20).

Vanderbilt has been well disciplined this season, ranking second in the SEC and 27th nationally with an average of just 4.8 penalties for 42.6 yards. The Commodores also are skilled in special teams, currently holding the FBS lead in net punting with an average of 46.0 per punt from SEC leader Matt Hayball.

Offensively, Vanderbilt has been under the leadership of two quarterbacks, with AJ Swann leading most of the passing duties with 1,290 yards and 11 touchdowns before an injury forced backup Ken Seals into the starting role.

Vandy has two rushers with at least 200 yards in Patrick Smith (257) and Sedrick Alexander (225), and are led in the passing attack by wideout Will Sheppard and his 574 yards and eight touchdowns. Sheppard’s eight scores ranks third in the SEC and seventh nationally.

Defensively, CJ Taylor has been a one-man wrecking crew, leading with 52 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Series History

  • This is the 98th meeting all-time between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
  • It is the third-most played series of all-time between Ole Miss and its 2023 opponents (Mississippi State, LSU).
  • The Rebels lead the series 53-40-2 overall.
  • The original record vs. the Commodores is 55-40-2, with wins in 2013 and 2014 by Ole Miss vacated by NCAA ruling.
  • Ole Miss leads the series 26-6 in Oxford.
  • Vanderbilt leads the series 29-23-2 in games played in Nashville … The original record is 29-25-2 in favor of Vandy.
  • Ole Miss has won eight of the last 10 contests on the field vs. Vanderbilt.
  • Ole Miss has won the last four in a row by an average margin of 24.0 points per game.
  • The Commodores won the first 19 meetings between the two teams from 1894 to 1938, including 16 by shutout.

Rebs in the Polls

  • Ole Miss ranks No. 11 in the Coaches poll and No. 12 in the Associated Press poll for Week Nine.
  • Dating back to 2021, Ole Miss has been ranked in the top 25 in 38 of the last 40 poll releases … That includes a streak of 29 across 2021 and 2022, the longest streak since being ranked for 41 straight weeks from 2014-16.
  • The SEC boasts six teams in the top 25 of both polls.
  • Ole Miss is one of just 10 FBS teams with multiple AP Top 25 wins (Alabama, Florida State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon St., Texas, Utah, Wash. St.).

Homecoming at Ole Miss

  • This is the 96th Homecoming game at Ole Miss since 1924.
  • The Rebels are 72-16-2 (.811 winning pct.) in Homecoming games (after vacated wins).
  • This will be the 21st time Ole Miss has hosted Vanderbilt for a Homecoming matchup, first since 2019 … The Rebels are 18-2 (.900) in Homecoming games vs. the Commodores dating back to their first Homecoming contest in 1948.
  • Ole Miss has won 23 of their last 26 Homecoming matchups on the field.
  • The last Homecoming loss was a 27-7 defeat to Louisiana Tech in 2011, and the last Homecoming loss to Vanderbilt was in 1991.

Never Quit

Saturday marks the 34th anniversary of the hit Chucky Mullins made on Vanderbilt’s Brad Gaines during Ole Miss’ Homecoming game on Oct. 28, 1989, which left Mullins instantly paralyzed and eventually ended his life.

Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins was born on July 8, 1969, in Russellville, Alabama, where he graduated from Russellville High School in 1988 with all-conference, all-area and all-state honors. Mullins redshirted his first season at Ole Miss in 1988, but later saw action in 1989 as a defensive back and was rapidly emerging as a defensive force in the Southeastern Conference.

Following the hit, Chucky’s unbroken spirit changed the University of Mississippi and transcended the world of football. More than a million dollars was raised for the Chucky Mullins Trust Fund, and during his rehabilitation he was visited by such stars as Walter Payton, Janet Jackson, and President George H.W. Bush. When Chucky returned to Oxford in August 1990 to begin living in the specially-equipped house built by the Trust Fund donations, he announced a determination to return to Ole Miss and pursue a degree.

Against all odds, in January of 1991, he did return to the classroom. However, on May 1, 1991, as he prepared for class, he suddenly stopped breathing. Rushed to the hospital, he never regained consciousness and died five days later from complications resulting from a blood clot.

In the spring of 1990, the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity at Ole Miss initiated the Chucky Mullins Courage Award to be given each season to an outstanding defensive player, who is chosen by the Rebel coaching staff. Each award recipient receives a framed Mullins jersey and has the opportunity to wear Mullins’ No. 38 on the field the following season. This season, senior defensive end and active Ole Miss career sacks leader Cedric Johnson wears a No. 38 patch as the 2023 recipient of the award.

In 2006, Mullins’ number was retired, and on Sept. 26, 2014, Coliseum Drive on the Ole Miss campus was renamed Chucky Mullins Drive, honoring his life and influence in the most visible and enduring way.

