No. 12 Ole Miss hopes to impose defensive will against Vanderbilt

NCAA Football

Ole Miss has made its name on offense, but on Saturday the Rebels looked more like the dominant defensive team they would like to see across from them in Atlanta next month — No. 1 Georgia.

The No. 12 Rebels will try to bring the same shutdown defense they used in a 29-19 win over Texas A&M last weekend when they host Vanderbilt on Saturday night in their final home game of the season in Oxford, Miss.

With two more Southeastern Conference games left — they finish at rival Mississippi State –the Rebels’ only chance to get the SEC Championship Game is if their neighbors in Tuscaloosa stumble twice.

Alabama closes with Saturday’s home game against Arkansas and at rival Auburn, with the No. 2 Crimson Tide having a slim likelihood of losing twice.

But if Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) is victorious in its last two and puts together its best regular season since 2015, the chances are still good coach Lane Kiffin’s squad will play in a New Year’s Six contest.

The Rebels’ yeoman effort against the then-No. 11 Aggies was undeniably impressive: They kept the visitors off the board for the first 34:57 of the game.

With the Aggies staging a fourth-quarter rally, the secondary snagged two interceptions of Zach Calzada: Ashanti Cistrunk’s to set up a score and AJ Finley’s 52-yard pick-six that chalked the game up in the win column.

“I wouldn’t really say it was a schematic thing because we’ve been doing the same things defensively, but I think we came together and got closer,” Finley said. “We took it kind of personally to improve our defense as a whole.”

Ole Miss ran 93 plays to the Aggies’ 70 and outgained them 504-378 in yardage, with the first half being extremely one-sided.

Sam Williams has set a school record with 10.5 sacks on Ole Miss’ three-man defensive front — at least one in eight of the 10 games played.

“I don’t think there’s a defensive lineman that has played as many snaps as him in the country,” Kiffin said. “It has been unbelievable. He has games in the 60s and 70s. He’s been a warrior for us.”

Kicker Caden Costa, who has made 13 of 16 field goal attempts, including all eight inside 40 yards, was named SEC Freshman of the Week after drilling two against the Aggies.

Mired in the SEC East’s basement under first-year head coach Clark Lea, Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6) has lost five straight — all conference games — and has not won since a last-second field goal by Joseph Bulovas beat UConn 30-28 on Oct. 2.

The Commodores fell behind by four touchdowns in the first half against Kentucky, eventually losing 34-17, last Saturday.

Against the Wildcats’ defense, Ken Seals struggled — completing 12 of 17 passes for just 87 yards and tossing one interception.

Seals, who missed the three previous games with an injured finger, was replaced by Mike Wright to start the second half.

Wright completed all but four of his 11 passes. He tossed a pair of 8-yard scoring TDs to Chris Pierce Jr. and Amir Abdur-Rahman.

“Ken got hurt in the first half. We’ve got to get a feel for the extent of the injury,” Lea said. “I don’t feel it necessary right now to project who will be starting next week.”

Ole Miss is 53-36-2 all-time against the Commodores, who have dropped 19 consecutive SEC games and two straight in this series, which includes a 54-21 loss in 2020.

–Field Level Media

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