Mississippi-Vanderbilt showdown gaining importance
The Mississippi-Vanderbilt rivalry may never have a cool name
like the Iron Bowl or the Egg Bowl.
But there’s little doubt the annual game is beginning to gain
added importance now that both schools are upwardly mobile in the
notoriously competitive Southeastern Conference.
The fact they’re meeting in a season-opening Thursday night spot
on national television is another indication of the added
Second-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze doesn’t downplay the
magnitude of the showdown, but also believes it is vital to not let
any single game define the program’s success this season.
”There’s no question it’s very important,” Freeze said. ”I do
think at the situation we’re in with year two, we have to be very
careful to continue to focus on the only thing that we can control.
That’s how we can prepare today. We start it all over next week.
It’s a long season. There are a lot of games. I do believe we’re
talented enough to beat some teams.”
The schedule adds to the magnitude of the game.
Ole Miss has to fight through Western Division powers like
Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M every season. Vanderbilt always has
to deal with programs like Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in
the Eastern Division.
So in the search for at least six wins and a bowl berth, Ole
Miss and the Commodores look at the contest as a relatively
But the rivalry has remained friendly and there’s ample amount
of respect on both sides. Both Freeze and third-year Vanderbilt
coach James Franklin have talked about the friendship they’ve
forged as newcomers in the SEC.
”There are some similarities in a lot of ways” between the
programs, Franklin said. ”I think there’s a lot of excitement and
buzz within their program just like ours, and not only did they
have some success but they followed it up.”
Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss 27-26 last season in Oxford. The
Commodores have won five out of the last six in the series.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace had a lot of success in last
year’s game, throwing for a career-high 403 yards. But Vanderbilt
rallied in the final minute for the go-ahead touchdown.
It was an exclamation point in the middle of Vanderbilt’s
seven-game winning streak to end last season, including a Music
City Bowl win over North Carolina State.
”That was a great win,” Franklin said. ”I’m not going to rank
one win above another. Whenever you can win on the road in the SEC
you’re making progress, especially when you’re able to do it in
that fashion. Never had the lead until the last 52 seconds. It
showed growth in our team, perseverance.”
Ole Miss recovered from the Vanderbilt loss, finishing the
regular season with six wins and beating Pittsburgh in the BBVA
Wallace hopes its Ole Miss that shows further growth in
Thursday’s game. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound junior will be playing his
first game since offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder.
”I feel good,” Wallace said. ”I was stressed out a little at
the beginning of camp, the first week or two. But finally the game
slowed back down for me like it was at the end of last
The game will mark the debut for several of the Rebels’ talented
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell and
tight end Evan Engram were all listed on the first team according
to the team’s most recent depth chart, while offensive tackle
Laremy Tunsil and safety Tony Conner are also expected to
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn.,
contributed to this story.
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