NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The ninth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels might not be in the mood to talk about the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin sure is.
Kiffin wants his Rebels to know Vanderbilt is not the winless team they thumped 54-21 in their last visit to Nashville back in his first season as head coach. Kiffin says these Commodores are “way better” in coach Clark Lea's second season, even if Ole Miss has won three straight in this Southeastern Conference series.
He also wants his Rebels (5-0, 1-0 SEC) to keep this season from being a roller-coaster no matter the rankings or being a heavy favorite. Their challenge Saturday when they play Vanderbilt is refocusing after knocking off then-No. 7 Kentucky 22-19.
“Hopefully they listen,” Kiffin said. “It happens every week. I don’t think anybody thought Georgia was going to go in and struggle like they just did at Missouri. It happens every week. Every game’s independent of each other.”
Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-1) is rested up thanks to an open date following a 55-3 loss at Alabama. Lea said he loves where his Commodores are knowing they have a lot of room for growth ahead.
“Obviously we have a challenge this weekend with a good opponent, and we need to show up and play better than we did before the bye,” Lea said. "And I got full faith and confidence that we will.”
Ole Miss freshman running back Quinshon Judkins has gotten his career off to a huge start. Judkins leads all freshmen nationally in rushing with 107 rushing yards per game. His six rushing touchdown is the most in a season by any SEC freshman since 2019.
Judkins’ 535 yards is the most by any Ole Miss freshman in his first five games in records dating back to 1976.
Vanderbilt has started freshman AJ Swann two straight games, but Lea also has been working to figure out how to get junior quarterback Mike Wright on the field and not as part of mixing and matching QBs. Lea sees Wright as one of Vandy's top 11 offensive players
Wright started the first three games and is a big reason why the Commodores averaged 34.2 points per game to start this season. Lea doesn't want to tip his hand, but said, “I don’t see it as a rotational role. I see it as a role that would be, you know, more situation driven.”
Ole Miss has been a fast-starting team but slowed down considerably late in games. The Rebels are averaging 282.4 yards in the first half and nearly 100 fewer in the second (187.8). They’re outscoring opponents 127-32 before halftime this season.
“There can’t be many teams, if any, that have a bigger first-half scoring margin than we do,” Kiffin said. But he also points out the downside: Opponents have outscored Ole Miss 17-7 in the fourth quarter, though part of that is because of some blowouts.
Micah Pettus won SEC offensive lineman of the week honors after his first start on the Ole Miss offensive line. Pettus started at right tackle as part of some line shifting forced by injuries. The redshirt freshman grade out at 94%.
“I always feel like I’m the best out there regardless, “Pettus said. “It’s nice to be (recognized), especially after my first start.”
Ole Miss has struggled holding onto the ball fumbling 12 times already. The Rebels luckily have lost only three of those with four interceptions. Vanderbilt has a takeaway in 14 straight games dating back to last season, the SEC's longest active streak and fourth-longest in FBS.
It's a streak Lea sees as “mission critical” to slowing down a Rebels' offense that ranks 25th averaging 470.2 yards per game and scoring 37.2 points a game.
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