Hot Starts

Ole Miss is off to at least a 6-1 start through seven games for the third straight season under head coach Lane Kiffin, joining a 6-1 start from the 2021 squad that ended 10-3 and with a trip to the Sugar Bowl, as well 2022’s team that started off 7-0. This is the best such streak at Ole Miss since the late 1950s and early ’60s, when the three-time national champion Rebels ripped off seven such years in a row from 1957-63.

Stingy Defense

The Landshark defense has been on a tear lately, helping lift Ole Miss to victories against Arkansas and Auburn, but doing so in different ways. The Rebel defense stifled the Razorbacks to just 36 yards on the ground back on Oct. 7, the fewest yielded to an SEC opponent by Ole Miss since shutting out Tennessee to zero rushing yards back on Oct. 18, 2014.

Ole Miss followed that up with a lockdown passing defense performance at Auburn, holding the Tigers to just 122 yards through the air — the fewest by the Rebel defense against an SEC opponent since 2019, and the fewest in a win against an SEC opponent since holding Vanderbilt to just 60 passing yards in 2014.

In terms of total offense, the last two games against Arkansas (288) and Auburn (275) constitue the first consecutive games holding SEC opponents to fewer than 300 yards since Nov. 14, 2009 vs. Tennessee (275) and Nov. 21, 2009 vs. LSU (290).

Winning the Turnover Battle

Ole Miss leads the SEC and ranks 15th in the FBS in turnover margin, currently sitting at a total season margin of +6 and a per-game margin of +0.9. The Rebel defense has done its part with seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries, but it’s been the powerful — yet careful — Ole Miss offense that has helped pad that margin, currently leading the SEC and ranking fifth nationally at just five turnovers all season.

In addition to being one of the most efficient QB’s in the nation, junior Jaxson Dart has also not made many mistakes, putting the Rebels third in the SEC in interceptions this year (No. 22 FBS).

No Fly Zone

The Ole Miss secondary has put together an excellent stretch of games beginning with S Daijahn Anthony’s game-sealing pass breakup against No. 12 LSU on Sept. 30, yielding just 377 combined passing yards to Arkansas (250) and Auburn (122).

In that same stretch, the Rebel defensive backs have combined for four interceptions and six pass breakups for 10 total passes defended. Ole Miss picked off two passes apiece against Arkansas (LB Ashanti Cistrunk, S John Saunders Jr.) and Auburn (Saunders Jr., CB Zamari Walton), marking the first time since 2021 that Ole Miss has had multiple INTs in consecutive games, and the first time in back-to-back SEC games since doing so in three straight in 2014 at Texas A&M (2, Oct. 11), vs. Tennessee (3, Oct. 18) and at LSU (2, Oct. 25).

Causing Mayhem

Ole Miss ranks as one of the most ferocious defenses in the backfield this season, ranking fifth nationally in sacks (3.6/game) and eighth in tackles for loss (8.0/game). The Rebels have been relentless, recording at least 4.0 TFL in all seven games this season, with six of seven games hitting at least 6.0 TFL, four with at least 9.0 TFL, and two in double-digits against Mercer in the season-opener (11.0) and against Arkansas on Oct. 7 (10.0).

Those TFL have come at a huge cost for opposing teams as well, as the Rebels lead the SEC and rank second only to USC in lost yardage at a whopping 270 yards. Ole Miss has been equally as punishing in disrupting the passing game, notching multiple sacks in all seven games and recording at least four sacks in four of seven games this year.

A wide range of defenders have been getting in on the fun, too, with a total of 12 Rebels contributing to a QB sack and 21 having chipped-in on a TFL. And all that mayhem is paying off, with five forced fumbles (including a Khari Coleman sack fumble returned for a TD by Jared Ivey vs. Tulane), seven interceptions, 28 QB hurries, 26 pass breakups and a blocked field goal.

In the Kiffin era, Ole Miss has recorded multiple sacks in 31 games, at least 5.0 tackles for loss in 29 games, and at least 4.0 sacks in 17 games. In games under Kiffin with at least 5.0 tackles for loss, Ole Miss is 20-9, and in games with at least 4.0 sacks, the Rebels are 9-3.

Fast Starts, Strong Finishes

The Rebel offense can get out to an explosive start, as evidenced by its 97-38 first quarter margin (13.9 to 5.4 per game), but Ole Miss has also closed games in powerful fashion, holding an almost identical scoring margin in the final frame at 89-44 (12.7 to 6.3). That extends to the entire second half as well, as Ole Miss holds a season advantage of 151-82 in the back two quarters.

The Rebels own six quarters with at least 20 points this year, five of which have come in either the first or fourth quarters.

Mr. Consistency

Senior LB Ashanti Cistrunk has been a mainstay of the Ole Miss defense throughout his long career as a Rebel, as evidenced by his current streak of 55 consecutive games played — which constitutes all 55 of his career games played.

