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September 19, 2008

The Ole Miss - Vanderbilt Match-ups

The match-up: This game will be the 83rd meeting between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt dating back to 1894. The Rebels lead the series 46-34-2 and have won 12 of the last 15 meetings since 1992. The Rebels hold a 22-3 advantage in games played in Oxford and have won four straight, including the 17-10 victory in 2006. Ole Miss leads 46-16-2 in SEC games. The Commodores last win in Oxford came in 1999 when they won 37-34 in overtime. Vanderbilt won the first 19 games in the series, with Ole Miss winning 46 of the last 63 games.

At Stake: For the Rebels to go bowling, it's an imperative to be 3-1 headed into a road trip to Florida next week. While Vanderbilt is off to a 3-0 start, and is perhaps the surprise of the SEC, the schedule only gets tougher for Ole Miss, with three out of the next four games on the road, as the Rebels must trip to Alabama and Arkansas in October after hosting South Carolina on Oct. 4.

Keys to the Game: 1) Stop Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson. Nickson is no Jay Cutler when it comes to throwing the football, but he can lull defenses to sleep with his running ability and then hit open receivers. 2) Defense must show up. Vanderbilt runs one of the most diverse offenses in the conference and is hard to defend. The defensive line needs to make a difference by apply pressure and containing Nickson. 3) Offense needs some big plays. They've been there all season - they just haven't been executed. From missing two long throws against Samford last week and overthrowing Mike Wallace in the end zone at Wake Forest, the Rebel offense needs to execute the big play this weekend.

Ole Miss rushing versus the Vanderbilt ground defense: Ole Miss checks in at No. 43 among the 119 Division I teams in rushing offense, gaining 173 yards per game. While that's an impressive number in a balanced offense, the Rebel staff wasn't pleased with the effort at Wake Forest and has concentrated the last two weeks on improving the running game. The issue is a group of talented, but inexperienced backs, and run blocking along the offense line. The effort saw an improvement from 107 yards at Wake Forest to 196 yards against Samford. Vanderbilt and SEC competition figures to offer a bigger challenge. Vanderbilt comes in at No. 38 in rushing defensive, giving up 98 yards per game. Ironically, Commodore head coach Bobby Johnson had his defensive line pegged to be the biggest concern headed into the season, but a solid linebacker corps has helped the cause. One player to watch is defensive end Broderick Stewart, who had 10.5 career sacks headed into the season. Just as Ole Miss may be challenged running the football, Vanderbilt is likely facing the best offensive line they've seen all year. Ole Miss shelved the Wild Rebel formation for most of the Samford game, but look for it to be more popular this weekend to keep Vanderbilt spread out and off-balance.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Ole Miss passing versus the Vanderbilt secondary: The running game remains a work in progress and the same can be said about the passing game. Actually, the only thing that hasn't worked in the Ole Miss passing game is the deep pass, and if quarterback Jevan Snead gets his timing and mechanics down to make that threat work, it could be the difference maker for Ole Miss in this game. The Rebels are No. 53 at 234 yards per game through the air - and throw in four or five missed long passes - and that yardage would likely average around 300 yards per game. Vanderbilt is at No. 97 in passing defense, giving up 258 yards per game through the air. The Commodore secondary was to be the strength of the defense with all four starters returning, led by a pair of stars - cornerback D.J. Moore and strong safety Reshard Langford. For whatever reason, the Commodore stats are unimpressive with Rice throwing for almost 300 yards last week and both South Carolina and Miami of Ohio both throwing for almost 250 in those games. A key to watch will be pass protection, with Ole Miss pass blocking being exceptional to date and Vanderbilt leading the conference in sacks with ten. Still, Vanderbilt likely hasn't seen the fleet group of receivers they'll see on Saturday and certainly not a quarterback who has the total package as Snead does.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Vanderbilt rushing versus the Ole Miss ground defense: Vanderbilt's bread and butter in winning its first three games has been the running game. The Commodores come into the game ranked No. 17 among the 119 Division IA teams at 225 yards per game. Ole Miss comes in with a very respectable ranking at No. 51 in rushing defense, giving up 114 yards per game. On the plus side for the Rebels, the team will have the dynamic duo of Peria Jerry and Greg Hardy for the first time this season. That gives the defensive line added depth which should help in defending the run. But key in stopping the run may be more at linebacker than along the defensive line. Of big concern is the fact that the Rebels struggled in defending the run out of the spread against Memphis when they gave up 188 yards. On the plus side is the defensive improved substantially against Wake Forest a week later. However, look for Vanderbilt to bring better talent and a more diverse offensive scheme that could give the Rebels some problems.

Edge: Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt passing versus the Ole Miss secondary: Vanderbilt comes in next to last - No. 118 among Division I teams in passing - at 84 yards per game. Ole Miss' acknowledged weak spot and potential achilles heel is the secondary where the Rebels are giving up 214 yards per game through the air, good for a No. 77 ranking. The big news is that Earl Bennett is finally gone as he always seemed to have a field day against Ole Miss and the Commodores have nowhere near the talent at wide receiver as most SEC teams. That should make the Rebels' job in the secondary easier as long as they don't get lulled to sleep and begin to defend the run. Nickson isn't likely to throw for 200 or more yards against Ole Miss, but he will use the pass just enough to make the Commodore running game effective. The wild card for Ole Miss could be Hardy - both in terms of pressure and contain. While the Rebel staff brought Jerry along slowing at Wake Forest before increasing his role the following week against Samford, don't be surprised to see Hardy unleash himself quickly - he missed most of spring practice in 2007 while playing basketball for Andy Kennedy - and was one of the most impressive defensive players in the spring game despite limited practice.

Edge: Even

Special Teams: Vanderbilt placekicker Bryant Hahnfeldt struggled last season after hitting on just 13 of 20 field goal attempts. Brett Upson is not sensational at punter, but kicked for a 39 average and a more impressive 32-yard net. Ole Miss has had breakdowns this season in kickoff coverage, which needs to improve. The staff praised punter Rob Park for being more consistent against Samford and Josh Shene has been perfect all year. Justin Sparks kick offs have improved over a year ago. The Rebels did see Marshay Green unleashed on a punt return for a touchdown last week, but could use improved consistency on punt and kick returns overall.

Edge: Even

Weather forecast: Scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 70s and lows in the low 60s.

Broadcast information: TV: TV: There is no live TV for this game. The CSS replay of the game will be Sunday at 1 p.m. CT. RADIO: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color analyst; Stan Sandroni, sideline reporter). XM Satellite Radio channel 141. WEB: OleMissSports.com will provide live audio, live stats and an in-game blog for the game. The official Rebel athletics website will also provide a full game recap, photo gallery and postgame video coverage.

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