BBVA Compass Bowl Preview; Vanderbilt

The Houston Cougars head to Birmingham, Alabama to face the Vanderbilt Commodores of the SEC this Saturday (January the 4th) at historic Legion Field for the 2014 BBVA Compass Bowl. Game time is set for noon (CST) and will be televised on ESPN.

The Commodores won their final four games of the regular season for an 8-4 overall record. In finishing 4-4 in the rugged SEC East, the ‘Dores defeated division foes Georgia (31-27), Florida (34-17) and Tennessee (14-10) in the same season for the first time in school history. The 20-member senior class leaves Vandy in much better shape than when they first entered the program four seasons ago as they were the first class to beat the Vols in back-to-back seasons since 1925-26, helped produce the team's first winning record in the SEC since 1982 (finishing with a 5-3 conference record last season) and were a part of the Commodores' first nine-win season since 1915 (finishing 9-4 last season). The class is also one win away from tying the second most wins in a 4-year span as their 25 wins are only six off the all-time Vandy mark of 31 wins set by the classes of 1909-12, 26-29 and 27-30. They've also earned three consecutive bowl trips for the first time in Vanderbilt's 124-season history after having been to only four before the senior class enrolled in 2010. They're also 15-4 over their past 19 games (including a 7-game win streak to conclude the 2012 season), which is second best of any SEC team to only Alabama over the same stretch. This all from a program that had just one winning season in the 27 years prior to its arrival. This all has been accomplished under the watchful eye of head coach James Franklin, who is 23-15 in his 3rd season in Nashville.

Unfortunately for the ‘Dores, one of those seniors who won't be playing in his final game is quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, in offensive coordinator John Donovan's multiple spread scheme. Carta-Samuels had been the starter most of the season, but had given way to Patton Robinette (6'4, 212, R.Fr.) after suffering a torn ACL in their 31-27 win versus Georgia on October the 19th before returning for the final 3 games (after being out just the previous 2 with that torn ACL). After the season concluded, Carta-Samuels decided to have the surgery on his knee performed on advice of the Vandy medical staff as he told the, "It was definitely a tough decision. We just came to the understanding that as time goes on you get less and less muscle mass in that leg, and I needed to take care of it as quick as possible if I wanted to have the opportunity to play again." For the season, Samuels completed nearly 70-percent of his passes, or 68.7 percent to be exact, connecting on 193 of his 281 passes while averaging nearly 230 yards per game along with 9 interceptions and 11 TDs passes while also being agile enough to run for 5 TDs on 75 total carries.

Robinette is more of a running threat out of the backfield, especially off of zone read option and QB draw plays. The redshirt freshman passed for 3,326 yards and ran for 1,857 more during his two years as the starter for Maryville (Tn.) with a 29-1 overall record while leading the Rebels to the 2010 and 2011 state championships. For the 2013 season, Robinette has completed 40 of his 69 passes (58-percent) for 488 yards with 2 TDs to 3 interceptions. He's rushed 56 times for 177 yards (with 60 yards in losses factored in) with 6 TDs in only 9 games.

Vandy averages 29.2 points per game (67th nationally) while averaging 366.7 total yards per game (94th); 133 rushing (99th) and 233.7 passing (66th), compared to a Houston defense that allows 20.2 points per game under first year defensive coordinator David Gibbs multiple 4-3 scheme. While ranking 15th nationally in scoring (say that out loud one more time Coogfans), Gibbs unit has allowed opponents 420 total yards per game (86th); 143.8 rushing (38th) and 276.2 passing (116th). In the ultimate bend-but-don't-break philosophy, the Coogs defense is first nationally in turnover margin at a plus-2.08 as they've produced 40 turnovers defensively to only allowing 15 on offense. Their 23 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries are both ranked second nationally. One other stat favoring the Coogs defense is sacks. Vandy has allowed 32 sacks on the season (97th nationally), but the stunning stat is the 9 their line has allowed on Robinette, whom hasn't played nearly as much as Carta-Samuels had during the season. All in all it probably shouldn't be so shocking considering Robinette is a redshirt freshman and probably isn't use to the speed of the college game yet (think Case Keenum taking sacks as a Texan versus how fast the ball would be out of his hands during his time as a Coog).

Look for Vandy to test Houston's run defense early and often behind power formations utilizing a fullback, tight end and/or H-back as the Cougars run defense has been gashed on inside power plays, especially early on by opponents such as Rutgers (204 rushing yards allowed), UCF (188), Louisville (129) and Cincinnati (172) before Gibbs and his staff made second half adjustments in slowing down opposing run games. Vandy's line from left to right consists of Wesley Johnson (6'5, 295, RSr.), Jake Bernstein (6'3, 305, RSo.), Joe Townsend (6'3, 305, Jr.), Spencer Pulley (6'4, 300, Jr.) and either Andrew Jenks (6'6, 295, RFr.) or the more experienced Chase White (6'4, 292, RJr.) at right tackle. Johnson will be making his 51st start, with the majority of them coming at left tackle and is a member of the ‘First Team All-SEC' this season. They're a typical physical SEC offensive line who loves to maul their opponents so look for lots of action between the tackles as they like to use their guards, tight ends or full backs to pull in order to create space for their running backs inside, along with numerous traps and counters as well.

Defensively, the Cougars front four will have to play disciplined and ‘set the edge' as to not allow the Vandy running backs or quarter backs get to the outside, relying on help from their linebacking core to shut down the ‘Dores running game. This job belongs to the line of Eric Eiland (6'2, 236, So.), Trevor Harris (6'5, 233, Jr.) and Tyus Bowser (6'3, 226, Fr.) at the standing ‘rush' end spot, with Eric Braswell (6'5, 268, Jr.) and Cameron Malveaux (6'6, 252, RFr.) at the run stopping strong side defensive end spot. Harris finished the season at the strong side end after starting at ‘rush' end and is second along the line in both sacks (with 4) and tackles-for-loss (7.5) along with leading the line in total tackles (47). Bowser has been the surprise of the line, especially considering he's a true freshman as he leads the line with 5 sacks and 11 QB ‘hurries' as he's shown a tremendous burst off the line at the snap. Along the interior of the line, defensive tackles Joey Mbu (6'3, 312, Jr.) and Tomme Mark (6'3, 288, So.) have been consistent if not spectacular with Jeremiah Farley (6'0, 283, Jr.) and B.J. Singleton (6'4, 285, RFr.) adding depth along with game changing abilities from their inside spots. Farley leads the team in TFL with 9 while Singleton has blocked 3 kicks on special teams. What this 9-man defensive line rotation lacks in size they make up for in speed and hustle to the ball which will have to be on full display in order to force Vandy to become one-dimensional offensively.

When the Commodores aren't using Patton in the read-option game, running back Jerron Seymour (5'6, 200, RSo.) will see most of the handoffs as he's their leading rusher with 627 yards on 144 carries for a 4.4 yard per rush average. At only 5-feet-6 inches tall he's able to hide behind his massive offensive line for an extra yard or two before being seen by opposing defensive lines. Coach Franklin on Seymour at the beginning of the season via the Tennessean, "we thought since day one, in the very first practice, he showed tremendous change of direction, great balance and vision, and we thought he could be a factor for us." While Seymour could be considered a ‘speed back,' he's used very effectively in the red zone as well (his 13 rushing touchdowns is one off the single season school record). Their power back is Wesley Tate (6'1, 224, RSr.) who has 353 yards on 87 carries (4.1 ypr) with 4 TDs. Brian Kimbrough (5'8, 185, So.) is a true ‘scat back' who will see touches off of draws and fly sweeps as he's contributed 266 yards on 68 carries this season with 2 TDs as a third-down back. Seymour and Tate are both effective receivers as many of the short ‘swing' passes they catch out of the backfield act as an extension of their rushing game as Seymour is the teams' third leading receiver in terms of receptions with 19 (for 126 yards) and Tate in terms of yards with 149 (on 18 receptions).

Charged with stopping these backs will be the strength of the Cougars defense this season, their linebacking core led by Derrick Mathews (6'0, 214, Jr.) at the Mike or middle linebacker spot. The defensive co-captain is flanked by Efrem Oliphant (6'1, 230, Jr.) at the Will or weakside spot and Steven Taylor (6'0, 211, RFr.) at the Sam or strongside spot. Look for Mathews to take on the Vandy backs head on as his knack for finding the football has been evident from day one of his freshman season two years ago. Like the defensive line in front of him, what Mathews lacks in size he more than makes up for in sheer will and hustle as his football IQ along with his speed allows him to ‘shoot the gaps' to make plays behind the line of scrimmage as he leads the defense with 7 sacks and is second with 12 TFL. He's also forced and recovered 2 fumbles on the season along with returning an interception 29 yards for a TD against BYU earlier in the season. Surprisingly he's not the leading tackler as his 110 total are 13 behind the surprise of the defense, Oliphant (with 123 total tackles and 12.5 TFL). Taylor has added a not-too-shabby 7 TFL with 75 total tackles and is the best cover linebacker of the unit with 5 passes defended.

If the Cougars front-7 cannot stop the run, Vandy will then be able to use its play-action game for big plays over the top. When speaking of Vandy's offense, their most highly publicized player is wide receiver Jordan Mathews (6'3, 206, Sr.). Originally a 2-star recruit out of Madison, Alabama, the senior caught 107 passes for a school-record 1,334 yards, with 5 TDs, this season and has 257 catches for 3,616 yards in his career, both SEC records. He's also the only receiver in SEC history with over 100 receptions in a single season and has caught a pass in 33 straight games. The All-American is a matchup nightmare for whichever defensive back the Coogs assign to him, which we'll get to in a bit, as he's a fundamentally sound route runner with the athleticism to get up and catch a ball at its highest point. With so much attention being paid to Mathews (and deservedly so), the units' second option has hurt opponents off of play-action passes as Jonathan Krause (5'11, 192, Sr.) averages 17.1 yards per reception (703 yards on 41 catches) with 3 TDs. In their ‘spread mode,' Vandy's third wide receiver is Jordan Cunningham (6'1, 175, Fr.) who has 15 receptions for 123 yards this season. Fullback Fitz Lassing (6'3, 245, Sr.), H-back Kris Kentera (6'4, 235, RSo.) and tight end Steven Scheu (6'5, 255, RSo.) are all effective blockers yet can be effective in Vandy's passing game off of play-action, especially if Gibbs is aggressive with the pass and/or run blitz (which he has been for most of the season). For the season Lassing has only 4 receptions for 25 yards but 2 of them are for TDs off of play-fakes in the red zone. Kentera and Scheu have caught 10 and 9 passes (each with 1 TD) for 100 and 123 yards respectively.

The size of Vandy's receivers may give the Cougars corners troubles, especially starting corners Thomas Bates (5'10, 183, Sr.) and Zach McMillian (5'10, 178, Sr.). Bates leads the secondary with 11 passes defended and has really improved his game in run support with many hard hits on unsuspecting running backs this season, even forcing 2 fumbles on the year. McMillian has added 4 interceptions as he's played more of a deep safety in Gibbs various cover-2, 3 and quarters coverage schemes towards the end of the season. William Jackson (6'1, 175, So.) and Turon Walker (5'11, 190, Jr.) add depth at corner and play in nickel and dime packages as the first year players have added a combined 3 interceptions (2 by Walker) and 10 passes defended  (7 by Jackson) this season. While ball hawking free safety Trevon Stewart (5'9, 192, So.) will play in the box to help in run support, look for strong safety Adrian McDonald (5'10, 191, So.) to bracket which ever corner is playing Mathews as he's not coverable by a single corner. Stewart leads the nation with 10 total forced turnovers with 6 fumble recoveries and 4 interceptions. While he's third on the defense with 99 tackles his weak spot is coverage, especially against slot receivers. McDonald meanwhile leads the team with 5 interceptions and is fourth with 91 total tackles.

Offensively, it's a whole new game for the Coogs as offensive coordinator Doug Meacham left to take the same position at TCU earlier this month, leaving the job for last season's OC and current 2nd year running backs coach, Travis Bush (who also served as the QBs coach last season as well). Upon taking over after the first game last season on an interim basis, Bush (who's been an OC at both of his previous stops in Texas State and UTSA) will be adding what's referred to as ‘eye candy,' or basically the use of player shifts and motions that get defensive players off of reading their keys. This confusion via the offenses misdirection causes defenses to get gashed for huge yards, as the Coogs averaged 338 passing yards per game in the 11 games with Bush as their OC. This season the offense has averaged 33.9 points per game (33rd nationally), just slightly better than the 33.2 points per game from last season while averaging "only" 284.1 passing yards per game (24th) under Meacham this season. I look for Bush to bring back this misdirection, usually with wide receivers motioning across the formation or running backs flaring out and/or cutting in front of the QB right before the ball is snapped to help aid in the short passing game, getting the ball in the receivers hands quicker as opposed to the longer developing routes they had been running for most of the season. This also allows the offensive line to have to pass block for a shorter period of time. I also look for Bush to emphasize rushing the ball less as the offensive line has played subpar for parts of the season as they've been mainly responsible for the team rushing for only 138.4 yards per game this season (94th nationally) after a promising start in which they were averaging 171.9 yards through the first 7 games of the year. Overall the offense averages 422.5 yards per game (55th) against a Vandy defensive unit allowing 352.3 total yards per game (26th), behind 148 yards rushing (42nd) and 204.3 passing yards (21st) while allowing 24.7 points per game (45th) in third year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's 4-3 scheme.

Running the ball more (they've averaged the most attempts per game since 2007) was probably emphasized by Meacham for two reasons; 1.) Playing against better defenses in the American Athletic Conference, versus Conference-USA in which the Coogs had been a member of for the previous 16 seasons, and 2.) Two true freshman sharing time at QB. John O'Korn (6'4, 205) started the last 10 games of the season after junior David Piland could no longer play due to concussion issues, and with 2,889 total passing yards, sits only 242 passing yards from breaking Kevin Kolb's freshman record of 3,131 yards set during the 2003 season. The famed Ft. Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas prep star has completed nearly 60-percent of his passes (239-for-399 for a completion percentage of 59.9) and is only one of three true freshmen in to top-50 in passer rating as he rates 49th at 138.21. He's also smart with the ball and rarely forces a bad pass as his 3:1 TD to interception ratio (26 TDs to 8 picks) demonstrates. O'Korn has a moxie that all of the great QBs have and this toughness has been shown throughout the season as he's not afraid to pull the ball down and make a play with his legs if nothing is available through the air. What's really impressed me has been his poise throughout the season when protection breaks down in the pocket. Many times he'll scramble not to gain yards, but for his receivers to get open downfield, many times resulting in TDs off predesigned ‘scramble drills' in which his receivers break off their routes and come back for the ball once they realize he's in trouble. The ‘true' ground game is fellow true freshman QB Greg Ward's (5'10, 175) forte however, as the Tyler native has been more than an effective changeup to the pocket passing O'Korn as he's the team's third leading rusher (179 yards on 40 carries in 9 games) as he has the type of speed that opposing defenses cannot scheme for. He also has an underrated arm as he's completed 18-of-27 passes for 300 yards (or 16.66 yards per completion). It will be interesting to see how Ward is used as he's played slot receiver (97 yards on 9 receptions with a score) over the past few games and a punt returner in the last game against SMU (in which he had fair catches).

The Cougars offensive line, consisting of DeAnthony Sims (6'3, 320, Sr.), Rowdy Harper (6'6, 295, Jr.), Bryce Redman (6'1, 285, Jr.), Kevin Forsch (6'3, 307, Sr.) and Zach Johnson (6'6, 301, So.) from left to right tackle must not allow Vandy to pressure with only its front-4 as they haven't blitzed as much as previous opponents the Cougars have faced this season have. The line has allowed 25 sacks (62nd) while Vandy has sacked opposing QBs 24 times (64th). The ‘Dores have a 9-man rotation along its defensive line that's been just as effective as the Coogs line in starting ends Kyle Woestman (6'3, 252, RJr.) and Walker May (6'5, 250, RSr.) with Jimmy Stewart (6'4, 250, RSo.) and Stephen Weatherly (6'5, 252, RFr.) in reserve. The key to Vandy's success defensively up front is that opponents cannot isolate on stopping just one defender as Woestman and May have 5.5 and 4 sacks with 6.5 and 8 TFL respectively, with Weatherly adding 3 and 2.5 and Stewart 2.5 and 2. Sophomore Caleb Azubike (6'4, 255) actually leads the defensive ends with 9.5 TFL and is tied for second with 4 sacks but has an injured knee and his playing status for this game is not known (as of this writing). At tackle, behemoths Jared Morse (6'2, 304, Sr.) and Vincent Taylor (6'2, 312, RJr.) do more than an effective job at plugging up the interior rushing lanes, with Barron Dixon (6'4, 308, Jr.), Adam Butler (6'4, 305, RFr.) and Ladarius Banks (6'2, 295, RFr.) all seeing time as part of Vandy's rebirth is the fact that they have as good depth up front as many other SEC teams. Butler leads the group with 6 TFL with Morse adding 4 passes defended with batted down pass attempts.

With those five tackles averaging just over 305 pounds I don't see the Coogs mounting an effective inside rushing game, which Bush probably won't try anyway as UH running backs Kenneth Farrow (5'11, 216, RSo.) and Ryan Jackson (5'10, 183, So.) have both struggled down the stretch as far as balancing out the offense. In their four losses to BYU, Louisville, UCF and Cincinnati they've combined to average not even 65 yards per game on the ground. They'll be up against a Vandy linebacking core, much like that of the Coogs, that might not be the biggest but are agile and quick to the ball, led by outside linebackers Derreon Herring (6'2, 228, So.) and Kari Butler (6'1, 218, Sr.) and middle linebacker Chase Garnham (6'3, 235, Sr.). Herring leads the unit with 80 (and is second on the team) but his strong suit is pass defense, as he's also second with 11 passes defended on the season. Butler uses his quickness off the edge to the tune of 7.5 TFL, which ranks him third on the team in only 10 games. Garnham returned from leg injuries just over the past four games (after sitting out the previous seven) and has solidified the defense as they've held those four opponents to only 13.5 points per game. His replacement during those seven games had been Jake Sealand (6'2, 230, So.) who's added 44 total tackles (ranking him fourth defensively).

Where this game will probably be decided is Vandy's pass defense versus Houston's passing offense, which are both obviously their strong suits this season. While many will be focusing on Vandy's Mathews', the Coogs have their own number one receiver in Deontay Greenberry (6'3, 198, So.), whom only ranks 15thh nationally averaging 100.3 receiving yards per game (1,106 yards in 11 games) and 17thh in receptions per game with 6.9 (76 grabs) including 10 TDs. His (and O'Korn's) favorite route is the ‘quick slant' down the seam which works more effectively off of play-action. The quick slant is a fast developing play in which the ball is out of O'Korn's hands just after the snap with Greenberry faking an ‘out' only to cross his defender, catching the ball in stride usually 5 to 10 yards downfield usually being matched up against either a safety or linebacker. His longest was an 83-yard reception off the ‘quick slant' which he took to the house at Rutgers. In the Coogs four losses this play has been taken out of the equation by physically strong inside linebackers most of whom are in ‘robber coverage,' or playing the middle of the field in some type of zone scheme. Greenberry has the physicality to match up against smaller defensive backs yet has the speed to do major damage after the catch when matched up against bigger defenders as well. The other receiver most capable of hurting Vandy's secondary via YAC (yards after the catch) yardage is fellow slot receiver Daniel Spencer (5'11, 195, Jr.), whom averages 15.3 yards per reception (764 yards on 12 catches with 6 TDs). If given enough time in the pocket, O'Korn usually hooks up with Spencer on short crossing patterns over the middle. O'Korn's third option is Xavier Maxwell (6'1, 180, Sr.) at one of the starting outside spots. The speedster has 405 receiving yards this season on 28 receptions with 4 TDs, with many coming via the ‘deep post' which is set up by the shorter passes caught by both Greenberry and Spencer. The other outside slot has been shared by Larry McDuffy (5'10, 162, So.), Aaron Johnson (6'0, 207, Jr.), Markeith Ambles (6'2, 215, Jr.) and true freshman Demarcus Ayers (5'10, 173, Jr.), none of whom have shown the consistency to nail down consistent minutes. McDuffy (118 yards on 16 receptions) started the season after playing the slot last year, but concussion issues have limited his effectiveness. Johnson (95 yards on 11 grabs) makes plays in practice but hasn't yet been able to transfer that to the field on Saturday's, as has Ambles (147 yards on 11 catches), whom many have expected much more out of as he transferred from Arizona Western JC after starting his career at Southern Cal as a five-star prospect in 2010, though he missed all of August with NCAA Clearinghouse issues which have probably led to most of those inconsistencies (i.e. drops). Hopefully he can use this game as a spring board to an outstanding 2014 season. Ayers only started receiving playing time later in the season after McDuffy being out and has adjusted nicely with 116 yards on 9 receptions with 1 TD), and has been a terror on special teams which we'll get to later.

Tasked with stopping this unit will be a Vandy secondary led by maulers at both safety spots; Kenny Ladler (6'1, 205, Sr.) at free safety and Javon Marshall (5'10, 202, RSr.) at strong safety. Ladler is tied with the Coogs Stewart in forced turnovers with 10 as he has both 5 interceptions and forced fumbles this season, with many coming on hard hits on unsuspecting receivers over the middle. He's also adept at stripping the ball as much as Stewart. The ‘All SEC Second Team' member leads the team in tackles with 87 and has 7 passed defended as well. Marshall meanwhile is third on the team with 77 tackles, with 5.5 of them being for loss. Their ‘shut down corner' is Andre Hal (6'0, 185, Sr.) who joins Ladler as a ‘Second Team All-SEC' member as he has an amazing 14 passes defended (tied for 25th nationally) but can play close to the LOS as he has 6.5 TFL as well. The hard hitting, fast flowing unit is rounded out by the other corner, Steven Clarke (5'10, 195, Sr.), whom has an interception (returned for 69 yards), 40 tackles and 5 passes defended on the season. Paris Head (6'0, 182, RFr.) will see plenty of time as their ‘nickel back' and is second on the team with 3 interceptions to go along with 4 passes defended.

With so much time off between games, special teams are a part of the game that can have a huge effect on a game, whether it be via a trick play or a return for major yardage. Houston's kickoff return unit is 9th nationally averaging 24.86 yards per return, led by Ayers who's 16th individually with 26.79 including a 95-yarder for a TD versus BYU. Vandy meanwhile is SECOND nationally as they allow only 15.85 yards per on 20 returns. Both teams are below average in punt returns with the Coogs ranking 114th averaging 3.72 yards per return with Vandy a spot below at 115th with a 3.68 average. Punt return defense is another story though as the Coogs rank 16th nationally allowing only 3.93 yards per return while the ‘Dores rank 50th allowing 6.95 per. A lot of the Cougars success has to do with punter Richie Leone, who averages 43.1 yards per punt with 14 punts of 50 or more yards and has pinned an opponent's offense inside their own 20-yard line an amazing 33 times. Vandy's Taylor Hudson meanwhile averages 42.9 yards per punt with 13 punts of 50 or more yards while pinning opponents inside their own 20 11 times. While the punting edge may lay with the Coogs, kicking field goals probably goes Vandy's way as Carey Spear has connected on 13-of-17 this season, including an impressive 4-of-6 from beyond 40 yards out (2-for-2 on 50 + yarders). Connecting from deep led to Leone relinquishing place kicking duties to sophomore Kyle Bullard who's hit on all five of his attempts, including a 46-yarder at Louisville.

Final Analysis: When everything is added up, this came comes down to Vandy's secondary to Houston's passing offense. Shoop will try to confuse O'Korn with various zone schemes while mixing in man coverage as well. O'Korn needs to use pump fakes and his eyes in order to manipulate Vandy's roaming safeties and use his legs when their linebackers drop in their designated zone areas when needed. Defensively for the Coogs, it's all about making Vandy one-dimensional, as in stopping their running game and making the inexperienced Robinette beat them with his arm, more on deeper passes than the short intermediary routes. The Coogs can accomplish this if they can get off to a fast start and gain an early lead as Vandy has been outscored by 41 points in the first quarter this season with the Coogs outscoring theirs by 16. If Vandy is forced to pass in order to catch up Gibbs will be able to unleash his pass rush against a Vandy offensive line that's allowed 32 sacks on the season. Scoring TDs in the redzone will be another huge factor in deciding this game as Vandy is 37th nationally as they've crossed the goal line on 35 of their 52 redzone trips for a 67.3 percentage, while the Coogs don't allow opponents to score once getting inside the 20 as their ‘bend but don't break' mentality really shows itself allowing opponents to score "7's" on only 23 of their 45 trips, or a 51.11 percentage rate, good for 16th nationally. Meanwhile the Coogs offense scores at a 58.12 percentage clip (82nn) against a Vandy defense that allows scores at a 64.3 percent clip (84th).

Discipline will be another huge key as Vandy hasn't beaten themselves too often this season as they average only 5 penalties per game for around 42 yards, both in the top-40 while the Coogs on the other hand average almost 8 for nearly 70 per game (both in the bottom 10 in the nation). Both teams have played plenty of close games this season as well with Vandy showing they have more poise by winning most of theirs with 5 of their 8 wins coming by 17 or fewer while the Coogs have lost all 4 of their games by a TD or less.

Finally, how will motivation play a role in the final outcome of Saturday's contest? Many in the media have mentioned how unmotivated Vandy will be for this game as the Compass Bowl is the last in the SEC's pecking order with the ‘Dores being passed over for ‘more prestigious' bowls by less deserving teams. Meanwhile the Coogs are hungry to show they should be mentioned in the ‘national scene,' and a win against an SEC team will help in accomplishing the task. Combine all of the above factors with an inexperienced QB who isn't accustomed to passing against a defense who should stack the box, and I just don't see Vandy putting enough points on the board to keep up w/ the Coogs in a defensive minded battle.

Final Prediction: Houston – 24 Vanderbilt – 13.

Cougar Digest Top Stories