The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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

Vanderbilt will look to get their first win since Week One on Saturday against Ole Miss.
Narenkumar Thirmiya
Vanderbilt will look to turn their season around with a win against No. 12 Ole Miss. (Hustler Multimedia/Narenkumar Thirmiya)

No such thing as a moral victory, right? After six consecutive weeks of uninspiring losses, Vanderbilt put together arguably its best performance of the season against No. 1 Georgia last weekend. Despite falling 37-20 to the Bulldogs, the Commodores stuck with the best team in the country for most of the game and showed signs of offensive creativity and defensive playmaking that had previously not been seen all season. With four games left to turn around an awful season, Vanderbilt will look to carry its momentum into another strong performance against No. 12 Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 28.

Though Clark Lea’s Team 3 will likely fall well short of their bowl aspirations, Saturday marks the beginning of an important stretch for the Commodores. After an exciting 2022 season which featured two conference wins, Vanderbilt has looked sluggish for the entirety of this year, failing to come within 17 points of its SEC opponents thus far. Though Lea continues to preach about the importance of progress and learning through difficult experiences, producing wins over the last four games of the season will be critical for his program and its future. With that, let’s take a look at three matchups Vanderbilt will need to win to pull off the upset against the Rebels. 

Jaxson Dart vs. Vanderbilt secondary

After struggling early in his career, Jaxson Dart has put it all together in his second season as Ole Miss’s quarterback. Through seven weeks, the junior has 19 total touchdowns to just 3 interceptions with a QBR (81.2) that puts him just outside of the top 10 in all of college football. Apart from his obvious dual-threat ability and already having six rushing touchdowns this season, Dart has developed into an accurate and decisive passer from the pocket in 2023. With arguably the best arm in the SEC, Dart has the ability to make every throw on the field and can attack Vanderbilt’s secondary at any depth. Dart’s improvements across the board have definitively translated to a renewed Ole Miss offense; the Rebels average 39.7 points per game, good for third best in the SEC. 

For the Commodores, this means that their work is cut out for them. After early season struggles and injuries, Vanderbilt found its most formidable cornerback duo of the season against Georgia: Tyson Russell and Trudell Berry. Though both lack significant SEC experience, the duo competed well against a stacked Bulldogs receiving core on Saturday. Joining them in the defensive backfield will likely be Jaylen Mahoney and Savion Riley, both of which have had their ups and downs in a shaky season for Vanderbilt’s secondary. Despite the tough matchup, limiting big plays down the field and making Dart hold onto the football will be the bare minimum needed from Vanderbilt’s defensive backs in order to stay in the game.

Ken Seals vs. Ole Miss secondary

Flipping to the other quarterback in the matchup, Ken Seals needs to continue to play decisive and composed football for the Commodores to stick with the Rebels. In his return to being Vanderbilt’s starter, the veteran signal-caller has thrown eight touchdowns to just two interceptions and shaken off much of the erratic play which plagued him as a freshman. Vanderbilt’s passing offense as a whole has impressed this season, with the Commodores amassing the eighth-most passing yards per game in the SEC (265.1), ahead of both Alabama and Tennessee. For all of the issues with this Vanderbilt team, being unable to produce in the air has not been an issue for the Commodores this season.

In a fortunate turn of events, Vanderbilt’s strength in the passing game aligns well with a poor Rebels’ secondary. Thus far, Ole Miss has allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game in the SEC (241.6) and has surrendered a bulk of its points allowed through the air. For the Commodores, this paints a clear picture of the need for an aggressive passing attack on Saturday. If they hope to keep up with a high-powered Rebels’ offense, the Commodores will need to move the chains through the air.

Vanderbilt’s ground game vs. Itself

Lea often mentions the importance of complementary football: making sure all aspects of a game plan and the three phases of football complement each other. Despite the prowess shown by Vanderbilt’s passing offense, the rushing attack has done anything but complement it. Saturday’s game against Georgia marked the fifth consecutive game that the Commodores failed to break 100 rushing yards. The duo of Sedrick Alexander and Patrick Smith has not been able to find any space behind a poor offensive line, and offensive coordinator Joey Lynch has not been doing them any favors, either.

In order to pull off an upset against a big favorite, there’s usually somewhat of a trusted gameplan: control the clock, hit on a few big plays and hold on for dear life. Because of the Commodores’ inability to run the ball, the team relies too heavily on their passing offense to keep them afloat. While Seals and Co. have been able to deliver at times this season, asking them to consistently keep up with quarterbacks like Dart is a tall task. With all that being said, Vanderbilt needs to figure out a way to run the ball more consistently if they hope to stay in games with major SEC opponents.

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About the Contributors
Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
Narenkumar Thirmiya, Staff Photographer
Narenkumar Thirmiya ('24) is from Orlando, Fla., and is majoring in neuroscience and medicine, health, and society in the College of Arts and Science. When not shooting for The Hustler, he is streaming TV, playing the piano or guitar or exploring nature photography. You can reach him at [email protected].
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