OXFORD • Based on recent struggles for Ole Miss, defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre expects Vanderbilt to attack with the passing game.
But it’s not Priority 1 for the Rebels when the Commodores visit Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for a 6:30 kickoff tonight on the SEC Network.
That priority is Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
A fifth-year senior and homegrown Nashville player, Vaughn’s 1,244 rushing yards last year were the second-most in a single season in Vanderbilt history.
Vaughn’s 95.9 yards per game in SEC play last season were the second most in the conference. He had five 100-yard games, one of those when he rushed for 127 yards against Ole Miss.
“He runs fast. He’s a hard runner. He’s going to try to get those extra yards,” Ole Miss outside linebacker Qaadir Sheppard said.
Ole Miss coaches felt they were “average” last week in Tuscaloosa when Alabama rushed for 155 yards.
“We feel like we can get that going again and can help our secondary a whole lot more by being able to apply more pressure with our front guys,” outside linebackers coach Tyrone Nix said.
Pass defense is where the Rebels have been more vulnerable this season.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa passed for 418 yards and four touchdowns last season. The Rebels (2-3, 1-1 SEC) are currently ranked No. 13 in the SEC – ahead of only Vanderbilt – and No. 109 nationally in pass defense efficiency with a 153.66 opponent passer rating.
MacIntyre has focused this week on trying to get the Rebels off the field. Opponents are converting third downs with a 40.6 percent success rate.
Even with the Rebels’ struggles in coverage MacIntyre believes Ole Miss must first stop Vaughn and force a passing situation.
“We’ve got to fix different issues but still be able to stop him,” MacIntyre said.
Vaughn averaged 4.9 yards per carry against Georgia but only rushed 15 times. He had just 56 yards on 17 carries against Purdue in week 2.
The last two weeks have been his best: 130 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against LSU and 138 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Northern Illinois.
The Rebels are hoping that slowing down Vaughn will allow them to pressure graduate transfer quarterback Riley Neal, who hasn’t been a running threat.
That’s how MacIntyre believes he can help the Ole Miss secondary.
“When you’re not playing well on the back end the best way to help us is to get to the quarterback. We were around (Tagovailoa), and he was elusive a few times,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve got to play tighter coverage. We’ve got play with better leverage. That goes back to coaching and the kids executing what we’re saying out there.”