As we mentioned in the Naval Intelligence briefing yesterday, the Kansas City Star has a great preview of our game this weekend, and we've decided to take their analysis as a framework for looking and how things will shake out this Saturday.
The Commodores come into this game 3-1, and 1-1 in the SEC, with our only loss coming at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide on a day when Chris Nickson was (to be generous) not playing his best, thanks to a pulled hamstring.
The Auburn Tigers (3-2, 1-1) lost to Southern Florida and Mississippi State, but many War Eaglers have forgiven the Orange-and-Blue those losses because of their upset road-win of defending national champion Florida.
Vanderbilt has never won on the Plains, but the Commodores think that this year (like the first time the 'Dores beat UK in Rupp) could finally be the year it happens.
First, the Star notes that "[t]he fact that [Auburn] beat a team like Florida but lost at home to Mississippi State makes the Tigers one of the toughest teams in the nation to figure out." I have to agree. The question that Bobby Johnson and the Commodores have to be asking is "which Auburn team will show up this weekend?"
If it's the same one that last played the 11:30 a.m. game on Lincoln Financial Sports TV, then the 'Dores have a good shot at the upset. If it's the Gator-slaying Tigers who roar onto Jordan-Hare in three days, there may be a problem for the Black-and-Gold.
For the Commodores, Cassen Jackson-Garrison is averaging 61.25 yards per game, and Chris Nickson (who averages 180 yards passing per game) is averaging 33 yards on the ground himself.
The article also raises the point that we made two days ago here on S&S: the 'Dores are averaging 28 points per game, while opponents are only managing 16.2 points per game (a 12-point advantage for the Commodores, even when taking into account the Alabama loss).
Significantly, opponents are only averaging 279 total yards per game (compared with Vanderbilt's 350 -- a 71 yard advantage for VU), and part of the defense's success is thanks to their stingy 3.4 yards per rushing attempt.
On the Orange-and-Blue side of things, the Tigers are averaging 27 points per game (a 1 point advantage for VU) and 330 total yards per game (a 20 yard advantage for the men from West End). Brandon Cox is averaging 56.7 yards per game passing, and the Tigers average only 3.5 yards per carry (that bodes well for Vanderbilt's defense).
The two quarterbacks are roughly even with interceptions: Chris Nickson has thrown five, while Brandon Cox has lost 6 (note that Cox only has 3 touchdown passes this year -- a measly 0.75 TD passes per game -- and compare that with Chris, who's averaging 1.5 TD passes per game).
Let's take a pause in the statistics, and ask yourself: with what you've read so far, what do you think of Vandy's chances this weekend? If you're a Vanderbilt fan, these statistics give you a little bit of confidence heading into Saturday: the Commodores seem to have a good chance to upset the Tigers at home.
Apparently, though, the Plainsmen's big win against Florida, particularly their defensive performance, leads the analysts in the Star article to say that with "only one weapon," the Commodores will lose to the Tigers.
I don't buy it.
I think the Star folks are overlooking two key points: first, in all our games thus far, we have run the ball in such a way as to open up our passing game (even in the loss to 'Bama, the routes were there, it's just that Chris was off thanks to his hamstring). We do have more than one weapon, in people like Cassen Jackson-Garrison, George Smith, and others. Also, when your average starting field position is your own 46 yard-line, you don't necessarily need an "all-star" play in every drive.
The second thing I think they're overlooking is the success that Vanderbilt has had in containing offensives, even star SEC-quality running backs (e.g., BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who remains the SEC's second-leading running back). There's a reason we're Top 20 in the country in overall defense, and our defense's average yards-allowed-per-carry stacks up well against Auburn's average yards-per-carry (and remember, those AU y.p.c. stats include the game in Gainesville).
If the Commodores can keep their defensive game together, and hold the Tigers to their thus-far average yards-per-carry, we have a great chance to beat Auburn and pick up one of those wins that will put us on the road to breaking that twenty-five year drought of bowl invitations.
Remember: we're only have win 3 games out of our next 8 to qualify for a bowl. I believe that we can do it. We have to find a way to get wins where we can, and this is a great opportunity to do so.