StatTiger: Vanderbilt at Auburn Preview

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) analyzes Auburn's upcoming home game against Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt 3-1 Overall, 1-1 SEC

Offensive NumbersYards Per GameNational Rank
Passing:206.8 82nd
Total:350.5 82nd
Points:28 points 55th
Defensive NumbersYards Per GameNational Rank
Points:16.3 points17th

Record Against Auburn: 19-19-1

Vanderbilt's last victory over Auburn was in 1955 and Auburn has won the last 12 meetings between the two schools.

Last season Vanderbilt finished with a 4-8 record but four of the losses were by seven points or less. This is the second best start for the Commodores since 1999 when they were also 3-1. The Commodores were 4-0 to start the 2005 season and both squads, 1999 and 2005, went onto 5-6 records.

Under Coach Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt has been very competitive despite its overall win and loss record. Over the last three seasons, Vanderbilt has been involved in 13 losses by seven points or less. Its starting 22 is good enough to compete in the conference but depth has always been a major issue.

Last time out...

The Commodores are coming off a 30-7 victory over Eastern Michigan (2-3), which concluded a four-game home stretch. Junior quarterback Chris Nickson threw four interceptions against the Eagles but the Commodores defense saved the afternoon with five interceptions and a fumble. Earl Bennett hauled in nine receptions, giving him 37 on the season.

The Auburn Tigers are coming off a huge road victory over the previously 4th ranked Florida Gators. Brandon Cox bounced back with his best game of the season and the Auburn defense held the Florida Gators to 312 yards and 17 points. The victory was not won without cost as Quentin Groves and Tristan Davis sustained injuries during the game. Davis is out indefinitely and Groves is expected back in a few weeks.


Chris Nickson has accumulated 719 yards passing and an additional 132 yards on the ground through four games. Nickson has 23 games under his belt with 21 touchdown passes and 10 rushing. Expect wide receiver Earl Bennett to be the top recipient of Vanderbilt's pass attempts as he has accounted for 53.6 percent of the team's receptions this season. Bennett has averaged 7.3 receptions over his 27-game career at Vanderbilt, averaging 92.2 yards per game. Running back Cassen Jackson-Harrison leads the Commodores in rushing with 245 yards on 59 carries. In the last two games he's gained 195 yards on 46 attempts.

D.J. Moore leads the Vanderbilt defense with 31 tackles and three interceptions this season. Steven Stone anchors a defensive line that is second in the conference with 2.5 sacks per game. Stone leads the team with three in four games. The Vandy defense is fifth in the conference against the run and third against the pass. Vanderbilt and LSU are the only SEC teams to have held their opponents to less than 300 yards in total offense per game.

Place kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt has converted on 7 of 10 field goal attempts and all 13 of his PATs. Punter Brett Upson has averaged 35.9 yards on his 15 punt attempts. Earl Bennett has averaged 14.4 yards per punt return with a season long of 36 yards.

About Auburn...

Five games into the season Auburn is 3-2 on the season with losses against a good South Florida team and a disappointing defeat to Mississippi State. With its recent victory over the Florida Gators, a renewed hope and pride has returned to the team. Brandon Cox looked like the confident quarterback Auburn fans have not seen since perhaps the Mississippi State game in 2006. Cox now has 429 career completions, passing Dameyune Craig for fourth place in school history.

Ben Tate is currently on pace for a 1,000-yard season should the Tigers play a 13th game, but expect his carries to drop with the return of Brad Lester. Though Lester has been practicing during his suspension, a little rust should be expected and he'll have to earn his starting position back. Getting Lester back on the field will be a much-needed addition to an offense that currently lacks big play ability. Rod Smith caught 26 passes last season and already has 20 after five games this year. In the last three games he has 16 receptions for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

Lester hasn't played since the win over Alabama last November.

Three of Auburn's four leading tacklers are from the secondary. Jerraud Powers currently leads the team with 29 stops, including a season high of seven against Florida, as well as linebacker Chris Evans, who has been a pleasant surprise for the defense also with 29 stops. The loss of end Quentin Groves will put a major dent in the front seven, though Antonio Coleman currently leads the team in sacks and should step in without a hitch.

Other than kickoffs, Auburn's kicking game hasn't lost a step with Wes Byrum, Ryan Shoemaker and Patrick Tatum. What's so amazing is that all three kickers are freshmen, which means Auburn will likely be secure in the kicking game for quite awhile.

Final Thoughts...

Which Auburn squad will show up for the Vanderbilt game this Saturday? It would appear the turnover epidemic has subsided, which means Auburn is now competing against the opponent and not itself. For now, the Auburn offense is blue collar and there are no easy games left except for Tennessee Tech. The Commodores make their first road trip and you can bet they will be prepared for this game. Auburn defeated No. 4 Florida simply because the coaches devised a good game plan and the players executed. The coaching staff made the right calls and the players made things happen on the field.

Though it would be impossible for the players to be on an emotional high for every game, execution has to be consistent or games like Mississippi State will happen again. If Auburn's focus is on beating Florida and not why they beat Florida, Vanderbilt will come away from Jordan-Hare with a victory.

For the season, Vanderbilt is +1.5 on offense and –10.7 on defense in terms of scoring margins, with an average score of 28-16. Auburn is +5.2 on offense and –12.6 on defense with an average score of 27-19. Taking Vanderbilt's average score against Auburn's scoring margins and Auburn wins, 21-15. Taking Auburn's average score against Vanderbilt's scoring margins and Vanderbilt wins 20-16. Average both scores and Auburn wins a very close game, 18-17.

Auburn currently has the No. 11-ranked strength of schedule according to the NCAA and Vanderbilt is No. 36. Because Auburn has faced four worthy opponents and Vanderbilt has two, the above scoring margins are skewed in favor of the Commodores. Dropping Vandy's games against Richmond and Eastern Michigan along with Auburn's game against New Mexico State, and the numbers are slightly different.

Auburn becomes +1 on offense and –14 on defense and Vanderbilt becomes –6 on offense and –6 on defense. Auburn now wins the game by 14-13 or 21-6 for an average score of 17-10. Last week, I looked at the yardage margins between Auburn and Florida and the results indicated a very close game. Comparing Auburn to Vanderbilt would dictate an Auburn victory this Saturday.

Tossing out the same weak opponents from both team's schedules and Vanderbilt is –95.5 yards on offense and –75.5 yards on defense. In other words, Vanderbilt is being held to –95.5 yards under their season average against Alabama and Ole Miss but is holding the same opponents to 75.5 yards less than what they have averaged on the season. Tossing out the New Mexico State game, Auburn is +6.5 yards on offense and –88.0 yards on defense. Based on yardage margins, Auburn has the better offense and defense.

Auburn is a good team capable of defeating the Florida Gators on the road but are also capable of losing to Mississippi State at home when they fail to execute. No opponent has truly hurt Auburn with its running game this season, but the Tiger defense has struggled at times on pass defense. Vanderbilt will strive for balance to keep the Auburn defense honest but in the end, will the passing game be enough to beat Auburn? I don't believe so...

Auburn 24, Vanderbilt 13

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