Rapid reaction: Vanderbilt's struggles continue in humbling loss to Ole Miss
Just when it looked like things couldn’t get worse for the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2014, they took the field Saturday against the Ole Miss Rebels and were promptly beaten 41-3 at LP Field in Nashville. Vanderbilt was beaten in every facet of the game, and has now been outscored 78-10 in two games this season. Furthermore, the Commodores went a second straight week without an offensive touchdown, as Ole Miss out-gained Vandy by 380 yards of total offense.
What it means: Frankly, it means Vanderbilt is really bad. Wait, let’s make sure we get this right. Vanderbilt is really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY bad. Look at any aspect of Saturday’s game, and it’ll prove that statement to be true. The Commodores allowed almost 400 more yards of total offense than they gained themselves, completed only 25 percent of their pass attempts (6-of-24), committed seven penalties, possessed the ball 15 fewer minutes than Ole Miss… Must we go on? For the second week in a row Vanderbilt was spanked in front of its home crowd in Nashville, and there was virtually no signs of improvement from last week to this week. So, ultimately, what this game means is Vanderbilt is a really bad football team with little hope of getting better.
What I liked: Derek Mason finally chose a quarterback and stuck with him. Let’s face it, none of Vandy’s three quarterbacks will be good enough to lead the Commodores to a bowl game this season. If one of them was, he’d have been the obvious choice for the job. But by Week 2 of the season, it’s time to choose the best among a bad selection of quarterbacks and cross your fingers. Vandy can only benefit from finally having just one voice in the huddle and one leader on the offense. Stephen Rivers, Mason’s choice at quarterback, didn’t look too sharp against a fierce Ole Miss defense Saturday, but in a strange way he may be more confident after taking every snap under center. If he can find a rhythm with his teammates at the skill positions, this offense could perhaps develop into something productive later in the season.
Who’s the man: Tailback Ralph Webb. Webb remains the lone bright spot in the Commodores’ offense, following up a promising debut last week with 18 carries for 95 yards against Ole Miss on Saturday. Vandy’s stud freshman has averaged more than five yards per carry in his only two career games as a collegiate, all without a passing game to occupy opposing defenses. Webb remains explosive, tough and resilient as the star of a bad offense, and if Vandy hopes to improve on that side of the ball, it will begin and end with his play out of the backfield.
Key Play: Vanderbilt place kicker Tommy Openshaw made the play of the day for the Commodores when he knocked in a 26-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter to cut the Ole Miss lead to 41-3. If the play sounds rather pedestrian, that’s because it is; however, it was also Vandy’s first points on offense this season. It took the Commodores more than seven quarters of football to cap an offensive drive with points, and the field goal came after Vandy was shut out of the end zone for seven straight plays inside the Ole Miss 10-yard-line. But, points are points, and Openshaw’s field goal finally gave the Commodores something to hang their hats on, for one week at least.
What’s next: Vanderbilt will play host to the UMass Minutemen next weekend in Nashville, and it is certainly a must-win game for the Commodores. Of Vandy’s 10 remaining games, seven are against difficult SEC opponents. The Commodores already lost by 30 to Temple, and if they can’t beat UMass at home, they may be in jeopardy of finishing the season with a winless record. It’s back to the drawing board once again for Mason and company, but they’re quickly running out of second chances to turn this thing around.