Vanderbilt has yet another opportunity to bring back the success that led them to a 3-0 start this weekend against Ole Miss. Now that their gauntlet of ranked opponents is over, they can right the ship and get the season back on track.
Their first chance to do that is this Saturday in Oxford when they take on Ole Miss. To get a better look at the Rebels, we went behind enemy lines and spoke with Grayson Weir, sports editor of The Daily Mississippian, about the game and the Rebels’ season to date.
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Vanderbilt Hustler: Vanderbilt got a glimpse of Shea Patterson last season in relief of Chad Kelly in their win over Ole Miss. How has he improved since being thrust into the starter’s job?
Grayson Weir: Shea is still young, he’s still growing and he’s still learning, especially when it comes to throwing the ball away and not trying to do too much. That being said, between taking over for Chad in last year’s matchup and today, there’s a colossal difference in his maturity. His talent, athleticism and ability to extend plays have always been there, but his confidence has been growing. With big games, big losses, and the constant spotlight under his belt, this is Shea’s team, and no one is going to play harder.
VH: Ole Miss has gone through some tumultuous times this summer and won’t be able to make a postseason bowl this season. How has all of the drama affected the team, as well as the attitudes in Oxford surrounding the team?
GW: The drama undoubtedly has affected the guys in the locker room and on staff, but it’s in the past. The players have rallied around one another, and the sense of family is prevalent more than ever. At this point, the focus is on football and righting the ship.
VH: Ralph Webb showed some flashes of what he can do last week despite another low rushing performance. Is Ole Miss preparing to stop the run like the first six of Vanderbilt’s opponents?
GW: Is Ole Miss preparing to stop the run this week? Absolutely. Does it mean we will? Gosh, I hope so. Beyond the big fellas up front, our ability to tackle ball carriers has been atrocious. Coming out of every weekend, the focus defensively has been on wrapping up. And every week, nothing changes. The Rebels’ horrendous run defense (and defense in general) is a glaring concern coming in to Saturday. All we hope is that Webb, who is a powerful back with a high ceiling, has an okay/good game, not a great one.
VH: Vanderbilt’s run defense has not looked pretty in the last few weeks. Ole Miss is at the bottom of the SEC in rushing offense. Will they attempt to revive the run game against a defense that has had trouble stopping the run in recent weeks?
GW: Yes. While offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s offense is highly pass-oriented, he will once again attempt to establish a run game. The key word is “attempt,” as handing the ball off has been rendered virtually ineffective thus far. We have seen Jordan Wilkins break a few long runs, and would love to see more of that, especially against a defense that has allowed teams to run all over them— but the majority of the game will be on Patterson and his arm.
VH: After two weeks of double-digit losses, are the Rebels going to be playing this game with a chip on their shoulder?
GW: Undoubtedly. The last two weeks have been ugly, and even the guys admitted that, to a certain degree, their hearts weren’t in it. Between the three straight Ls, and last year’s road loss to the Commodores, saying this game means a lot is an understatement.
VH: What is your prediction for the game and why?
GW: Over the last few weeks I have had to tiptoe around with cupcake predictions that hinted the games were not going in favor of the Rebels. This week, I have a good feeling. Ole Miss is returning home pissed off with a desire to avenge the 2016 loss, which would have put them in a bowl game. If Shea comes out and does his thing, the offense finds somewhat of a balance with the run and the defense does just enough, the Rebels should put a close, structurally-unsound game in the win column.