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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind enemy lines: Ole Miss

Ziyi Liu
Oren Burks (20) intercepts a pass during the first half as Vanderbilt trailed the Ole Miss Rebels 13-3 September 26, 2015 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Oxford, MS.

The Vanderbilt Hustler sports editor Robbie Weinstein and the Daily Mississippian sports editor Brian Scott Rippee discuss the state of the Commodores and Rebels ahead of Saturday’s game.

Brian Scott Rippee: Vanderbilt seems to be a hard team to figure out. It’s looked great in spots like in its win over Georgia but then sputtered against Missouri last week. What has been the biggest reason for the inconsistencies?

Robbie Weinstein: The weird thing about Vanderbilt’s performance last week was that aspects of the team’s play that had been strengths all year, namely defense and punting, were a problem while the offense actually moved the ball. I think the inconsistency partially correlates with the type of offense Vanderbilt plays against; the ‘Dores have struggled against offenses that have strong passing games and/or dual-threat quarterbacks. Obviously, that doesn’t bode trend should concern them with respect to this game.

BSR: Depending on how these last two games go, how hot is Derek Mason’s seat at the end of this season?

RW: I really don’t think he’s on the hot seat. Vanderbilt’s administration isn’t like others around the SEC; it has a strong aversion to fire coaches, and Mason is well-liked by everyone around here. Mason has returns the vast majority of his team next year, so I’d be shocked if Vanderbilt doesn’t give him another year.

BSR: Ralph Webb is one of the best running backs in the SEC when healthy. What specifically makes him so special?

RW: Webb doesn’t have any major weaknesses in his game at this point. He lacks elite top-end speed, but he makes up for it with great quickness, vision and cutting ability. He has improved in pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. However, he hasn’t been anywhere near the same after injuring his left ankle against Kentucky. Luckily, Vanderbilt has a great backup in Khari Blasingame who can help carry the load.

BSR: Derek Mason defenses have given Ole Miss fits in the past; what must the defense do this time to neutralize the Rebels’ offense?

RW: The defense can’t let Shea Patterson beat them with his feet. Defensive tackle Adam Butler said Tuesday that the defense has done a much better job staying disciplined against dual-threat quarterbacks recently, and that needs to continue on Saturday or Ole Miss will probably move the ball with ease. Vanderbilt’s defense is excellent up the middle in the run game, but perimeter rushes and quarterback runs are where Ole Miss can hurt the Commodores.

BSR: What is a matchup that you believe Vanderbilt has an advantage in and could exploit?

RW: Vanderbilt appears to have an advantage against Ole Miss’ running game, at least when the running backs get the ball. Mason’s defense combines big defensive linemen who are hard to move with arguably the best player in the SEC in Zach Cunningham roving around behind them to clean up any mistakes. I think the Rebels will have a better chance of picking up chunk yardage in the pass game than with Akeem Judd.

BSR: What is a matchup that concerns you?

RW: A matchup that concerns me is Damore’ea Stringfellow against Vanderbilt corner Torren McGaster. Although Stringfellow may not be an elite deep threat by SEC standards, McGaster has been beaten deep a number of times this year. If Patterson can put the throws on the money, Ole Miss should be able to complete at least one bomb Saturday night.

BSR: Prediction?

RW: I have less of a feel for this game than any other game Vanderbilt has played this year. It seems like a bad matchup for the Commodores, but they played well against a much better Rebels team on the road last year with mostly the same team. I think Ole Miss will probably win, but I don’t know whether this game will be close or a blowout. I’d expect Vanderbilt will probably need a defensive or special teams touchdown to put enough points on the board to win this one, and it will certainly need a 5-star performance from 5-star punter Sam Loy.

RW: The sample size is obviously limited, but how does Shea Patterson compare with Chad Kelly in both style and effectiveness?

BSR: Like you alluded to, it’s difficult to tell because of the small sample size and how limited Ole Miss was offensively. Freeze said they essentially ran four plays in the second half. But I will say that Patterson has great footwork and can extend plays with his feet much like Kelly can. Patterson’s got a strong arm, and while he made some freshman mistakes, he threw some really accurate balls. I think we will be able to tell a little more when Ole Miss opens up the playbook.

RW: When opposing defenses have had success against Ole Miss, what have they been able to exploit?

BSR: Teams have run all over Ole Miss this year. It has allowed 2,291 rush yards through ten games this season. In its defense, it’s gone up against Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, Bo Scarbrough and two teams that run the option. And for all the criticism that unit has gotten, it played really well in the second half last week in College Station. But that has been the formula for success against the Ole Miss defense along with picking on a young secondary. It will certainly have its hands full with Ralph Webb this weekend.

RW: What’s been the problem with the Rebel defense this year?

BSR: It hasn’t been able to find consistent linebacking play. The middle linebacker spot has been a revolving door, and they’re thin on the outside after DeMarquis Gates. When teams get into the second level, they’re off to the races against Ole Miss. I think this glared particularly in the LSU game when Fournette broke runs of 78, 76 and 59 yards. That”s been Ole Miss’ biggest issue this year.

RW: Gary Wunderlich has one of the most impressive stat lines of any kicker in the country. How aggressive has head coach Hugh Freeze been around the 30- or 35-yard line when he knows he’s got a stone-cold killer at kicker?

BSR: He’s quietly put together one of the best seasons among all kickers in college football. Anywhere 50 and in both Wunderlich and Freeze feel pretty confident. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the leg to hit from longer, but he’s been extremely accurate in that range. To answer your question, Freeze has been a pretty aggressive play-caller throughout his career, especially on fourth downs. But I think that’s been toned back some this year, and that’s because he has a ton of confidence in Gary Wunderlich.

RW: How do you see this game playing out? You’re welcome to give a score prediction, as well.

BSR: I’m like you; I really can’t get a feel for this one. Patterson will be going up against a much better defense this week, and Ralph Webb is going to prove to be a really tough test for a run defense that has struggled mightily this year. If Patterson and the offense can continue to click and score points, I think Vanderbilt may struggle to keep up. But if they don’t and this is a lower-scoring game, Vandy will have an excellent shot to win this. I’m going to cautiously say Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 20.

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Ziyi Liu, Author

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