The importance of Ole Miss escaping what will go down as one of the SEC’s games of the year cannot be overstated.
In an opening-night, back-and-forth thriller, the Rebels topped Vanderbilt, 36-32 when RB Jeffrey Scott turned the corner and hit the jets for a 75-yard TD with just over a minute left.
DB Cody Prewitt sealed the victory with an interception that slipped through Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews’ hands.
That the game ended in such devastating fashion displayed the inherent unfairness for Matthews, who otherwise played a sensational game. The senior was, for the most part, the lone offensive weapon for the Commodores, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a TD. He also made a long reception on a fourth-and-18 late in the fourth quarter. Just two snaps earlier, Matthews took a brutal hit to the midsection that resulted in his head bouncing off the turf. Matthews was obviously shaken up and was shown vomiting on camera.
Matthews’ fourth-and-18 play set up TE Steven Scheu’s 34-yard touchdown reception that gave Vandy a 32-29 lead with 1:30 to play.
Scott made sure the lead didn’t stick.
If the Rebels end up having a similar or better year than they had in 2012, this game will be a turning point. With the way the early Ole Miss schedule sets up, a loss could have potentially been devastating.
Now a few thoughts on what we learned tonight:
- The Ole Miss freshmen are going to be fun to watch. WR Laquon Treadwell will deservedly get much of the attention. He caught nine passes for 82 yards in his collegiate debut. Donte Moncrief has an immediate impact running mate in the passing game. DE Robert Nkemdiche didn’t blow up the stat sheet, but he had an impact on the game. He also ran for a first down on a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from around the Ole Miss 35.
- Ole Miss found a few weaknesses in the Vanderbilt defense and exploited them repeatedly. Notably, the Rebels were able to throw the ball over the middle to slot receivers whenever they wanted. The Commodores have corners on the perimeter, but need to shore up the middle of the field. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace also made a killing running the read-option. Vanderbilt’s defense acted like it didn’t realize Wallace was allowed to keep the football. He cashed in with a pair of rushing TDs. Short-yardage QB Barry Brunetti added two more on the same play. That should be very troubling for Vandy. When Scott got the ball, he was equally effective, finishing with 138 yards including the game-breaking score.
- Wallace’s biggest flaw in 2012 was his carelessness with the ball. He turned the ball over – via interceptions and fumbles – far too often. Thursday, he completed 31 of 47 passes for 283 yards. He didn’t pass for any TDs – though he rushed for two – but he didn’t throw any interceptions, either.
- Vanderbilt QB Austyn Carta-Samuels showed some of the tools that have coach James Franklin excited. He also made some mistakes – though the second and final INT was not his fault. The biggest thing Carta-Samuels must improve is how much he stared down Matthews – sometimes not even looking for a second target.
- The Vanderbilt offensive line struggled against the athletic front presented by Ole Miss. Not only were defensive linemen able to apply pressure on Carta-Samuels, the Rebels also limited RB Wesley Tate’s success. Tate scored twice, but gained just 39 yards on 17 carries. It should be noted the Commodores were reasonably strong in short-yardage situations. Because that’s what Vanderbilt does.
- Ole Miss dominated this game early before Vandy came roaring back in the second quarter.
- Commentators all over ESPN continuously referred to both Vandy and Ole Miss as “programs on the rise” or variations to the same effect. Why can’t teams just have good single seasons in a vacuum? That both teams took a step forward in 2012 doesn’t necessarily indicate they will continue their ascent in 2013 – a sentiment that’s especially true when the same analysts give the top teams respect to stay where they are while also talking up programs that hired new coaches. This has long been a pet peeve. Everyone can’t be better. Teams have to have worse results, too. It’s the way sports work – always gravitating to .500 in each league.
- Three of Vandy’s next four games should be easily winnable. A Sept. 14 battle with South Carolina is directly in the middle of that stretch as easily the toughest game. Tonight’s loss made the Commodores’ Oct. 5 game against Missouri significantly more important, though, with the following games against Georgia, at Texas A&M and at Florida.