Jordan Matthews' hands kept Vanderbilt's chances against Ole Miss alive. Those hands also ended them.
The first SEC game of the season picked up right where the last one of 2012 left off, as Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt 39-35 after Ole Miss RB Jeff Scott's 75-yard touchdown run with 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
After that run, Vanderbilt had great field position at their own 49 off the ensuing kickoff thanks to an Ole Miss facemask penalty on the return. But on third down, Austyn Carta-Samuels' pass went through the hands of Matthews and landed in the grasp of Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt with 26 seconds left.
How did we get to that point? Well it involves a lot of Matthews, some puke (also his), and 29 second half points for the Rebels. Oh, and in the first half, 2013 No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche lined up on the Ole Miss punt team and ran for 11 yards. Welcome back, SEC football.
Matthews missed the beginning of the second half with cramps and received an IV in the locker room. Without him the Vanderbilt offense was stagnant. Combine that with a suddenly potent Mississippi offense and the warning lights started flashing for the Commodores after Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace walked in from a yard away to give the Rebels a 32-28 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.
He was back on the field after the teams traded punts and took a vicious hit from a shoulder to the ribs over the middle after catching a first down pass -- his ninth reception of the evening -- and following the next play went to a knee and threw up.
However, he missed just one play, and two plays after he was back in on 4th and 18, hauled in an over-the-shoulder pass for 42 yards. On the very next play after that, Steven Scheu found himself wide open in the flat for a pass from Carta-Samuels for a 34 yard touchdown pass to give Vanderbilt the lead with 1:30 to go.
How wide open was Scheu? Well, the cornerback across from him blitzed, and the safety on that side followed another receiver across the middle. The line judge might have been the closest player on the field to him.
But that 1:30 was 67 seconds too long for Ole Miss. On second down, Scott's run was a simple outside zone handoff to the left. After a couple great blocks from wide receivers, he was free along the sidelines and one cutback later, the only thing in front of him was the end zone.
Matthews finished the game with 10 catches for 178 yards, but the final target will be the lingering memory. It was a catchable ball that simply went through his hands and instead of bouncing straight into the turf, popped right into the air for a can of corn for Prewitt.
Earlier in August, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze criticized Wallace's decision making. Save for a throw that was almost picked off late in the fourth, Wallace was the main reason Ole Miss got moving, running for 48 yards and two scores and throwing for 283. With the way he was playing, it didn't feel like a big play would be necessary for Ole Miss to march down the field and win.
But it happened, and it now feels officially like college football season has started. You're up next, South Carolina and Georgia. You've got a standard to uphold.