Head-to-head: Vanderbilt vs. Elon

Vanderbilt hosts Elon on Saturday in the season opener for both teams. VandyMania.com compares different critical team areas and indicates which team has the edge. The game final score is also predicted.

Vanderbilt rushing offense
Elon rushing defense
The Commodores return a bevy of talented running backs including the top two running backs from each of the past two seasons in Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. The junior duo has over 2,000 combined career rushing yards for 13 touchdowns. Quarterback Larry Smith (248 yds./2010) is also a running threat. Vanderbilt's offensive line, led by sophomore center Wesley Johnson, is bigger, stronger and more experienced than in 2010. Elon senior middle linebacker Joshua Jones is the Phoenix's leading returning tackler with 74. Elon allowed an average of over 200 yards per game rushing last season.  
Vanderbilt passing offense
Elon passing defense
Vanderbilt's passing offense should benefit from the experience of Larry Smith. While Smith has generally struggled against SEC competition throughout his career, Smith has played well against non-conference opponents including a 240 yards passing game in last year's opener against Northwestern. Smith has some targets in tight end Brandon Barden, who is the FBS's top returning tight end in career receptions, along with speedy receivers Jonathan Krause and Jordan Matthews. Junior safety Blake Thompson of Elon had four interceptions last season. The Phoenix defense allowed just over 200 yards passing per game.  
Elon rushing offense
Vanderbilt rushing defense
Elon relied mostly on the passing game last season and only averaged about 108 yards rushing a game but that could change with a new head coach and quarterback. Senior running back A.J. Harris had 128 carries for 608 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. Elon averages about 287 pounds on its offensive line. Vanderbilt middle linebacker Chris Marve posted 80 tackles last season, which was an off season for him. Marve garnered over 100 tackles in both the previous two seasons. The Commodore defensive line should be strong and deep with tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter backed up by beasts T.J. Greenstone and Jared Morse. Defensive end play can go nowhere but up after a dismal 2010 performance by the Commodore ends. Johnell Thomas, Kyle Woestmann, Walker May, veteran Tim Fugger and a the now healthy Thad McHaney will keep the Phoenix backs running for their lives.
Elon passing offense
Vanderbilt passing defense
At quarterback Elon looks to start either junior Thomas Wilson or redshirt freshman Tyler Smith. Both are about 6-4 and 215 pounds. Elon was No. 2 nationally in passing in the FCS last season. However, the Phoenix have lost stellar quarterback Scott Riddle but return outstanding receiver Aaron Mellette who caught an incredible 86 passes for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Ironically, Smith played at Maryland last season and was mentored by Vandy's James Franklin before transferring to Elon. Vanderbilt's secondary is the strength of the team. Cornerback Casey Hayward, who had six interceptions last season, could be an early round selection in next year's NFL draft. Safety Sean Richardson led Vanderbilt in tackles in 2010. The secondary, combined with the aforementioned defensive line, should keep the Elon passing game in check.
Special Teams
Carey Spear did not attempt a field goal last season but won the kicking duties from Ryan Fowler in preseason camp. Spear has a strong leg. In high school he made 13-of-21 field goals including one from 61 yards. Commodore punter Richard Kent, whose punts have outstanding hang time, averaged almost 42 yards per punt last season and had 27 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. For Elon, sophomore punter Kenton Beal averaged 37.8 yards per punt and had one blocked. Junior Adam Shreiner made 7-of-14 field goals with a long on 47 yards for the Phoenix. Aaron Mellette will return both punts and kickoffs for Elon while Eric Samuels will kickoff returns for Vandy. John Cole will return punts.  
Both Elon's Jason Swepson and Vandy's James Franklin are in their first seasons as head coaches. Swepson was an assistant coach at North Carolina State last season while Franklin was the offensive coordinator at Maryland. It's hard to give either coach the edge when neither has ever served as a head coach in a game at the college level.
Neither one of these teams really knows what the other is going to do. It's the season opener and both teams have new skippers. Vanderbilt gets the home advantage which should give them the edge here but Elon is the underdog and will come out playing like it's the Super Bowl for an SEC opponent. If Elon wins it will be the first FCS (I-AA) team to ever defeat Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt officially reports that I-AA The Citadel beat Vandy in 1979. The problem is that The Citadel was still a member of the Division I-A then. The Bulldogs didn't move to the I-AA for a couple more years. Yes, as bad as things have been, Vandy has never lost to one of these teams. Michigan, Ole Miss, Arkansas and a bunch of others can't say the same.

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 48, Elon 7

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