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Big Games On the Schedule, Part 0.5, Vanderbilt 9/12

This being the internet, there are no rules.  After posting that our first big game of the season would be Georgia and giving a mini-preview yesterday, I had a change of heart.  Vanderbilt went to a bowl game last year and won it.  They should not be overlooked.  

Last year, Vanderbilt got off to a hot start, rolling out to a 5-0 start, including wins over South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Auburn.  Then they went ice cold, finishing the season 6-6 including losses to Tennessee, Duke, and Mississippi State before winning their bowl game over Boston College.  

Vandy is hoping not to repeat that kind of history, in that they hope to maintain consistently good play throughout the year.  The problem last year was offense, one of the worst in the country at moving the ball, and that started with the quarterbacks.

Like LSU last year, Vandy played the QB-shuffle.  They may have been worse at it than we were.  Their quarterbacks combined for 49.2% completion rate, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 1594 yards, and 5.0 yards per attempt.  LSU's quarterbacks had a 52.7% completion rate, 21 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 6.69 yards per attempt, and 2617 yards.  I like LSU's numbers better there.

The running backs weren't any better.  Vandy rushers went for 1737 yards at 3.7 yards per attempt and 13 touchdowns.  If you remove graduating quarterback Chris Nickson's rushing numbers, it gets even worse.  He averaged 4.2 yards per carry, scored 6 touchdowns, and was their 2nd leading rusher on the season.

Vandy is a team that won with defense.  They ranked 6th in the league in scoring defense and 8th in total defense, which are really good numbers when you consider that they were on the field a LOT.  They were particularly good against the pass: 3rd in the league in yards per game, 2nd in interceptions, and 5th in sacks.  

Of course, they lost a bit of quality, but this is not the old Vandy.  This incarnation of the Commodore team has shown the ability to remain pretty decent even after losing good players.  In the last few years, they have sent Jay Cutler and Earl Bennet to the NFL and it was only after they left that they finally went to a bowl game.  Now they have to replace all-star cornerback DJ Moore and safety Reshad Langford, along with the flawed quarterback Chris Nickson, who was at times gloriously bad, but was also probably their only really dangerous offensive player.

This is the sort of team that, if taken lightly, could be very dangerous.  Yesterday, I took them lightly.  Part of the problem is that they're a mystery.  They started 3 different quarterbacks last year and they may begin the season with none of those 3 as the starter.  They return solid players on defense, including defensive end Steven Stone who was one of the better sack artists in the conference last year.

I don't know how they're going to move the ball.  If they find a quarterback who can throw accurately and can protect him, they will make their offense single-faceted, which would be an improvement.  If they can somehow add a running game to that, all the better for them.  

Vandy is not going to be a threat to win the conference or anything, but if things break right for them and they find a couple of players to fill their holes, they could be a solid, dangerous team that can't be overlooked.