The Vanderbilt Commodores are 3-2 through five games. That marks progress for coach Clark Lea’s crew.
By Matt Zemek
The problem is that VU is playing SEC games for the rest of the season. This will be the tough nut to crack for a team which plainly didn’t measure up in conference play last year. The happy news is that the Alabama game is already done with. The bad news is that Georgia is still ahead. The realistic outlook for Vanderbilt is that Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida are all legitimate win opportunities. Taking those three games would lift Vanderbilt to a bowl game and give Lea the breakthrough he needs to solidify his tenure and establish himself as a coach recruits want to play for. No one expects Vanderbilt to defeat Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss this coming weekend, but picking off the Rebels or one of the other big-name opponents on the schedule would allow VU some wiggle room in carving out a path to a bowl game.
Let’s see what the Commodores have to do to pull the big shocker against Ole Miss:
1 – Alabama education
Vanderbilt learned, up close and personal, what it is like to go up against the Alabama juggernaut. The Commodores thankfully got a week off after tasting the physical and punishing style of the Crimson Tide. Players’ bodies were achy and sore. They needed that week off. They also had a lot of time to study film and recognize where they fell short. Applying various aspects of their Alabama education to this contest against Ole Miss is one of the cornerstone components of an ambush for the Dores. A possible Vanderbilt upset has to begin with an acute understanding of how to perform at a much higher standard. Alabama hopefully conveyed some important lessons this team can translate into an improved product.
2 – Red-Zone offense
Ole Miss beat Kentucky because its defense was strong in the red zone. Vanderbilt shouldn’t assume it will get to the red zone on a regular basis, but each time the Dores reach the Ole Miss 20, they have to get seven points. They cannot beat a team as good as the Rebels while leaving points on the field. The margins are small for VU. Red-zone efficiency increases those margins, while failure will reduce them.
3 – Confuse Jaxson Dart
Kentucky was able to confuse Jaxson Dart. The transfer from USC is mobile, agile and talented, but it’s clear he hasn’t put all the pieces together and formed a full understanding of how he needs to play. He struggled against Kentucky’s defense. Obviously, Kentucky’s defense is better than Vanderbilt’s, but VU has a chance in film study to look at some of Dart’s tendencies and identify opportunities to jump a route or anticipate certain plays. Good preparation could give VU chances to snag game-changing turnovers and cause a lot of trouble for Ole Miss.