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Hall: Staying Healthy – The Road to Win the SEC

Ole Miss defeats Alabama 43-37. Photo Courtesy of Joshua McCoy/ Ole Miss Athletics
Ole Miss defeats Alabama 43-37. Photo Courtesy of Joshua McCoy/ Ole Miss Athletics

After last weekend’s thrilling win in Tuscaloosa, the Ole Miss Rebels will entertain the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium this Saturday night at 6 p.m.

The first home conference game has the Rebels’ full focus after an emotional away victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide. However, unlike Nick Saban’s highly rated squad, the Commodores look to be no threat to end Ole Miss’ winning streak.

A once stinging rivalry has lost its luster in recent years due to Vanderbilt’s decline in play on the field. The Commodores’ current record sits at 1-2 with their lone win against Football Championship Subdivision opponent the Austin Peay Governors. Second-year Head Coach Derek Mason looks to build on that momentum against the No. 3 Rebels.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, the Rebel defense has forced 10 turnovers this season while only allowing an average of 369.7 yards per game. Granted, the inflated average is due to the Crimson Tide putting up a 503-yard performance against the unit last weekend. Nevertheless, with Vanderbilt only averaging 13 points against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Western Kentucky and Georgia, the Commodores should have their hands full with Robert Nkemdiche and company.

Offensively, Ole Miss looks stronger then ever after a sensational performance by quarterback Chad Kelly. After his play last week, many sports analysts have named Kelly to their Heisman watch list and rightfully so. Over the past three games, he is averaging right at 300 passing yards per game while tossing nine touchdowns with a single interception (tipped by a receiver). Kelly’s ability to move in the pocket and create plays outside of the passing game have attributed to Ole Miss’ offensive success as well. He currently has three rushing touchdowns, which leads the team.

I have an enormous doubt that Coach Mason’s defense can “anchor-down” against Ole Miss’ prolific passing attack. Though Vanderbilt is currently ranked as the 23rd best passing defense in the nation, I still give Ole Miss the edge. With a talent advantage at receiver and Laquon Treadwell returning to his dominate form; it’s safe to say Kelly will have a field day against the Commodores.

Alas, the win against Alabama took its toll on the Ole Miss team, with four key players injured. Offensive linemen Justin Bell, Rod Taylor, and Robert Conyers are all dealing with various injuries. This depletes an already thin offensive front that is desperately missing Laremy Tunsil (suspended) at left tackle. However, Taylor and Conyers are expected to play this weekend against the Commodores.

Pre-season All-American safety Tony Conner is the other player hurt in the outing against Alabama. His injury is slightly more serious—torn meniscus. Conner is expected to miss at least four weeks, which leaves a hole in the Rebels’ secondary. In Conner’s absence, look for A.J. Moore, Zedrick Woods, and Chief Brown to split reps at the husky position.

Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt is a game the Rebels should win easily. On paper, Ole Miss is far more talented than Vanderbilt at nearly every position. However, Coach Freeze and company must keep their players healthy as September comes to a close. Too many injuries will plague any team, especially one at thin positions such as offensive line and linebacker. Ole Miss must win this game in order to keep the team’s conference and national title dreams alive. Look for Coach Freeze’s squad to take care of business on Saturday night and secure a win against Vanderbilt.

Young Hall is a reporter and sports commentator for HottyToddy.com. Email him at yhhall@gmail.com

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