Excitement Still High Despite Slow Start
Following a 6-7 season in 2011 and just the fifth bowl game in school history, Vanderbilt entered this season with high hopes under enthusiastic coach James Franklin. A challenging early schedule has the Commodores reeling, however, with just two wins in their first six games and losses coming to South Carolina, Northwestern, Georgia and Florida.
That hasn't kept the enthusiasm down for the Commodores as they have put together back-to-back sellouts for Florida, last weekend and Saturday's 11:21 a.m. CDT start on the SEC Network for the Auburn game.
Dangerous Offense For Commodores
Although they are averaging just 20.5 points per game, the Commodores have a capable offensive attack led by quarterback Jordan Rodgers. A smaller version of his older brother Aaron Rodgers, he has struggled to put everything together this season, but has still managed to throw for 1,068 yards in five games this season. As a team Vanderbilt has 1,300 yards passing this year with over 1,000 of those coming to just two receivers.
A native of Madison, Ala., Jordan Matthews has 43 of Vanderbilt's 89 receptions this season for 617 yards and three of the four receiving touchdowns. He is the SEC receiving leader. Fellow receiver Chris Boyd has 19 catches for 405 yards, an average of 21.3 yards per reception, and is a big-play threat for the Commodores. No other Vanderbilt player has more than six catches and 77 receiving yards this season.
Senior running back Zac Stacy, from Centreville, Ala., is a key performer for the Vandy offense.
On the ground Bibb County product Zac Stacy has followed up his second team All-SEC season in 2011 with a solid start this year. Playing in all six games he has carried the ball 99 times for 499 yards and four of Vanderbilt's eight rushing touchdowns this season. Speedy Brian Kimbrow is second on the team with 185 yards on just 24 carries this season.
Defense Struggling Against The Run
While Vanderbilt's defense has done a solid job defending the pass this season, against the run it has been a different story for Franklin's troops. Allowing 203.5 yards per game, the Commodores have given up 1,221 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground with opponents averaging five yards a carry on 244 attempts.
That should be good news for an Auburn offense that is hoping to continue to build on the running game behind sophomore Tre Mason. Averaging just 125.5 yards per game on the ground this season, the Tigers are led by Mason's 389 yards and three touchdowns on just 77 carries in 2012.
Sophomore Tre Mason leads the Auburn running attack.
As a team Auburn's problems on the ground stem from lost yardage plays with 263 yards in losses on 221 attempts. While Mason has just 17 lost yards on 77 carries, senior Onterio McCalebb has a whopping 54 on only 57 carries yet he has still managed to average 5.1 yards per attempt. If the Tigers can get the running game going in a more positive direction by avoiding negative plays then the offense could get rolling and stay in gear on Saturday.
Turning It Over
It's no coincidence that teams that struggle turning the ball over and creating turnovers are the teams that have problems winning football games. Currently the Top 10 teams in turnover margin in the NCAA have combined for just four losses this season. On the flip side, of the six SEC teams that are currently negative in turnover margin, only Tennessee and Texas A&M have winning records.
Last in the country in turnover margin this season at minus 13, Auburn must improve in that area to have a chance to win on the road this Saturday. If the Tigers continue to turn it over and not get takeaways from its defense, it will be another long day for Gene Chizik's team.