Like practically every game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the last 20 years, Saturday night's game was not comfortable for either team, but the Rebels snuck out with a 27-16 win for their first home win in the series since 2006.
The Rebels rang up 476 offensive yards, including a second straight 300-yard passing performance from Chad Kelly to go along with over 130 rushing yards for Jaylen Walton and a career-high 135 receiving yards for Laquon Treadwell. Two interceptions by Kelly and a failure to convert red-zone opportunities to touchdowns led to the game being close throughout. A late touchdown by Walton led to a scoreline which somewhat flatters Hugh Freeze's squad, but after the Alabama game last week, the win will be the only thing that matters for Freeze and Co.
Vanderbilt's defense, despite giving up nearly 500 yards, gave a solid account of itself by consistently pressuring Kelly and forcing the pair of interceptions. Derek Mason's defense showed its strength (or the continued failure of the Ole Miss offense) in the red zone. A second-quarter drive where Ole Miss failed to score a touchdown with six plays inside the 5-yard line (with some of those opportunities coming thanks to Vanderbilt penalties) summed up the Rebels' lack of red-zone success.
Throughout the game, Kelly was often flushed from the pocket and only completed 24 of 42 passes. After opening the season with a completion percentage over 72 percent in the first two games of the season, Kelly has been held under 60 percent in the opening two SEC games.
After leading the country in turnovers gained through three games, Ole Miss failed to force Vanderbilt into a turnover, and Vanderbilt had it's first game with a positive turnover margin since November 2013. The Vanderbilt offense limited mistakes and extended some drives, which led to all four of their scoring drives lasting at least seven plays and covering fifty yards or more. Running back Ralph Webb led the Commodores with 90 yards rushing, including a 43-yard carry that led to a third-quarter touchdown to tie the game at 13 in the third quarter.
For the Rebels, a major letdown was avoided, but there are some warning signs. Aside from the red-zone struggles, Vanderbilt also had success on both sides of the ball on third down, as the Rebels went 3-of-13 on offense while Vanderbilt converted 10 of 22 third downs. In part, the offensive third-down conversion rate could be helped if, as speculated, Laremy Tunsil's suspension comes to an end next week at Florida, but after Alabama converted 11 of 20 third-down opportunities, that is a concern for the Ole Miss defense.
For Vanderbilt, they now enter a point in their season where the positives shown in losses to Georgia and Ole Miss, along with a win over FCS foe Austin Peay, come to fruition. A road game at Middle Tennessee is followed by games against South Carolina, Missouri and Houston. With an upset in one of those SEC games, along with winning the non-conference games, Vanderbilt could enter November with hopes of postseason play intact. After Derek Mason was being written off in the media before the season even began, that would be progress.