It’s been a rough few weeks of football for Mississippi and Vanderbilt, which have each lost three straight games coming into Saturday’s matchup.
For both teams, a porous defense has been a huge problem.
Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) has given up 110 points over its past two games, including a 66-3 loss to Alabama and a 44-23 loss to Auburn . The Rebels rank near the bottom of the SEC in most major defensive categories and have forced just three turnovers over five games.
“You can’t give up explosive plays,” Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke said. “When we sat down and watched the whole tape together as a defense, it was one guy here, one guy there. You just can’t have those and expect to win on the road in this league.
“You’ve got to make them earn it all the way down the field.”
Vanderbilt’s defensive struggles have been surprising since that is usually coach Derek Mason’s strong suit. The rush defense has been particularly bad, giving up 1,137 yards over the past three games.
The Commodores’ three-game losing streak has come against SEC heavyweights Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The schedule appears easier during the back half of the year, starting with the Rebels on Saturday.
Mason said the Commodores (3-3, 0-3) are well-versed in handling adversity and should be able to bounce back.
“I’ve never seen anybody talk about who won the first 50 meters of a 100-meter race,” Mason said.
Some other things to watch when the Rebels host the Commodores on Saturday:
GOOD SERIES: The Vanderbilt-Ole Miss series has been an interesting one over the past 12 seasons. The Commodores have a 7-5 edge since 2005, winning five of six over the Rebels from 2007-12. Ole Miss has bounced back lately, winning three of the past four, though Vanderbilt won 38-17 in 2016.
EMERGING WILKINS: Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins leads the team with 269 yards rushing. The senior has been more productive as the season’s progressed — he had 101 yards on the ground against Alabama and 65 against Auburn.
MOVING UP THE LIST: Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb has 3,587 career rushing yards, which puts him 16th in SEC history. He needs just five yards on Saturday to pass former Alabama star Derrick Henry for 15th place.
SHURMUR SUCCESS: Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur is having his best season yet, throwing more touchdowns (12) already than he did in all of 2016 (nine). The junior has only been intercepted once all season, and Alabama got that pick off a tipped pass. He’s only completing 57.3 percent of his passes, which is why Vandy is averaging only 200.3 yards passing a game.
GET TO PATTERSON: The Commodores have some defensive problems, but are showing they can get to the quarterback. They have at least one sack in each game this season, the first time they’ve done that since 2012 when they managed a sack in every game. The Commodores have 14 sacks, fourth-most in the SEC. Linebacker Charles Wright has six sacks, ranking him second in the league and tied for fifth nationally.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this story.
Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll