Vanderbilt is 4-0 this season with wins over conference foes South Carolina and Ole Miss. How they have done that is no big secret either. The Commodores are leading the league in turnover margin at +9 and they have been penalized just 11 times in four games for a total of 115 yards. Vanderbilt is perfect in field goals (7-7) and tied for first in red zone offense scoring 16 times on 17 opportunities.
The enigma comes when you look at the numbers that most people assume matter the most in the game of football. Yes the Commodores are third in the league in rushing yards (202 per game), but that is the only team offensive or defensive category that Vanderbilt is in the top half of the SEC statistics this week. Vanderbilt is seventh in scoring offense, seventh in scoring defense, 10th in rushing defense, 12th in pass defense, 12th in total defense, 12th in passing offense and 12th in total offense.
Will The Real Auburn Tigers Please Stand Up
While the spread offense is supposed to be a pass-first attack to set up the run, Auburn is determined to be a more physical and better running team. That needs to begin this week with the offensive line a key for success against the Commodores. Auburn has shown that you can run the ball with success in Tony Franklin's offense with 190 yards against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year and 321 yards in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
Somewhere along the line things have gotten muddled though as the Tigers have become less and less physical up front. In the last four games Auburn has rushed for 460 yards on 160 carries, an average of just 2.87 yards per carry. If the Tigers hope to have more success offensively one of two things must happen. Either the running game picks it up dramatically or the Tigers have to throw the ball early and often in order to back defenses off the line of scrimmage. Either will do, but one must happen.
What To Watch When Vanderbilt Has The Ball
The matchup between Auburn's run defense and Vanderbilt's rushing offense may very well determine who wins and loses Saturday. The Commodores average 202 yards per game while Auburn allows just 92.2 yards. Vandy has 10 rushing touchdowns the Tigers have allowed just one score on the ground. The key for this game may be the 125 yard mark. The team that reaches that goal has a better than average chance to come out on top.
What To Watch When Auburn Has The Ball
Hard to guess that this will be the quarterbacks? The ongoing battle between Chris Todd and Kodi Burns continues as Todd is expected to again be the starter for the Tigers, but expect playing time for Burns after his solid showing last week against Tennessee. The bowl win over Clemson has shown Franklin's offense can work using two quarterbacks, but finding the right rhythm and timing may just be the key for success for Auburn. Vanderbilt's pass defense has intercepted 10 passes this season yet the Commodores allow 240 yards per game. If Auburn can avoid the turnovers the opportunity is there for some big numbers against the ‘Dores.
Something You May Not Know About Vanderbilt
This week's game is a big one for the Vanderbilt football program. How big? Just think about these numbers. The Commodores are looking for their first 5-0 start since before D-Day and the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1943. Currently at 4-0 under Bobby Johnson for the second time in four years, he is the first coach to accomplish that feat for the Commodores since Ray Morrison did the same in 1937-38. This is just the eighth time a Vanderbilt team has started 4-0 since 1937.
Not enough to convince you how big this game is for the ‘Dores? Consider that they are also looking to win three consecutive games in the SEC for the first time since 1982. In their history the Commodores have won three straight SEC games just seven times (1934, 1935, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1955, 1982).
Something You May Not Know About Auburn
Auburn has won 13 consecutive meetings vs. Vandy dating back to a 1955 Gator Bowl loss 25-13. Since that time the Tigers have outscored the Commodores 473-152, an average score of 36.38 to 11.69. In fact, Vanderbilt has scored more than 20 points just four times with 35 points coming in a 53-35 decision in 1979. In the last five meetings between the two teams Auburn has outscored Vanderbilt 168-41.
Vandy Player To Watch
Quarterback Chris Nickson is the key for the Commodores on offense. The former Alabama Mr. Football out of Pike County, Nickson is a dynamic runner with 270 yards on the ground on 56 attempts with five touchdowns. It is worth noting that this season in games against non-conference foes Miami (OH) and Rice that Nickson has 33 carries for 251 yards and four touchdowns. Against South Carolina and Ole Miss his numbers are a grand total of 23 carries for 19 yards. That means Nickson will need to throw the ball with some success to beat the Tigers Saturday night.
Auburn Player To Watch
The running back tandem of Ben Tate and Brad Lester. When Tony Franklin's offense is performing at its peak the running backs are heavily involved both running the ball and catching passes. Against Clemson last year the two combined for just 27 rushes for 126 yards but caught six passes for 43 more yards. This season they have combined to run the ball for 567 yards, but have just 14 catches for 88 yards in five games. That number has to increase if this offense hopes to take off and become more productive.
The Keys To Victory
For Auburn the answer is simple. If the Tigers execute on offense they win the game. End of story. Vanderbilt has played well in winning four games, but the numbers are just too overwhelming to ignore on both offense and defense. Without an explosive offense or defense the Commodores need help to beat the Tigers. They've capitalized on chances against both South Carolina and Ole Miss. If Auburn doesn't give them those chances the Tigers should head home a winner.