OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — The temptation to look to the future is understandable for Mississippi coach Matt Luke. After all, the most productive skill position players are freshmen, and a rebuilt defensive unit is filled with first-year starters and newcomers filling key roles.
But he refuses to ignore the present day possibilities of his young team.
Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner each had big touchdown runs in the third quarter to help Mississippi pull away from Vanderbilt for a 31-6 win on Saturday night.
Ealy ran for a 78-yard touchdown and finished with 97 yards on the ground. Conner had 91 yards rushing that included an 84-yard TD run.
“It’s great to see two freshmen break off touchdown runs like that,” Luke said. “It’s fun when you see a team grow and get better for the future, but our goal is to win right now. We want to build off this and be one week better next week.”
Ole Miss (3-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) broke open a precarious 10-6 halftime lead with the scoring runs to open the initial two series of the second half.
Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee led Ole Miss with 165 yards rushing on 22 carries and scored on a 33-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Scottie Phillips added a 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for the Rebels, who finished with 512 yards of total offense that included 413 yards rushing, the highest SEC output since 1979 when the Rebels ran for 443 yards against Vanderbilt.
“The competition is good for us. We push each other to be the best,” Connor said. “Scottie is our number one. Jerrion is the fastest. But I thought my run was pretty good and it was the longest.”
Ryley Guay kicked field goals of 22 and 43 yards for Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3) in the second quarter, but the Commodores never seriously threatened in the second half.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 69 yards rushing for Vanderbilt, which was limited to 62 yards rushing and finished 2 of 17 on third down conversions.
“We had our chances on defense to get these guys off the field,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “Their ground game was really good. But this game comes down to making plays. We didn’t make enough and they made their fair share.”
Vanderbilt: The Commodores have been good enough to earn two bowl bids in the past three seasons, but the loss makes it more difficult to reach the six-win postseason eligibility level. On the positive side, the Commodores have not missed a field goal attempt in seven tries, including six by Guay, this season. Harrison Smith was effective with four punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Ole Miss: Taking a seat with the SEC elite is an unrealistic expectation, but earning two SEC home wins, remaining in the chase for postseason play, and the impressive play from freshmen at the offensive skill positions have been encouraging signs. After giving up 59 points in last week’s loss at Alabama, the defense answered with a season-best performance, led by linebacker Lakia Henry with 15 tackles, 14 in the first half.
Vanderbilt hosts UNLV on Saturday.
Mississippi plays at Missouri on Saturday.