Few days of the year drive traffic to DJournal.com like National Signing Day.
Part of that traffic is there to read the incredibly gifted Daily Journal staff.
At least I hope so.
Most of that traffic is there, however, because hope sells.
Even at Alabama hope sells. No matter where you fall on the college football food chain Signing Day is a chance to be better.
And everyone wants to be better all the time.
Five-stars have a great chance to make you better fast. Four-stars might. Three-stars, well, trust your staff on that one.
But they all represent hope. So you say, there’s a chance. A chance is enough for people to click and read.
Hope is a powerful message, and it’s what Matt Luke and the Rebels are selling right now.
Win or lose against Vanderbilt Saturday night the message of hope will still be for sale. The difference will be whether that hope is for 2019 or 2020.
There’s no denying the young talent on the Ole Miss roster.
Young talent is a by-product of NCAA sanctions because there haven’t been enough scholarships for older talent to accumulate.
Luke signed a top 25 class in 2019, and there is indeed talent. Some of it has made a quick impact. More of it is coming along at a pace you would expect for most freshmen.
Give these guys time, and they’ll get better. Maybe that’s this season, maybe next.
If the Rebels stumble, bumble and lose at home to a Vanderbilt team that most people have marked for the win column it’s hard to believe very many fans will show up for Texas A&M on Oct. 19 with or without beer.
Patience is not what a lot of fans want to hear, but it’s what this team needs right now. Did anyone really believe a lot of three-star offensive linemen were going to jump up and provide quality depth as true freshmen?
Just last week Ole Miss expanded its playing rotation on the offensive line with the addition of redshirt freshman Jalen Cunningham.
True freshman Nick Broeker, rated a little higher than some others, had a good camp. He was constantly judged by coaches to be a little ahead of the pack, and he’s contributed.
Cunningham gives the Rebels eight linemen they can play if Bryce Mathews is available this week.
For an OL that likes a dominant player at any position moving guys in and out could be a boost. We’ll see. The line looked good at Alabama, and it had the bonus of blocking for a quarterback who could run away from pressure.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, as is often the case, are closely matched for this game.
Vanderbilt has played both Georgia and LSU, a tough couple of early SEC games.
The Commodores, though, were beaten soundly at Purdue, the only win so far for the Boilermakers. Purdue has also lost 34-31 to Nevada and by three touchdowns to TCU, 34-13.
Vanderbilt defeated but didn’t dominate a 1-3 Northern Illinois team in Nashville last week.
You can certainly make a case for Ole Miss winning this game, but you can’t make a case in any week that the Rebels can just show up and relax.
Vanderbilt has some weapons on offense, enough so that it’s hard to understand why a team with a running back like Ke’Shawn Vaughn is last in the SEC and No. 97 in America at 129.0 rushing yards a game.
Could be a product of offensive line health which supposedly is getting better.
The Commodores have skilled receivers though not a lot of them. They have a solid tight end in Jared Pinkney who, as is often the case with tight ends, doesn’t seem to be getting the ball enough.
Even with the weaponry Vanderbilt is just No. 12 in the SEC, No. 107 nationally in passing efficiency.
Commodores coach Derek Mason challenged his graduate transfer quarterback, Riley Neal, this week saying Neal can do more.
And against the Ole Miss secondary he very well could.
This matchup of weakness against weakness will go a long way in deciding who wins this game.
Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre wants to help his defensive backs in coverage by getting more pressure on the quarterback, and Neal, unlike Tua Tagovailoa and even Cal’s Chase Garbers, is more likely to stand in the pocket longer and provide opportunities.
While the team rushing numbers haven’t been there for Vanderbilt, Vaughn’s last two games have been solid with 130 against LSU and 138 against Northern Illinois.
Ole Miss has been solid against the run this season (still seems strange to write that), though the Rebels looked more pedestrian against Alabama. The Tide rushed for 155 yards, but it would have been worse had they tried to run it more, I believe. Their top two backs averaged 7.9 and 6.0 yards per carry.
MacIntyre is right. The Rebels have to first contain Vaughn, and if they do, they’ll get their shots at Neal in the pocket.
I expect both John Rhys Plumlee and Matt Corral to play quarterback for Ole Miss. I think Plumlee will start because Qaadir Sheppard said he will, and Qaadir is in tune with the offense, right?
That was actually an entertaining moment this week.
With or without Qaadir you can see that Plumlee is a running quarterback and has moved the ball well in this running offense.
But you can’t be one-dimensional, and if Plumlee can’t improve from the 10-for-28 day he had against Alabama he’s not going to be able to be the only QB.
A Vanderbilt secondary which, statistically, has been worse than Ole Miss will provide passing opportunities for these Ole Miss quarterbacks.
Young wide receivers will continue to improve, the Rebels will run the ball, and Ole Miss will win an SEC game against a team not named Arkansas for the first time since 2017.
And they won’t need overtime or the official interpretation of a catch to get there.
Prediction: Ole Miss 29, Vanderbilt 20