Head-to-head: Vanderbilt vs. Northwestern

After a disappointing loss to open the 2012 season, the Vanderbilt Commodores hope to pick up a win at Northwestern on Saturday. VandyMania.com compares different critical team areas of Vanderbilt and Northwestern and indicates which team has the edge. We also predict the final score.

Vandy passing vs Northwestern passing defense

Edge Vandy

The Vanderbilt offense out-gained the South Carolina defense in yardage but failed to score in crucial opportunities in the first half.  The 'Dores drove as far as the 5-yard line, but Rodgers threw a floater to Zac Stacy which was intercepted by Shaq Wilson and returned 37 yards.  That drive should have culminated in at least three points resulted in a Gamecock score instead of one for the 'Dores.

Commodore receiver Jordan Matthews had eight catches for 147 yards and a score against the Gamecocks, while Quarterback Jordan Rodgers was 13-of-23 with 214 yards and a TD pass.

It took the Orange until the second half to get warmed up. That was when their passing game ripped through the Wildcat secondary to score 28 unanswered points.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has made a statement to the Commodore passing game, "Bring it. That's all I'm going to say. Bring it".

After getting rocked for 470 yards through the air, the Wildcat coach expects Vandy to test his secondary early and often. 


Vandy rushing vs Northwestern rushing defense

Edge Vandy

Vandy fans were in for a bit of a surprise to see Wesley Tate backing up Commodore Zac Stacy rather than 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman.   The 'Dores rushing game was the cornerstone of its offense a year ago.  Stacy ran for an SEC third-best 1,193 rushing yards, 14 scores, which helped to open things up for the Vandy passing game.  Against South Carolina the 'Dores ran for a total of 62 yards on 36 attempts.  Vanderbilt signal caller Jordan Rodgers ran for 420 yards and four scores in 2011, but was unable to escape a quick Gamecock defense that sacked him five times.  Northwestern's rushing defense did not get much of a test against the Syracuse who preferred to fling the ball 65 times--setting school records in the process. The Wildcats allowed 4.2 yards per carry, 126 rushing yards, and a score against the Orange.  A year ago the Northwestern defense ranked 84th in the country, allowing 177.31 rushing yards per game.


Northwestern passing offense vs Vanderbilt passing defense

Edge Vandy

The Vanderbilt secondary held South Carolina Connor Shaw to 7-of-11 with 67 yards.  Though the 'Dores were able to keep the South Carolina receivers in check for most of the game, they did allow Shaw to extend drives by escaping the pocket on multiple occasions.  Shaw ended the night with 14 yards on 92 carries.  A year ago Vandy ranked 9th in the country in pass efficiency defense allowing opponents 192.23 yards per game.

The Wildcat receiving corps is led by receiver Demetrius Fields, who tallied eight catches for 83 yards as well as the game winning score that put the Cats up 42-41.  A year ago the Wildcats ranked 38th in the country in passing offense averaging 254.23 yards per game through the air.


Northwestern rushing offense vs Vanderbilt rushing defense

Tied

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore ran for 110 yards and two TDs against the Vanderbilt defense.  Late in the first half a missed 51-yard field goal gave the Gamecocks great field position that set them up for a one-yard Lattimore TD romp.  Last year the Commodores ranked 36th in the country in rushing defense--holding opponents to 130.54 yards per game.

The Wildcats are led by running back Venric Mark who made his first start against the Orange--racking up 82 yards on 14 carries along with a 21-yard TD reception.   The Northwestern offensive line is anchored by a solid trio of returning starters.  The left side will be especially tough where left guard Brian Mulroe and left tackle Patrick Ward combine for 55 starts.


Special teams

Edge Northwestern

The Wildcats' Venric Mark had quite the performance in the season opener, returning a punt 82 yards for a score as well as a 53-yard punt return that set up another Northwestern score.  You can be sure the Vandy coaches are telling punter Richard Kent to avoid kicking the ball to Mark at all costs.  Commodore kicker Carey Spear was 2-of-3 in field goal attempts -- hitting one from 44 yards out and another from 25 yards out.  Spear missed one field goal from 51 yards after an offside penalty negated the 46-yard kick that had sailed through the uprights.

Vanderbilt's only punt return was a 15-yard return by Zac Stacy. On kickoff returns Commodore Andre Hal returned two kicks averaging 30.5 yards per kick return.   Northwestern  punter Brandon Williams averaged 36.2 yards per punt, with a long of 51 yards.  Handling field goals and extra points is junior Jeff Budzien who made 80 percent of his field goals inside 40 yards in 2011.


Intangibles

Edge Northwestern

Much like Vanderbilt a year ago, the Wildcats have often found themselves playing in close games.  As evidenced in their thrilling 42-41 win over Syracuse and their win in Nashville two years ago, the Wildcats Northwestern split their home games a year ago dropping games to Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State.

In Vandy 2011 road games, the 'Dores won one-of-five with the sole road win coming the last game of the year over Wake Forest.   The Commodores enter the game reeling after a 17-13 loss to South Carolina in the opener.  On Vandy's last offensive play of the night Gamecock defensive back D.J. Swearinger grabbed Vandy receiver Jordan Matthews' arm moments before the ball arrived.  You can bet the 'Dores will do everything possible to make sure the game does not fall into the refs hands again.


Coaching

Tied

Coach Pat Fitzgerald has an overall record of 41-36 while coaching at Northwestern.  In 2011 after starting the season 2-0, the Wildcats dropped five straight before stealing a win at Nebraska which kept their bowl hopes alive.  The Cats eventually fell to Texas A&M 33-22 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.  Coach Fitzgerald has surprisingly given the Commodores some bulletin board material with his challenge to the Vandy passing game to "bring it."

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin led the 'Dores on to a 6-7 season with two SEC wins and a bowl loss to Cincinnati in his first year.  The second year coach has provided a deep sense of enthusiasm and excitement around the program for the first time in a while. 


PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 30, Northwestern. 27


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