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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

Film Room: Previewing Ole Miss’s Ground and Pound

Ole Miss’s dominant run game and pass rush have powered them to a 5-0 start this season.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt will face off against Ole Miss on Saturday, October 8 in their first home SEC contest of 2022 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

After a much-needed bye week, the Vanderbilt Commodores will return to action against No. 9 Ole Miss. The Commodores raced out to their first 3-1 start since 2017, but confidence took a major blow after a 55-3 drubbing by No. 2 Alabama. With an extra week of practice under their belt and home field advantage for the first time in nearly a month, Vanderbilt’s hope for a historic upset remains intact. 

In Vanderbilt’s clash with Alabama, Heisman-winning QB Bryce Young shredded Vanderbilt’s secondary,  throwing for 385 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. The Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense of future NFL players brought the AJ Swann hype train to a screeching halt, as the freshman quarterback completed just 13 passes for 115 yards. All things considered, it wasn’t a terrible SEC debut for Swann, who had no turnovers despite constant pressure and few options in the passing game.

Though Vanderbilt’s top-10 opponent this week will be sure to provide a challenge, this shouldn’t be Alabama 2.0. Undefeated Ole Miss has had a fantastic start to their season, but most of their wins have come against unimpressive teams. Last week, the Rebels barely passed their first test of the season with a three-point win against No. 13 Kentucky. Kentucky had several opportunities to close out the game but lost on a strip-sack fumble with under a minute remaining. 

Defensive line play has been a clear-cut strength for Ole Miss this season. The Rebels are second in the SEC in sacks (16) and tackles-for-loss (37), as well as third in the entire nation with three blocked field goals. The defense also hold a respectable third-down stop percentage of 66.2%. 

Another defining strength of the Rebels this season has been a world-beating rushing attack. Ole Miss leads the entire SEC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Rushing yards account for a staggering 55% of Ole Miss’s entire offense, a steep departure from a traditional Lane Kiffin offense. Ole Miss’s idiosyncratic head coach has reshaped the offense around the ground game, a decision that has paid off and then some five games into the season. 

In his latest press conference, Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea expressed optimism for Vanderbilt’s chances at victory this weekend.

“We expect to get a tough opponent [Ole Miss] and have a tough challenge on Saturday,” Lea told the media. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to prepare to play at our highest level. I love where we are [and] love where we’re headed and we’re excited about this weekend.”

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges he’s referring to. 

Ground and Pound.


Ole Miss’s devastating rushing offense is anchored by two  star running backs, junior Zach Evans and true freshman Quinshon Judkins. Evans, a highly touted transfer from TCU, brings an ideal combination of power and explosiveness to the backfield and is currently fifth in the SEC in rushing yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns. Judkins, the 46th-ranked high school running back in the country, is currently second in the SEC in rushing yards and first in touchdowns. Both players have a strong argument as the best running back in the SEC, and both will surely continue their careers into the NFL. 

The first two plays highlight Evans, Ole Miss’s go-to bulldozer in short yardage situations. The first is a run-pass option (RPO) in which Evans gets the handoff and immediately cuts towards the hole for a first down. Notice how two Ole Miss receivers make crucial blocks to create the opening. Part of what makes Ole Miss’s run game so effective is great blocking by receivers and tight ends on the outside. On the second play, Evans flashes his goal-line dominance as he absolutely buries a hopeless defensive back for a touchdown. 

The next play perfectly encapsulates the entire Ole Miss rushing offense: brilliant play design, cohesive blocking between the offensive line and receivers, and a home-run threat running back capable of turning the slightest gap into a touchdown. First, a wide receiver in motion creates confusion amongst the second level of the defense. The offensive line run-blocks towards the left side, but the tight end pulls and takes out the right-side outside linebacker. This creates a perfect opening for Judkins, who hits the hole in stride and carries the rock 48 yards for a touchdown. 

Another factor in the run game is quarterback Jaxon Dart, who possesses above-average mobility for a quarterback. On another RPO play, Dart elects to keep the football and picks up a nice chunk of yardage because the linebackers are keyed onto Judkins in the backfield. The success of the run option in the RPO also creates opportunities in the passing game, as is seen on the throw from Dart to a wide open receiver for the first down. 

Ole Blitz


If Ole Miss does anything better than running the football, it’s rushing the passer. The Rebels had three sacks and nine tackles-for-loss against Kentucky, many of which were key plays that swung the momentum of the game in their favor. The defensive unit benefits from great depth in the front seven, as 10 players have already recorded at least one sack this season. 

The first play shown is the game-clinching strip sack by Jared Ivey, another high-profile transfer who has contributed mightily for the Rebels this season. Ivey uses his excellent handwork to quickly shed the tight end, then speed past the right tackle to completely blindside Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.

Another critical defensive play for the Rebels came earlier in the game, when edge rushers Troy Brown and Tavius Robinson met at the quarterback for a safety. The defensive play call used Brown to blitz from the second level, and his speed along the edge overwhelms the left tackle. Once again, Levis is caught off-guard and commits intentional grounding from his own endzone, resulting in a safety. 

Throughout the next two plays, a pattern becomes evident. Ole Miss’s outside pass rushers are simply faster than the offensive tackles tasked with stopping them, destabilizing the offensive line and creating opportunities for teammates to make stops. 

How does Vanderbilt match up?

In Vanderbilt’s last live action against Alabama, the team struggled with the two things they must do to beat Ole Miss: stopping the run and protecting the quarterback. The Crimson Tide put up 228 yards on 6.7 yards per carry against the Commodores, demonstrating the ability to pick up critical yardage at will. The Tide also dominated Vanderbilt’s offensive line and sacked Swann five times throughout the game. 

Vanderbilt’s inability to hamper the Alabama rushing offense stemmed from poor tackling and lack of disruption on the defensive line. In the selected plays, several Vanderbilt players have opportunities to stop the running back but either take poor angles or fail to commit to the tackle, giving up crucial extra yardage. Against Ole Miss’s dynamic duo of workhorse backs, the Commodores will need to be more aggressive or they risk being dominated on the ground once again. 

One crippling weakness that has plagued Vanderbilt recently is an inability to keep the quarterback on his feet. In his three appearances this season, Swann has already been sacked six times despite being fairly mobile. Stopping Alabama’s stable of 5-star defensive lineman proved too steep of a challenge, and the freshman signal caller spent most of the game running for his life. Future top draft pick Will Anderson feasted on overmatched offensive tackles to pick up 2.5 sacks. While Ole Miss may not have any individual edge rushers with the same combination of skill and athleticism as Anderson, the team has feasted on opposing quarterbacks by speed-rushing from the outside. 

If Vanderbilt can take away Ole Miss’s core offense by slowing down the run game while doing a better job of protecting Swann from outside pass rushers, the Commodores will have a chance to pull off a shocking upset. But if Ole Miss can run the ball at will and chase Swann all game, this game could present the first SEC beatdown of the season at FirstBank Stadium. 

Vanderbilt will host Ole Miss this Saturday, Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. CDT.

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About the Contributor
Brandon Karp, Lead Sports Analyst
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
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