OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Derek Mason believes Vanderbilt is starting to come together on defense, and the Commodores coach will get to see just how much improvement his squad as made in their first Southeastern Conference road trip of the season.
“We still have to learn how to play a 60-minute ballgame,” Mason said. “We got to continue to tackle, got to continue to work on the things that lead to good winning football. Right now we’re just a team on a journey.”
The next step takes Mason’s Commodores (1-3, 0-2) to Mississippi on Saturday night looking for their first SEC win this season. The Rebels are coming off a 59-31 loss to then-No. 2 Alabama, but they became the first team to lead the Crimson Tide this season while piling up 476 yards of total offense. The Rebels also ran for 279 yards _ the most allowed by Alabama since 2011.
The Rebels strong running game will test a Vanderbilt unit that ranks 125th out of 130 FBS teams in total defense allowing 501.5 yards a game. The Commodores can point to losses to a pair of top five teams in Georgia and LSU for the big numbers, but they also had to hold on last week to beat Northern Illinois 24-18.
Ole Miss (2-3, 1-1) hasn’t fared much better; the Rebels are ranked 97th in total defense allowing 421.2 yards a game. Third down has been their major issue.
“We need to keep the pressure up,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “I think one time we came clean and didn't make the sack, another time we didn't make the tackle. It's those little things of making the plays when they're there. It's the attention to detail. Third down has shown up two games in a row now, so that's important to get fixed."
Some other things to know about Vanderbilt and Mississippi:
OLE MISS QUARTERBACKS
Matt Corral will be back from the bruised ribs that kept him out of the loss to Alabama. Freshman John Rhys Plumlee won’t be going back to the bench after he was 10 of 28 for 141 yards passing with two touchdowns while running for 109 yards on 25 carries in his first career start. Luke wouldn’t say who his starter will be, though he will tell the quarterback Saturday before kickoff.
“You’ll see both at some point in the game,” Luke said.
VANDY’S DUAL THREAT
Ke’Shawn Vaughn is coming off his second 100-yard rushing performance, this time running for a season-high 138 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries last week. Vaughn ranks second in the SEC averaging 99.5 yards per game, and he’s fourth in the SEC with 398 yards rushing this season. Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre says Vaughn is so good that the Rebels can’t just focus on defending the pass where they rank 123rd nationally allowing 314.4 yards a game.
“They are going to try to throw the football on us, wouldn't you?” MacIntyre said. “But if we just focus on the passing game and try to do all of that and negate the run, Vaughn can go for 200 yards on us. He is that good of a runner.”
Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore leads the SEC with 32 catches without a single drop, a success rate that is second only to Texas’ Devin Duvernay (40) among the Power 5 without a drop to start the season. Moore is tied for second in the conference for most catches and fourth with 420 yards receiving.
TIME TO PASS
Mason says the Commodores need quarterback Riley Neal to make plays. The graduate transfer from Ball State ranks eighth in the SEC with 858 yards passing, but Neal has only four TD passes despite having receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney as targets.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt play each other every season as common opponents in a series that started in 1894. The Rebels lead the series 49-40-2 with wins in 2013 and 2014 vacated, a lead that is just 15-10 since the SEC went to divisional play. Vanderbilt won last year in overtime 36-29. Ole Miss routed Vanderbilt 57-35 in Oxford in 2017.