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Ole Miss travels to Vanderbilt for SEC opener

Petre Thomas/The Daily Mississippian


Playing Vanderbilt, a team near the bottom of the SEC every year, seems like it would be a lucky draw, but somehow, the Commodores have had the last laugh in the series.

The Commodores have defeated the Rebels in four of their last six meetings, including a 28-14 win last season in Oxford. This Saturday, Ole Miss looks to reverse the trend when they go on the road for the first time this season at Vanderbilt.

“If you go back in history, this has always been a very, very tough football game,” head coach Houston Nutt said. 

“It’s no secret,” Nutt said. “You have to play hard. It’s 60 minutes, and there’s no time to relax and no time to help them by giving them gifts. You’ve got to compete hard and finish.”

If the first two games are any indication, finishing is something the Rebels need to improve on this season.

In the season opener against BYU, Ole Miss let a 13-0 fourth quarter lead slip away as they lost 14-13. 

And just last week against Southern Illinois, what looked to be a blowout at the beginning of the game saw the Salukis cut the lead to 11 before the Rebels held on to win 42-24.

Now, the focus turns toward the SEC.

“SEC week is totally different,” junior quarterback Zack Stoudt said. “It’s an entirely different practice and mentality. We’re just (looking) forward to jumping into the SEC season.”

For the Rebels to have success in the conference opener, they need to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball. Senior running backs Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis are still nursing injuries, but both have practiced this week and will dress Saturday. It remains to be seen if either will play.

Filling in for them will be sophomore Jeff Scott, who had 210 all purpose yards and four touchdowns this past week against Southern Illinois. Scott knows he needs to improve in other areas of his game.

“I definitely think we need to progress more in the pass protection,” he said. “We’ve got two good quarterbacks – Zack (Stoudt) and (Randall) Mackey. We’ve got some great young receivers.

“If we can give the quarterbacks the time they need, we’ll definitely put up more points.”

Junior offensive tackle Bobby Massie knows he and his fellow offensive linemen have underachieved so far this season, but he knows they will start to gel very soon.

“As an offensive line, we are still trying to come together,” Massie said. “And as an offensive unit, we’re still trying to gel together. 

“We’re working hard. It’s going to be a different show come Saturday against Vandy.”

Defensively, Tyrone Nix and the Rebels know they are in for a war at Vanderbilt.

“I expect to see multiple offense, give us a lot of formations, a lot of shifts, a lot of tempo – going fast to the line,” defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. 

“They’ve got explosive players. It starts with the quarterback.”

That quarterback is senior Larry Smith. In the first two games of the season, Smith has thrown for 265 yards and three touchdowns to lead Vanderbilt’s 18 returning starters.

“We’re going to come at them,” Nix said of his defense against Vanderbilt. 

“If you want to know our approach, we’re going to press them from the start of the game to the end of the game and see what happens.”

Unfortunately for the Ole Miss defense, they have also encountered some injuries. Sophomore linebacker Mike Marry has been out of practice all week with a strained foot arch and is expected to miss Saturday’s game.

Sophomore safety Brishen Mathews has been out with a back injury, and it is yet to be determined if he will play Saturday. 

On the plus side, senior defensive lineman Jason Jones (knee) and junior wide receiver Melvin Harris (back), who missed the first two games, also practiced this week.

Additionally, two freshmen have been playing different positions this week, which may get them more playing time this week and later on this season.

Freshman linebacker C.J. Johnson asked how he could get on the field. This week Johnson was moved to defensive end, and he fully expects to get on the field this weekend. 

“It’s been a little difficult, but I am getting used to it,” Johnson said. 

“I’ve been getting a feel for how everything is going, but it’s going pretty good right now.

Freshman wide receiver Nickolas Brassell worked some at corner this week, so don’t be surprised if you see him playing both ways Saturday.

“We’ve talked about that all year, and it’s about where you’re thin and where you’re not,” wide receiver coach Gunter Brewer said. 

Brewer said while his depth was young, it was solid.

“So in the secondary, we’ve had some injuries, some bumps and bruises,” Brewer said. “We feel like we can get him in some other packages, whether it be in nickel or dime or whatever they want to play.”

Kickoff is set for 11:21 a.m. on the SEC Network.