Instant Analysis: Ole Miss-Vanderbilt
Ole Miss translated its offseason momentum and confidence into a victory, and that will rightly be a big story in week one of the SEC season. However, the bigger story is that Vanderbilt, once again, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
By Russ Mitchell
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This was expected to be the best game of the weekend, and nearly the most important next to the Georgia vs. Clemson match up. It didn't disappoint.
The big question this off-season in Oxford was if the Rebels would have the maturity to finish off tight games, after surrendering fourth quarters leads to TAMU, Vandy and LSU in 2012. And do so while relying on approximately eight true freshman.
With that in mind, two things from Thursday night stand out, besides the mutually destructive, bonehead defensive play inside the final two minutes.
First, after dominating the opening quarter Ole Miss seemed to fall apart, allowing Vandy to score on three consecutive series, while amassing just 80 yards, no points, and surrendering 3 sacks.
And thus it was that head coach Hugh Freeze, down 21-10, and with almost no momentum absent a successful fake punt, walked into the locker room at halftime. Ole Miss regrouped, fixed issues with defense intensity and the offensive line surrendering sacks, and outplayed the Dores most of the second half. A tremendous amount of credit for this win goes to coach Freeze and his staff.
Just as importantly, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace had zero interceptions to match zero fumbles. One of the biggest knocks on the talented junior has been his propensity to give up possession, with Freeze even going so far as to threaten benching his star quarterback last season.
However, in Nashville, against one of the better defenses Vandy has fielded in a while, Wallace made a number of good decisions throwing and running – but most importantly, played with excellent ball security.
Old Miss takes a step forward with this big – albeit narrow – win against a good conference foe. This is all the more important given a daunting early schedule.
Moreover, Freeze and Co. can now dispatch the monkey on their back for closing out tough opponents, which will impact not only this Ole Miss team's confidence, but also Hugh Freeze's already stellar recruiting.
Russ Mitchell is the Lead SEC Columnist for CFN and Campus Insiders.
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What a terrific way to start the 2013 college football season. But the pulsating finish in Nashville isn't possible if either team was able play a lick of defense when it mattered most.
It was a classic between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, the kind of game that makes you feel bad that there had to be a loser. Still, in the waning moments, it looked more like a Pac-12 shootout than an old-fashioned SEC brawl. The Commodores had no business pulling ahead with a couple of minutes left on a drive that required a 4th-and-18 conversion. And the Rebels have to be pinching themselves that RB Jeff Scott was able to navigate 75 yards on the ground, virtually untouched, for the game-winner.
Ole Miss clearly has an exciting future ahead, with all of those limitless rookies, like Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell. Vandy will be dangerous for every opponent on the 2013 schedule. Both upstarts, though, will need to learn how to close out opponents and make critical stops on D in order to elevate to higher ground. Exciting game, yes, but you still have to play a tighter brand of defense in order to compete with the heavyweights of the SEC.
By Matt Zemek
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When you score 21 straight points; when you take an 11-point lead in the second half; when you convert a fourth-and-18 play with roughly two minutes left in regulation and then score a touchdown to take a lead that hadn't seemed very likely a few moments earlier, you need to close the door.
The Vanderbilt Commodores couldn't. As a result, a reputation lingers in Nashville.
Head coach James Franklin deserves credit for turning Vanderbilt into an annual bowl team. The Commodores have certainly taken several steps forward. Improvement, not regression or stasis, has been the theme of Franklin's tenure in Nashville. Yet, while Vanderbilt is clearly better than it used to be, the program still has to show that it can beat teams of equal or superior talent. This contest against Ole Miss was a clash of evenly-matched teams, and when Vanderbilt took a 35-32 advantage inside the two-minute mark, this team needed to finish the job. Vanderbilt, you will recall, carried the run of play for most of the night in an SEC season opener a year ago against South Carolina, only to let the Gamecocks escape with a four-point win in Nashville. This August Thursday opener was filled with a lot more fireworks than last year's week-one game against South Carolina, but the final outcome remained achingly familiar for VU, which simply couldn't cross the threshold against a beatable opponent.
Time is still on Vanderbilt's and Franklin's side. It's much too early to render overly fixed, set-in-stone verdicts about program and coach. However, if these kinds of losses are still an appreciably common part of life in 2014, it will be hard for the Commodores to compete for division and conference championships.
By Doug Chapman, CampusInsiders.com
Jadeveon Clowney didn't have a sack, but that was actually what I expected. If you honestly think UNC was going to let their left tackle James Hurst, handle No. 7 alone then youre crazy. The Tar Hells stuck to their gameplan of quick lateral passes and screens and leaving backs in to help with Clowney. The pace of UNC's offense wore Clowney and the Gamecock defense down and I guarantee every team on USC's schedule took note of that.
I was most impressed with the dedication that Steve Spurrier had to the run early in the ballgame. I also liked how QB's Conner Shaw and Dylan Thompson made a point to get the ball vertically down the field.
There's nothing shocking here - once again, an SEC program physically outplayed someone from another conference. No matter what mistakes USC made they just had better players. The main issue with USC was conditioning. Its entire defense was sucking wind due to the pace of the UNC offense - get ready to see everyone speed things up against the Gamecocks.