Cistrunk is among 117 active players nationally in the FBS to have played at least 55, and on Ole Miss’ roster this year he is among three alongside transfers Zamari Walton and Teja Young, who both have also appeared in 55 career contests.

Cistrunk is coming off perhaps the best game of his career against Arkansas, when he ended the night with a season-high nine tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, one half-sack and a key interception returned 28 yards — the second pick of his career.

Cistrunk was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against the Razorbacks, helping lead the Rebel defense to a 27-20 victory on Oct. 7. In his Ole Miss career, Cistrunk has 175 total tackles (75 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. In addition to Cistrunk, Ole Miss’ 2023 roster features five more with at least 150 career tackles: CB DeShawn Gaddie Jr. (155), LB Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste (180), LB Monty Montgomery (180), S Isheem Young (186) and S Teja Young (168).

Don’t Blink

Ole Miss is once again running a lightning-quick offense in 2023, currently ranking ninth in the FBS at 23.1 seconds per play.

This season, Ole Miss owns seven scoring drives clocking in beneath the one-minute mark, including back-to-back opening drives against Mercer (51 seconds) and Tulane (48 seconds). The 51-second drive against Mercer was the fastest to open a season for Ole Miss since 2018, and the 28 first quarter points ranks as the most in available records since at least 1967.

The 48-second debut against the Green Wave, meanwhile, was the fastest on any opening drive for the Rebels since finding the endzone in just 34 seconds against Liberty on Nov. 6, 2021. In the Kiffin era, Ole Miss is 24-5 when scoring first.

Big Play Potential

The Rebels continue to be one of the best teams in the country in explosive plays, currently ranking third among all FBS teams with 54 plays of 20 yards or more this season. In total, Ole Miss has tallied 124 plays of 10 or more yards this year, ranking tied for 12th among all FBS schools. The Rebels average 17.7 such plays per game.

Throwin’ Darts

Junior QB Jaxson Dart has been one of the top signal callers nationally this season with both his arm and his legs, ranking third in the SEC and 10th nationally at his 312.3 yards of total offense per game. As Dart goes, so have the Rebels so far this season, with his SEC No. 2 and FBS No. 17 points responsible per game clip of 16.3 helping spur the Rebels to the No. 3 scoring offense in the conference at 39.7 points per game.

Dart ranks third in the SEC and fifth nationally in both yards per completion at (15.7) and yards per attempt (10.0), and he ranks within the FBS top-30 in passing efficiency at 167.6 (No. 10) and passing yards at 1,840 (No. 29). Dart has been especially effective in the first quarters so far this season, standing at 38-of-49 for 662 yards and seven touchdowns in the opening frame. That includes a blistering 11-for-11 stretch to open the season against Mercer, making him just the seventh Ole Miss quarterback to ever throw 11 consecutive completions and the best such streak since Matt Corral set the school record at 19 in a row at Vanderbilt in 2020.

Dart is starting to climb several Ole Miss career lists, as he now ranks seventh all-time in career 300-yard passing games (4), eighth in passing touchdowns (33), ninth in total offense (5,774), 10th in touchdowns responsible for (40) and 11th in passing yards (4,814).

In his overall career combining totals from his freshman season at USC in 2021, Dart owns 6,167 yards passing, 7,170 yards of total offense, 1,003 yards rushing (960 at Ole Miss), and 42 passing touchdowns. Dart is one of just 19 quarterbacks in the FBS and four within the SEC with at least 4,000 career passing yards and 1,000 career rushing yards, as well as one of 16 with at leats 6,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.

Calling His Own Number

Junior QB Jaxson Dart had a career day running the ball against Georgia Tech on Sept. 16, and did so with one of the longest rushes ever by a Rebel signal caller. Dart ended with a career high 136 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 14, highlighted by a massive 68 yard scamper in the second quarter.

That run nearly doubled up his previous career long of 36 against Troy last season, and all-time in Ole Miss history it ranks as the fourth-longest ever by a QB.

On the ground, Dart ranks as one of the top rushing QBs nationally, ranking second in the SEC among signal-callers in both yards per carry at 4.5 (FBS No. 13) and yards per game at 49.4 (FBS No. 20). Dart is also tied for fourth nationally this year among QBs with six rushing touchdowns.

Portal Production

Ole Miss has been no stranger to the transfer portal, and it has paid huge dividends this season, with 2,360 of its 3,361 yards (70.2%) of total offense coming from transfer players.

That doesn’t include all 2,038 passing yards from all three of Ole Miss’ three transfer quarterbacks, but it does include 707 of 1,323 rushing yards (53.4%), and 1,653 of 2,038 receiving yards (81.1%), as well as 24 of all 35 Rebel touchdowns (68.6%) this season.

