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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.

Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss

Ole Miss comes to Nashville this weekend and the Commodores look to notch their first win. Here are the three crucial matchups for the Halloween tilt.
Vanderbilt falls to 0-3 with a 41-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 10, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

After an extended bye week, the 0-3 Vanderbilt Commodores will look to get their first win of the season against the 1-4 Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday. But don’t let the Rebels’ record fool you: Ole Miss is coming off a strong performance against Auburn (3-2), in which it narrowly lost 35-28 on a late, 58-yard pass to receiver Seth Williams. In addition to entertainment, this contest also provides a blueprint for the Commodores to explore and exploit. So, let’s dive into the three key matchups to watch out for.

Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof vs. QB Matt Corral and QB John Rhys Plumlee

Last week, the Rebels showcased some exciting two-quarterback action that was akin to the National Football League’s (NFL) Drew Brees-Taysom Hill dynamic in New Orleans (or a Carson Wentz-Jalen Hurts pairing if you prefer a Philadelphia reference). Extremely athletic, Plumlee is utilized more often as a runner, only attempting three passes so far this season. However, Corral, the more polished passer of the two, can still take off—he ran for 88 yards and two scores last week. The system is exciting to watch and can kickstart a stagnant offense, so Ted Roof has to come prepared for anything. The kicker here is that it’s possible Ole Miss only uses Plumlee for a single snap (he saw no action against Arkansas the week prior), or conversely, they may use him every other snap. 

If the Commodores can manage to mitigate Rebel running gains (a big ask after giving up 290 ground yards to South Carolina), Ole Miss will be forced to the air, a weak spot for them these past two weeks: Corral has thrown eight interceptions and had a 9.2 QBR against Arkansas. If you’re not familiar with quarterback ratings (QBR), it’s on a scale out of 100, and as you can guess, 9.2 is abysmal. Overall, getting creative and showing these playcallers different looks is going to be crucial for Roof as his side looks to create confusion and turnovers in the Rebel ranks.

Keyon Brooks vs. the Ole Miss Defensive Line

After a strong performance against South Carolina (13 carries for 72 yards), Brooks will look to keep his momentum going against a lackluster Ole Miss rushing defense. The Rebels conceded 224 rush yards against Auburn and will need to be challenged come Saturday in order to give developing freshman Ken Seals time in the pocket. A strong run game leads to effective play-action calls and more one-on-one opportunities on which the Vanderbilt offense can capitalize. Vanderbilt will likely also lean on running backs Jamauri Wakefield and Ja’Veon Marlow to move the rock, as the team hopes to have the three-headed beast available and ready to haunt (Halloween pun intended) the Ole Miss line come gameday. It’s also worth noting that during his most recent press conference last Tuesday, Coach Derek Mason hinted at freshman running back Rocko Griffin getting some carries in the near future, and this game might be his chance to show fans his explosiveness from the backfield.

Ken Seals vs. Ole Miss’ Depleted Secondary

Last weekend, with Ole Miss cornerbacks Jakorey Hawkins and Deane Leonard out, the Rebels resorted to using two offensive players, 6’3” receiver Miles Battle and 5’7” running back Tylan Knight, in the secondary. This is essentially the last thing Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin wants to see on his defense. Whether or not the Rebels’ secondary will be healthier remains to be seen, but either way, Hawkins and Leonard will have missed two games and will, at the very least, be re-adjusting to game speed. It’ll be important for Seals and his receivers to capitalize early on this so that the Commodores don’t find themselves playing catchup late in the game. 

There’s a simple formula to this meeting: control the clock with effective running. This, in turn, will give Seals time in the pocket and open throws, while also forcing the Rebels to throw the ball more than they would like. Having said that, simplicity seems to be consistently thrown out the window for the Commodores, so execution is the key this week. If Vanderbilt gets behind quickly in this game, it’ll be pretty close to a death sentence with the Rebels’ ability to run the ball. However, only time will tell if the Commodores can stay competitive for four quarters both offensively and defensively to snatch their win of the year from Ole Miss.

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About the Contributor
Sam Curtis
Sam Curtis, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Sam Curtis (’24) is from Wallingford, Conn., majoring in human and organizational development and French and minoring in data science in Peabody College. He was previously Assistant Sports Editor and Sports Copy Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, he cheers on the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers and Leeds United. Outside of sports, he enjoys traveling and learning about history and philosophy. He can be reached at [email protected].    
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