In recent years, the Southeastern Conference has used Vanderbilt as a doormat.
Ole Miss is the exception to the rule.
The Rebels not only have received the Commodores’ best shot, but they have been handed four losses in the last six years.
“We always catch them early when they are healthy, fast and confident,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
Vanderbilt hopes to continue that trend in the SEC opener for both teams at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (SEC-TV Network).
“Honestly, playing them year-to-year and really having a little bit of a gauge on what they are going to do, that works both ways,” Vanderbilt wide receiver John Cole said. “That rivalry is always there. Once you are in SEC play, you really start to dig in and want to win that game. That is how it has always been with Ole Miss.”
After dropping its season opener to BYU, Ole Miss bounced back last week with a 42-24 win over Southern Illinois. The Rebels were led by Jeff Scott, who rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns, boosting an injury depleted backfield that was without Brandon Bolden (ankle) and Enrique Davis (knee). Scott also scored a 67-yard touchdown on a punt return. The sophomore is the country’s top punt returner, averaging 35.7 yards on three returns.
Vanderbilt could see up to three quarterbacks for the second straight week. But junior college transfer Zack Stoudt is expected to start after completing 11-of-18 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown in his first career start last week.
“They have a lot of playmakers — they always do,” Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “Any SEC school you play you are going to have a lot of talent.”
With a win, Vanderbilt would improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2008, when the Commodores won their first five games en route to a Music City Bowl victory. That was also the last time they won a league opener. In fact, dating back to the 2008 season, Vanderbilt is just 1-16 in SEC games.
But with back-to-back wins for the first time in three years, the Commodores are optimistic they can snap out of their league funk.
“It is hard to not look forward,” quarterback Larry Smith said. “At the same time, I think Coach [James] Franklin has done an excellent job of keeping us grounded and taking it one game at a time, one step at a time. Hopefully everything will work out for us. We have to keep that mindset of one game at a time.”
• Seymour rising: True freshman running back Jerron Seymour hasn’t wasted his chances.
With Warren Norman still trying to bounce back from offseason knee surgery, Seymour has emerged as a threat in the backfield. In two games, the 5-foot-7, 190-pounder has rushed for 85 yards on 12 carries for a 7.1-yard average. He scored his first career touchdown last weekend against Connecticut, getting to the outside and then bursting 40 yards to the end zone.
“Really all camp we were excited about [Seymour], not just physically but mentally in his approach to his game,” Franklin said. “The biggest thing is he is strong and physical and he can stick his foot in the ground and change directions. He has good vision. He has a lot of the traits you look for in a running back. Some people get caught up in height. I don’t. I don’t think that is a necessity at the running back position.”
Seymour underwent knee surgery after an injury he sustained during preseason camp in early August. He returned to practice less than two weeks ago and doesn’t appear to have missed a beat.
With Norman out — Franklin said he will be available to play against Ole Miss — Seymour has been able to spell starter Zac Stacy, who has carried the ball just 18 times for 93 yards.
“With Warren going down, I felt like I had to step up and fill his void,” Seymour, a native of Hialeah, Fla., said. “I kind of expected being the type of running back I had been in high school — being able to change directions, being elusive. I’m not too surprised. But just my performance on Saturday I was a little surprised. I didn’t think I was going to be able to getting as many reps as I am now.”
• More Rodgers: Franklin said the insertion of quarterback Jordan Rodgers into a series in the third quarter last weekend was planned. Rodgers could play into the mix again against Ole Miss.
Rodgers threw just two passes last weekend, completing only one for one yard. The junior is 4-of-6 for 53 yards, an interception and a touchdown this season. Against Elon, he entered in the fourth quarter after Smith suffered a blow to his right shoulder. He replaced Smith after he was tackled against Connecticut. But Franklin said it wasn’t because Smith was hurt — the coaching staff had planned to get Rodgers snaps.
“We would like to get Jordan in every single game,” Franklin said. “I think you would always like to get your backup quarterback some reps. But Larry will be ready to go."
• Shedding the redshirt: Along with Seymour, three other true freshmen have seen action in the first two games.
Guard Spencer Pulley and center Joe Townsend each played in the season opener against Elon, and tight end Dillon van der Wal played against Connecticut.