Where: Vanderbilt Stadium
When: Thursday at 9:15 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN
The first SEC conference game of the 2013 season features two teams with heightened expectations, and the winner of Thursday’s primetime affair could ride the momentum deep into the season and position themselves for a nice bowl game.
When Ole Miss has the ball:
Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace is in line for a superb year provided he remains healthy, which he wasn’t for the bulk of 2012 when he threw for 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He has one of the best receivers in the country in Donte Moncrief and top receiver recruit Laquon Treadwell to deliver the ball to, a veteran offensive line protecting him, and the steady Jeff Scott at running back.
Vanderbilt features two of the best at their positions in cornerback Andre Hal and safety Kenny Ladler, and they’ll be put to the test vs. Hugh Freeze’s spread offense. Up front, the line features Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike, who combined for nine sacks in 2012. Linebacker Chase Garnham is one of the more underrated players at his position.
When Vanderbilt has the ball:
New quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels steps in for the departed Jordan Rodgers, but he has starting experience at Wyoming and has the benefit of throwing to Jordan Matthews, who tallied 94 receptions for 1,323 yards as a junior. However, they lack a secondary target in the wake of Chris Boyd’s suspension in the ongoing rape investigation that rocked the Vanderbilt program this offseason.
Wesley Tate assumes a bigger role at running back after scoring eight touchdowns a year ago as the top reserve to Zac Stacy, and has a deep offensive line to run behind led by Wesley Johnson.
For the Rebels to attempt to live up to the soaring expectations in Freeze’s second year in Oxford, the defense absolutely has to perform better than it did in 2012, especially against the pass which finished 11th in the SEC. Ole Miss hopes an improving pass rush led by top recruit Robert Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson and the potentially great Channing Ward will aid the secondary.
The less time Carta-Samuels has to throw, the better the secondary will look. The heart and soul of the Rebels defense lies within linebackers Mike Marry and Denzel Nkemdiche.