A week after an emotional win at Alabama, No. 3 Ole Miss had difficulty pulling away from Vanderbilt -- a team that hasn’t won an SEC game since 2013 -- before finally claiming a 27-16 victory on Saturday.
The Rebels (4-0, 2-0 SEC) outgained the Commodores (1-3, 0-2) 472 yards to 322 but had to settle for field goal tries instead of touchdowns at the end of multiple drives inside the Vandy 20. Eventually, a late Jaylen Walton touchdown and a fourth-down stop on defense allowed the Rebels to escape with a win.
What the win means for Ole Miss: The red-zone failures and general offensive errors will be an issue Rebels coach Hugh Freeze wants to address before next week’s visit to Florida. Vanderbilt should never have hung around as long as it did, but an Ole Miss offense that came in averaging 64 points per game turned into a bumbling outfit near the end zone against an improved Vandy defense. Credit Derek Mason’s team for putting up a fight, but Ole Miss didn’t do itself any favors with poor execution near the Commodores’ goal line.
What the loss means for Vanderbilt: Coming close is nice. Just as its feisty performance against Georgia two weeks ago proved, Vanderbilt is not the pushover it was in Mason’s first season. In fact, if Vandy could have cashed in with touchdowns on a couple of late opportunities, it might have claimed its first win against a top-three team (it’s now 0-24). However, the Commodores fell just short and left Oxford with their 10th straight loss in conference play.
The game turned when…: Vandy’s Nifae Lealao blocked a 29-yard Gary Wunderlich field goal try in the third quarter with the Commodores trailing 13-6. On the next play, Vandy’s Ralph Webb broke a 43-yard run, setting up his 7-yard touchdown catch from Johnny McCrary on a game-tying touchdown drive. All of a sudden, Ole Miss had a fight on its hands.
Top play: Things were looking rough for Ole Miss after Vandy’s tying touchdown, but Marquis Haynes helped pull the Rebels out of their funk by blocking a Tommy Openshaw punt and recovering the ball at the Vandy 20. Eight grueling plays later, Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche entered the game to plow into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run and reclaim the lead.
How the game was won: Vandy trailed 20-16 in the fourth quarter when Jahmel McIntosh picked off a Chad Kelly pass and returned it to the Ole Miss 19. Needing just a yard on both second and third down to move the chains, Vandy failed to gain a yard and had to settle for an Openshaw field goal try. He missed from 32 yards, and Ole Miss instead drove 80 yards for a touchdown to go up 27-16.