Nose for the Endzone

Ole Miss has two well-seasoned running backs in sophomore Quinshon Judkins and senior Ulysses Bentley IV, who stand as just one of four duos in the FBS with at least 20 career rushing touchdowns.

Judkins and Bentley both crossed the goal line for the 22nd times in their careers against Arkansas on Oct. 7, putting them alongside other duos from LSU, San Jose State and USC. Combined, the Rebel duo of Judkins and Bentley owns 4,093 career yards and 45 total touchdowns on the ground.

Ground & Pound

Sophomore RB Quinshon Judkins has exploded for 366 rushing yards and three touchdowns across his last three games since breaking out for 177 yards on 33 carries against the No. 12 LSU defense on Sept. 30.

Judkins followed that up with another 100-yard effort at Auburn, tallying 124 yards and a score on 21 carries. Both of those efforts beyond the century mark have pushed Judkins to No. 3 in Ole Miss history in career 100-yard games.

His 177 yards against LSU was his third career 150-yard outing — with his other two last year being a 214-yard explosion at Arkansas, and a 205-yard effort at Texas A&M (making his 177 yards vs. LSU his most in front of a home crowd).

Judkins is marching his way up several other all-time lists at Ole Miss, as he is currently fifth in career rushing touchdowns (23), tied for sixth in career all-purpose touchdowns (25), and ninth in career rushing yards (2,134).

Judkins is coming off a historic freshman campaign in 2022 that saw him break several Ole Miss records, including the single-season rushing mark. Judkins was a consensus first team selection on all the Preseason All-America teams and All-SEC teams, and was selected to the Maxwell, Walter Camp and Doak Walker Award watch lists.

Back in Action

Senior transfer WR Zakhari Franklin has been limited due to injury to start the 2023 season, but he still ranks as one of the top active receivers in the FBS. This preseason, Franklin was one of two Rebels named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list alongside Tre Harris, and with good reason.

Despite missing the first three games of 2023, Franklin still ranks among the top active receivers in the FBS, as his 38 career receiving touchdowns leads all active FBS receivers, and his 3,386 career yards ranks second only to Arizona’s Jacob Cowing (4,045).

Franklin has also hauled in a reception in 49 consecutive games played, ranking only behind Coastal Carolina’s Sam Pinckney (52) and Cowing (51). In 46 career games for UTSA, Franklin rewrote their record books en route to two first team All-Conference USA selections and an Honorable Mention All-America nod by Phil Steele in 2022. Franklin has notched 13 career 100-yard receiving games, and in 2022 was tied for second nationally in receiving touchdowns with 15. Franklin was also part of the Biletnikoff watch list in 2022.

Deadly Duo

Zakhari Franklin and Tre Harris, both Biletnikoff Award watch list members this preseason, are the lone teammates in the FBS to rank within the active career receiving touchdowns top-15 list, with Franklin’s 38 career scores leading all active FBS receivers, and Harris’ 20 ranking tied for 13th. Combined, they own a dazzling career line of 393 receptions for 5,372 yards and 58 touchdowns.

Daylight for Dayton

Senior WR Dayton Wade is off to a career-best start in 2023 as one of Ole Miss’ top deep-play threats. At 402 yards on 28 receptions, Wade has already passed his prior high in yards (309) and catches (27) — both recorded in 2022, his first season at Ole Miss after three at WKU from 2019-21.

Wade has had at least 64 yards receiving in four games this year, and he leads all Rebels with four receptions of at least 40 yards. Nationally, he is among just six SEC receivers with at least four catches of 40 yards.

No Freshman Jitters

Freshman LB Suntarine Perkins was a highly-touted recruit nationally as the No. 1 overall player in Mississippi and the No. 2 linebacker in the country, and he has already become a staple of the Landshark defense through four collegiate games played.

Perkins shined in his debut against Mercer on Sept. 2, leading all Rebels with nine tackles off the bench, including four solo and one solo sack, in Ole Miss’ 73-7 rout of the Bears. Perkins was also a one-man wrecking crew for the Rebels in Tuscaloosa against No. 12 Alabama on Sept. 23, charting 2.5 tackles for loss and two solo sacks for a whopping loss of 21 yards.

With 3.5 sacks, Perkins is tied for the team lead, fifth among all freshmen in the FBS, and leads all SEC freshmen. At Raleigh High School, Perkins was a one-man wrecking crew, leading RHS to its first state title in 2022 as both its star running back and linebacker.

In the state title game, Perkins ran 32 times for 331 yards and four touchdowns while also contributing six tackles and an interception on the other side of the ball. In his high school career, Perkins totaled more than 5,000 all-purpose yards, including 2,078 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground as a senior. As a linebacker, he tallied 267 total tackles and 10 sacks in his high school career.

(Feature image credit: Hannah Morgan White, Ole Miss)

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

About The Author

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn's love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

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