An inside look at the storylines and players you need to know for Saturday's marquee SEC matchup.
Setting the Stage--Storylines:
Junior defensive end Theron Kadri had a breakout game against Rice, registering two sacks and helping the Commodore defense stage a stout stand against an Owl offense that has a history of putting up a lot of points. Kadri has been huge for the Vanderbilt D, especially considering the absence of redshirt senior starter Steven Stone, with three total sacks bolstering the team's pass rush. That pass rush will have to show up Saturday and, thus, make Ole Miss redshirt junior quarterback Jevan Snead uncomfortable in the pocket.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Larry Smith bounced back last Saturday at Rice after a rough performance against Mississippi State. Smith completing 23 of 41 passing attempts with a career-high 268 yards passing against the Owls. The 41 attempts show the coaching staff's confidence in Smith, who looked to have extra pep in his step in practice this week. If he can build off last week's performance in his sixth career start this weekend, it will go a long way to helping the Commodores pull off their upset bid.
With standout true freshman running back Zac Stacy still hobbled by an ankle injury, it will be interesting to see how Vanderbilt juggles their three-back stable of redshirt senior (and starter) Jared Hawkins, true freshman Warren Norman, and redshirt junior Kennard Reeves. All have been impressive thus far this season, and the luxury of this loaded backfield will allow Ted Cain and his staff to possibly exploit matchup problems Ole Miss could have containing all three Commodore ball carriers.
Make no mistake about it: Vanderbilt's secondary will be tested against Snead and the Rebels' most dangerous weapon, senior WR/RB Dexter McCluster. With injuries to both starting safeties, it will be up to standout senior corner Myron Lewis and his impressive counterpart, sophomore Casey Hayward, to shut down the speed options Ole Miss has on the outside. That way, the ball can stay in Smith's hands and out of Snead's.
The A-List--Noteworthy Ole Miss players:
Jevan Snead, junior quarterback Touted as a Heisman hopeful coming into the season, Snead has disappointed thus far in spite of a fine touchdown-interception ratio (6 TDs-2 INTs) because of a completion percentage that has dipped to 49.3%. Errant throws and miscues have marred his 2009 campaign, and if he expects to be a high NFL Draft pick, Snead must step his game up. His mission: Do exactly that against the Dores.
Dexter McCluster, senior wider receiver/running back The speedster is reminiscent of a Percy Harvin Mini-Me, a do-it-all multipurpose player who can break the game open with any space in the open field. Look for Lewis, Hayward, and redshirt sophomore Jamie Graham to shadow McCluster throughout the game and attempt to limit his effectiveness.
Greg Hardy, senior defensive end Hardy wrecks havoc from the outside, using his 6'5", 275 lb. frame to dominate the line of scrimmage when healthy. The Commodores absolutely have to keep Smith away from this sack master, who could make life miserable for the Vanderbilt passing attack if he can free himself from the Commodore offensive line.
Brandon Bolden, sophomore running back One of the areas in which Vanderbilt has struggled mightily this season is time of possession, and if Bolden--Ole Miss' leading rusher--can establish a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball, it could be a long day for the Commodore defense. Linebackers Chris Marve, Patrick Benoist, and Co. must keep Bolden in front of them if Vanderbilt hopes to stay in front of the Rebels on Saturday.