No. 12 Ole Miss guarding against upset when Vanderbilt visits

Field Level Media

October 25, 2023 at 1:06 am.

No. 12 Ole Miss hopes to take another step toward playing for a conference title when it hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

The Rebels are riding a three-game winning streak, the most recent victory being last Saturday’s 28-21 win at Auburn.

While Ole Miss (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) has primarily been known more for its offense under Lane Kiffin, the Rebels held Auburn to 275 yards a week after limiting Arkansas to 286. It’s the first time Ole Miss has held consecutive SEC opponents to fewer than 300 yards since 2009.

The Rebels, 24 1/2-point favorites over Vandy, trailed the Commodores at halftime last season before a second-half explosion keyed a 52-28 win in Nashville. Kiffin, addressing the issue of how to keep his team from becoming complacent as a heavy favorite, referenced that game as well as Virginia’s upset of North Carolina as tools the Rebels are using to combat that.

“We showed them some upsets that just happened, especially a really big one over in the ACC,” Kiffin said. “These guys were beating us at halftime last year. We’ve got a lot of work to put in, a lot of work to do, so it’s a lot more about us than who we’re playing.”

Ole Miss averages 39.7 points and 480.1 yards per game, with quarterback Jaxson Dart (1,840 yards passing, 346 rushing, 19 total touchdowns) leading the way. The improved health of wide receiver Tre Harris (102 of his 469 receiving yards last week) and tight end Caden Prieskorn (63 of his 125) has made the Rebels even more dangerous.

So has the re-emergence of preseason All-American Quinshon Judkins, who has recovered from a slow start to amass 366 of his 567 rushing yards over Ole Miss’ three-game winning streak.

Vanderbilt (2-6, 0-4) comes off a bye week in the midst of a difficult six-game skid. Last time out, the Commodores gave No. 1 Georgia a brief fourth-quarter scare before falling 37-20 in Nashville.

Turnovers — an SEC-leading 14, with a league-worst nine interceptions — have plagued Vanderbilt this season.

But the Commodores have started to get that under control as coach Clark Lea made Ken Seals the starting quarterback the last three games. In them, Seals has passed for 740 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.

“We’re going to stay the course with Ken,” Lea said. “We appreciate how he’s taken care of the ball. We’ve seen enough in the last few weeks to see Ken has stepped forward with confidence.”

Seals could use some help from the running game, which gained 18 yards on 15 carries vs. Georgia.

Perhaps the team’s biggest problem has been defense. The Commodores have allowed 437.5 yards and 34.4 points per game and a 50 percent conversion rate on third down (57-for-114).

Secondary health has been a part of that. All five of Vandy’s starting defensive backs have missed time with injury.

This week, Lea termed starting safeties De’Rickey Wright and CJ Taylor as “questionable” and “doubtful,” respectively. Starting cornerback BJ Anderson is again out, while starting cornerback Martel Hight (who missed the Georgia game) is back this week.