NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores have tried to make up for lost time, hoping unexpected practice time will be evident when they finally play their first game in three weeks.
The Commodores (0-3) became the first Southeastern Conference to fall below the 53 scholarship players required to play a game when on Oct. 12 their trip to Missouri was postponed. Luckily, Vanderbilt then had an open date allowing more time for players to heal up and clear protocols allowing them to return.
They host Mississippi (1-4) on Saturday for the first time since losing 41-7 to South Carolina on Oct. 10. Vanderbilt had only 56 scholarship players available that day.
“We haven’t necessarily loved this time because we want to be playing games," right guard Drew Birchmeier said. “But its been good to get back to the basics and really focus and get back to some of those fundamental things that are so important of the game and so important to every position. So I think everyone’s super excited.”
Ole Miss has lost three straight in coach Lane Kiffin's first season, including a 35-28 loss to Auburn last week. Center Ben Brown says the Rebels have a bitter taste believing they're much better than their record.
“But we have to go out and do it," Brown said.
Kiffin has the Ole Miss offense clicking at a high level. The Rebels have the 17th-best rushing offense in the nation, averaging 224 yards coming off a season-high 283 yards against Auburn. They're ninth in the nation averaging 521 yards total offense and 32nd in scoring, averaging 34.8 points a game.
If that's not enough, Matt Corral is ninth nationally with 12 touchdown passes. He's also averaging 338.4 yards of total offense, which is 12th in the country. Vanderbilt is giving up 211 yards a game rushing, and it's not easy preparing for how fast the Rebels play.
“I’m hoping that time off helps us because we’re tempo, and them not getting used to seeing it,” Kiffin said. "And they don’t do a lot of it on offense.”
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason says he had more offensive players available over the past two weeks, giving more time for freshman quarterback Ken Seals to work with teammates on timing, pass protection and improving his reads on pass plays.
Seals has more interceptions (four) than touchdown passes (three) and has thrown for only 411 yards this season. Against Ole Miss, the Commodores will need to produce more than the 8.7 points a game they've averaged through the first three games.
Running back Ja'Veon Marlow, punter Harrison Smith and quarterback Mike Wright aren't on the Vanderbilt depth chart this week. Mason said those players are still going through some of the protocols to return, including conditioning. Wide receiver Devin Boddie, whose speed would be a big boost for the offense, also practiced Tuesday.
“I'll just cross my fingers as we test (Tuesday) and Thursday, and we'll see where that takes us,” Mason said.
Ole Miss has tried to bolster its thin secondary by shifting offensive players Miles Battle and Tylan Knight to the defensive side. Both saw action on defense against Auburn. Battle is a converted receiver, while Knight was a running back who played some defensive back as a freshman two years ago.
The secondary has been hit by COVID issues and injuries.
“We’re sitting here in a game playing two players that were on offense in crunch time, on defense,” Kiffin said.
ON THE REBOUND
Ole Miss is trying to bounce back after a questionable officiating call that was never officially reviewed. It cost the Rebels a touchdown if it had been overturned. The SEC fined Kiffin $25,000 for retweeting a fan’s post calling the officiating “a disgrace,” but the league also said it should have been reviewed.
Now, the Rebels have to shake it off.
“We’ve got to go into the game and work hard and finish the game,” defensive back A.J. Finley said.
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