Vanderbilt Preview

Vanderbilt is in their first bowl game since 1982. Their last post season trip was the Hall of Fame Classic where they lost to Air Force, 36-to-28. The Commodores have made two other bowl trips in their history, a tie with Texas Tech in the 1974 Peach Bowl and a victory over Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl.

Vanderbilt is in their first bowl game since 1982. Their last post season trip was the Hall of Fame Classic where they lost to Air Force, 36-to-28. The Commodores have made two other bowl trips in their history, a tie with Texas Tech in the 1974 Peach Bowl and a victory over Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl. To put this in a little perspective, Vanderbilt's record since their last bowl game, not including this season, is 77-201-1. In that run they did not have one winning season.

Obviously, this makes the 2008 Music City Bowl a special event for the home town team. It is not, however, a fluke of scheduling that got them to this point. Vandy finished 4-and-4 in the always tough SEC. They beat three bowl teams in South Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi, the last two on the road. They also beat Auburn for the first time since 1955.

The out-of-conference schedule was not as tough, but they did beat Rice (9-and-3) at home. Their other victory was the season opener against Miami (OH). The two out-of-conference loses this year were against ACC opponents. Vandy lost at home to Duke and lost to Wake Forest on the road. The later was their worst loss of the season, next to the shellacking from Florida.

Vanderbilt on Offense

On paper, the Commodore offense looks like a run heavy attack. For the season they ran the ball 435 times and threw it 299 times. This shows up in the yardage figures. They averaged 138 yards per game on the ground versus 123 through the air. Looking deeper into the rushing numbers reveals their second and third leading rushers are quarterbacks.

Chris Nickson took most of the reps at QB this year and accounted for 485 yards on the ground and 545 yards through the air. Mackenzi Adams, the "passing half" of their QB rotation is questionable for the game, recovering from a knee injury. He played in nine games this year, accounting for 882 yards through the air. He completed 49.4% of his attempts, including five touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The net result for the Vandy offense this year is a rank of 69th in rushing, netting 3.8 yards per carry. The passing game finished ranked 112th, posting just 123 yards per game, including 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Combined they are the 117th ranked offense in the country, averaging 19.42 points per game.

Vanderbilt on Defense

The strength of this team is the defense. They finished the year 29th in total defense and held opponents to just 20 points per game. The front four is not spectacular, but they are deep and solid. The real strength lies in the back seven. D.J. Moore was first team All-SEC at defensive back. Patrick Benoist was second team All-SEC at linebacker. They also have a red-shirt freshman middle linebacker, Chris Marve, who was third on the team in tackles.

This back seven made Vanderbilt the 18th ranked pass defense in the country. They picked off 18 passes and held opponent to just 174 yards per game through the air. Throw in nine forced fumbles and the result is the third best pass defense in the SEC.

The one thing the numbers don't show is the strength of the offenses they faced this year. The top rated offense on their schedule was Rice, a C-USA team. The combined offensive ranking of their opponents this season was 76. So, those defensive numbers may be inflated. They also go into this game missing their best lineman, Broderick Stewart, who broke his leg November 22nd against Tennessee.

Keys to the Game

Vanderbilt is not going to beat anyone with their offense alone. They need their defense to set them up with turnovers and field position. In their six victories, they created 15 turnovers. In their six losses, they created just ten. It is not an accident that as their turnover ratio dropped, the losses began to mount. In the second half of the season they won just one game. So, the first key for Boston College is not turning the ball over on offense.

The second key is to establish a running game. Vanderbilt's front four is solid, but they have struggled in the second half of the season. If you take out the Duke game, they have allowed 187 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. Five of those final six games were losses. BC's O-Line has to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and wear down the Vandy defense.

The third key will be the play of Dominique Davis. It is unlikely he will be asked to throw the ball forty times. He will, however, have to make the most of his chances and take care of the ball. If he can do enough in the passing game to keep the Vanderbilt secondary honest, that will be enough to keep the Commodores from loading the box and ignoring the passing game.

Finally, this will probably be a field position game. The BC defense will shut down the running game. Vandy is not going to light up it up through the air. So, the critical issue for the defense is keeping Nickson under control. Allowing him to take off and convert third and long into a first down will nullify any advantage in field position. Forcing him to take chances with his arm will give the defense a chance to create turnovers and set up the offense on a short field.

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