Friday, September 30, 2022

No. 3 Ole Miss Defeats Vanderbilt

Ole Miss and Vandy file photo
Ole Miss and Vandy file photo

Championship teams find different ways to win and Ole Miss certainly did that Saturday night against Vanderbilt.

The Rebels entered the game with the nations’ highest-scoring offense averaging 64.0 points per game, and scored just 20 points through the first three quarters, but Ole Miss outlasted the Commodores 27-16 in front of a sellout crowd of 60,654 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to improve to 4-0 (2-0 SEC) on the season.

Leading 20-16 with less than eight minutes to go in the game, the Rebels faced a 3rd-and-7 from its own 41 yard line. Junior Chad Kelly threw a pass in the direction of Laquon Treadwell, who drew a pass interference call on the VU defender to give Ole Miss a first down. Senior Jaylen Walton then followed with a 24-yard scamper up the middle and found the end zone from three yards out four plays later that gave Ole Miss a 27-16 lead and put the game out of reach.

“That’s what I’m here to do, is to make big plays for my team,” said Walton. “It just comes in handy in those types of moments to win big games.”

“I told the team we need to celebrate the wins in life,” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. “Life moves too fast. You better enjoy the wins that you get. We need to celebrate but learn from the things we didn’t do well. If we want to be elite we have to prepare like we are an elite football team.”

Walton finished the game with 133 yards on 21 carries and one score, while Treadwell caught eight passes for a career-high 135 yards.

Vanderbilt battled the Rebels all night and took an early 3-0 lead with 3:25 left in the first frame after Commodore kicker Tommy Openshaw connected from 28 yards out. It marked the first time all season Ole Miss had trailed in a game, a span of more than 191 minutes of game action.

“We did not have our team prepared as well, especially in some critical areas, such as third downs and red zones,” Freeze said. “We scored some points there, but we need to get more efficient. There were a lot of penalties. We had 11 penalties tonight for 120 yards. We turned the ball over tonight. That is not stuff that is elite football. We just did not play well.”

Kelly and the Rebel offense responded right back with a five play, 72-yard drive capped by a 20-yard TD pass to sophomore wide out Damore’ea Stringfellow that gave Ole Miss a 7-3 lead with 2:13 left in the first quarter. Kelly finished the game with 321 yards on 24-of-42 passing and one score.

The first quarter was indicative of the rest of the game, as the two teams slugged it out all night. Sophomore kicker Gary Wunderlich connected on a pair of field goals from 19 and 39 yards out in the second quarter to extend the Ole Miss lead to 13-3 heading into the half, but Vanderbilt wasn’t about to give up.

The ‘Dores put together a seven play, 50-yard drive to open the second half capped by a 41-yard field goal from Openshaw that cut the Rebel lead to 13-6. Ole Miss took the ball on the ensuing kickoff and went 64 yards in nine plays, but Vanderbilt blocked Wunderlich’s 29-yard field goal attempt to keep it a one-score game.

Quarterback Johnny McCrary then marched the Commodores 88 yards in eight plays and found Ralph Webb over the middle for a seven-yard TD catch to tie the game at 13 with 7:39 left in the third. McCrary passed for 194 yards and one TD in the game.

Needing a spark, the Rebels found one on special teams after sophomore wide receiver Cale Luke blocked Vanderbilt’s punt from deep inside Commodore territory and Ole Miss recovered the ball on the VU 20-yard line. Seven plays later, all-everything Robert Nkemdiche found the end zone from a yard out to put the Rebels back on top 20-13 at the end of the third quarter.

“We have kind of established a game plan to block the punt,” Luke said. “Sometimes, we’ll blitz eight people trying to go block the punt. We got through a few times tonight, and finally we got an opportunity and got one.”

Vanderbilt marched itself into the red zone again to start the fourth quarter, but the Ole Miss defense stiffened and limited the ‘Dores to another Openshaw field goal – this one from 34 yards out – that cut the Rebel lead to 20-16 with 12:12 left in regulation.

The Commodore defense picked off Kelly on the next Ole Miss possession and returned it inside the Rebel 20. However, the Rebel ‘D’ held Vanderbilt at bay once again and Openshaw missed a 32 yarder with 9:28 left that would have pulled the ‘Dores within a point.

Ole Miss travels to Gainesville, Florida next Saturday for a conference tilt with the Florida Gators. The game is set for a 6 p.m. CT kickoff and will be televised on ESPN.

Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

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