Defense May Be Key Against Commodores

The Auburn defense will try to contain an explosive Vanderbilt offense in Saturday's SEC opener for the Tigers.

The Auburn Tigers will be looking to extend the winning streak over the Vanderbilt Commodores to 12 games when they take the field Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. in a game televised by Jefferson Pilot Sports. To do that the Tigers must play a great deal better than they did each of the first two games, a stretch that saw them score just three points while giving up 40.

Facing an explosive offense led by Jay Cutler, the task doesn't get any easier for Coach Tommy Tuberville's club this week. The Commodores enter this weekend averaging 36 points per game, 192.5 yards rushing and 276.5 yards passing. The total offense of 469 yards per game is good enough for third in the SEC after two weeks while Auburn is dead last not only in the league, but in the nation in scoring offense and next to last in rushing offense.

That puts the pressure on the Auburn defense to keep Vanderbilt in check and allow an offense that is searching for an identity to come together. To do that they will have to slow down Cutler, who has become one of the top quarterbacks in the league and can hurt you running or passing. Last season the threat of the option kept teams at the line of scrimmage, something you can't do this year because of his explosiveness downfield.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby hits quarterback Jay Cutler during last season's 31-7 Auburn victory.

Many expected the loss of wide receiver Dan Stricker to hamper the Vanderbilt passing game, but instead it has allowed athletic sophomore Erik Davis to step into the spotlight. The 6-2, 185 speedster has caught eight passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns this season. He is averaging 23.9 yards per reception and 95 yards per game receiving. Junior Brandon Smith (6-1, 185) is also a playmaker for the Commodores with five catches for 128 yards and one touchdown.

Even if they can slow down the passing game, the Tigers still have to deal with the tandem of Norval McKenzie and Kwane Doster in the Vandy backfield. The duo has rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns this season on 47 carries and present a challenge because of their speed. That's particularly true of Doster who is averaging 125.5 all-purpose yards per game. While Auburn's offense has struggled, it may come down to how well Auburn's defense plays against Vanderbilt's offensive weapons.

Still, the Auburn offense must wake up for the Tigers to escape Nashville with a victory. Averaging a dreadful 41.5 yards rushing per game, the Tigers must triple that number this week to have a shot at victory against a Vanderbilt defense that has played well in the first two games of the season. Giving up just 61.5 yards on the ground this season, the front four of sophomores Jovan Haye (6-3, 255), Trey Holloway (6-2, 285), Ralph McKenzie (6-4, 300) and Chris Booker (6-4, 245) have been solid against the run, but have struggled getting pressure on the passer.

That has come from the linebacking corps and in the secondary so far this season. Leading tackler Moses Osemwegie (6-0, 220, Sr.) is also Vandy's leading sack man from his weak-side position. If the Commodores can stop the run, that will free up Osemwegie and the other backers to blitz at will against the Tigers, something that has been proven to be successful this year. If the Tigers can run the ball early and get momentum, it could be a big day for an offense searching for answers. Get stuffed early and things could get rough once again.

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