CBS: Vanderbilt-Ole Miss preview

Sept. 30, 2009

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Mississippi can count itself as one of the many top-10 teams that have been upset early on. Now the Rebels hope to join those other squads with a bounce-back effort of their own.

After tumbling in the rankings, No. 21 Mississippi looks to earn its first SEC victory of the season Saturday night against Vanderbilt.

Mississippi (2-1, 0-1) entered its last game ranked fourth, but a 16-10 loss to South Carolina on Sept. 24 ended an eight-game winning streak and likely any notion it had of challenging for the national title.

"I never did sense that we were feeling a lot of pressure," coach Houston Nutt said. "Now it is what it is. You've lost your first conference game. You've got to work hard and win the next conference game."

Two days later, then-No. 5 Penn State lost to Iowa. The Rebels and Nittany Lions are among the many highly touted teams that have fallen victim to unexpected defeats early this season.

Oklahoma was ranked third going into its opener but lost to BYU. Oklahoma State fell out of the No. 5 spot after a loss to Houston on Sept. 12, and then-No. 3 Southern California was upset at Washington the following week.

Those teams, though, went on to win their ensuing games by an average of 34.0 points.

Mississippi may have a difficult time rebounding unless Jevan Snead and the offense get back on track. Snead missed six straight throws during one stretch against the Gamecocks as the Rebels struggled after averaging 48.5 points and 424.5 yards in the first two weeks.

Snead had thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight straight games, but that streak came to an end in front of a national audience eager to see a player that created a large amount of buzz entering the season. He went 7 for 21 for 107 yards and has completed 49.3 percent of his passes on the season.

In 2008, Snead threw for 2,762 yards and 26 TDs while getting picked off 13 times.

"I don't know really why it's like that right now," Snead said. "If you'll remember we started off kind of slow last year. I was hoping to get into a rhythm quicker this year but obviously haven't been able to do that. That's one of the things we're trying to correct. We're trying to get into a rhythm not only on offense, but as a team."

Snead did throw a TD pass, a 45-yarder to Markeith Summers with 9:47 left in the fourth quarter. That gave him at least one in 12 straight games, four shy of Eli Manning's school record.

Vanderbilt (2-2, 0-2) was the last team to hold Snead without a TD, picking him off four times in a 23-17 win at Mississippi on Sept. 20, 2008.

While the Rebels' offense must find a way to correct its mistakes, the team continues to get steady effort from its defense. Ole Miss held South Carolina to 65 yards on 34 carries and 285 yards overall.

The Rebels rank second in the SEC in scoring defense, limiting teams to 12.0 points per game.

Vanderbilt was held to 12 points in losing two straight before beating Rice 36-17 last Saturday. The Commodores ran the ball 43 times for 216 yards, getting a boost from the return of Jared Hawkins.

Hawkins, a senior, had 61 yards on 11 carries after missing the first three games with a foot injury. He's Vanderbilt's top returning rusher after gaining 623 yards in '08.

"He looked fresh and ready to go," coach Bobby Johnson said. "It's great to have a tailback with experience out on the field like Jared has."

Freshmen Warren Norman and Zac Stacy were carrying the load in Hawkins' absence. Norman had a game-high 119 yards on the ground against Rice and leads the team with 253.

Stacy saw his playing time decrease with Hawkins' return, gaining five yards on four carries. He's second on the team with 243 rushing yards.

Vanderbilt had 131 yards on the ground in last year's meeting with Mississippi, which leads the series 46-35-2.



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