Passing offense C
Things looked great on Vanderbilt's opening drive with Jordan Rodgers completing a pair of third down passes to Chris Boyd (15 yards) and Jordan Matthews (eight yards) to move the chains. Later on a 4th-and-9 situation, Rodgers completed an 11-yard pass from the Northwestern 33-yard line for a Vandy first down. On the next play, Matthews was hit for a 22-yard TD pass.
On the opening drive of the second half Rodgers started off well hitting Boyd for a 12-yard catch. On the next play he scrambled to give himself room before hitting Boyd on a perfectly thrown out route good for 13 yards.
With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Rodgers was chased to the sideline by Northwestern defensive end Dean Lowry. Rather than step out of bounds Rodgers attempted to force a pass through Northwestern linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo to Zac Stacy. Thankfully Ariguzo was unable to hold on, but this type of poor decision making will cost games in SEC matchups and needs to be shored up quickly. Northwestern brought the pressure on Rodgers in the second half and Stacy punished them with a beautifully executed screen play that went for 55 yards.
The Vandy passing game seemed to be open all throughout the night and Northwestern countered by continually bringing pressure on Rodgers in the second half. The offensive line gave up three costly sacks--one resulting in a disastrous fumble with two minutes remaining and the 'Dores down 16-13. Rodgers ended the night completing 17 of 33 passes for 217 yards and a TD.
Rushing offense D
Not much went well for the Commodore rushing attack that were held to three yards per carry on the night. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers was the leading rusher with 51 yards on 15 carries but gave up a costly fumble at the end of the first half in the red zone. Backside pressure resulted in another Rodgers fumble near the end of the game that was effectively the nail in the coffin. Zac Stacy was held to 36 yards on 13 carries and true freshman Brian Kimbrow had four carries for 14 yards with a long of 13 yards.
The holes just weren't open for the Vandy rushing game against a Northwestern defense that crowded the box and brought pressure, daring the 'Dores to throw it against a secondary that got burned for 470 passing yards a week ago. Vandy ended the night with 101 yards of rushing -- half of which belonged to Rodgers.
Passing defense B
The Vanderbilt secondary started the first half well, holding Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to three completions for ten yards.
With Northwestern down 10-6 in the fourth quarter, Trevor Siemian gave the Wildcats new life completing 5-of-6 passes for 44 yards. The 11-play, 86 yard drive ended in a seven-yard Venric Mark TD run. Siemian has now led the Wildcats in game winning drives two straight weeks. It's safe to say Northwestern has a quarterback controversy on its hands.
Rather than dropping back to cover in the second half, the 'Dores chose to bring the pressure against Siemian--opening things up for him to finish the night completing 10 of 16 passes for 91 yards.
Vandy's secondary held the Wildcat quarterbacks to 17 of 31 pass attempts for 133 yards with a 4.3 per completion average. Kenny Ladler led the secondary with seven tackles while Javon Marshall added five with a forced fumble.
Rushing defense D
The Commodore defense was again unable to prevent opposing quarterbacks from scrambling to prolong drives. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter ran for 66 yards and a score against the 'Dores.
Northwestern running back Venric Mark had a long rush of 11 yards but ate the 'Dores throughout the night for 123 yards on 24 carries and a score.
Chase Garnham led the 'Dores with seven tackles--including five solo. Karl Butler had an outstanding night with five tackles including two and a half for a loss. True freshman Caleb Azubike also performed well in his debut with three tackles including a tackle for loss and his first career sack as a Commodore.
Special Teams C+
Vandy's special teams kept Northwestern in check holding the prolific Venric Mark to one kick return for 21 yards. Richard Kent punted excellently for the 'Dores yards per punt, with a long of 67 yards while punting one inside the 20-yard line.
Brian Kimbrow was unable to get a handle on his last return of the night, fumbling the ball which eventually rolled out of bounds; the freshman averaged 25 yards per return on kickoffs with a long of 28 yards. Andre Hal also returned three kicks averaging 22 yards per return.
In a repeat of 2011, coach James Franklin showed his inability to come away with close matchups on the road via mind-bogglingly conservative play calling and turnovers. Vanderbilt had its way with the Northwestern defense in the first half with 18:10 minutes of possession to Northwestern's 11:50, but were unable to capitalize time after time. The 'Dores would see the time of possession quickly shift to Northwestern's favor in the second half with repeated three and outs. It wasn't until the rain started coming down hard in the fourth quarter that the 'Dores decided to go back to their passing game. By that time it was too late as momentum had clearly shifted in the Wildcats favor.
On the 'Dores opening drive in the second half, Rodgers seemed to be able to throw with ease against the Northwestern secondary--completing a pair of passes to Boyd for first downs. On 3rd-and-9 a handoff to Stacy for six yards was not enough to move the chains. With the Wildcats holding Stacy to less than three yards per carry on the night, one might wonder why the coaches chose to continue running the ball--effectively hand cuffing their own team.
Again Vanderbilt's defense kept them in the game. The Vandy offense took chances on separate third downs in the opening drive and made it appear as though it may be a long day for the Wildcats. Head scratching runs up the middle on third-and-long situations along and a Northwestern defense playing with a chip on its shoulder hampered the 'Dores offensive potential.
Turnovers, penalties, and poor play calling would come back to haunt the 'Dores late in their first road trip of the season. On Northwestern's first touchdown drive Vandy was flagged twice--once for roughing the passer to move the Wildcat's midfield, and another time on a substitution infraction that would also eventually help Northwestern move the chains.
Late in the fourth quarter Javon Marshall made a beautiful play to get his helmet on the ball of a long downfield pass to Rashad Lawrence that was ruled a completion on the field. Lawrence took one step and failed to pull the ball in before Marshall knocked it away. The Wildcat offense tried to hurry back to the line of scrimmage before it could be reviewed and overturned. After further review, the ruling on the field stood and Commodore fans everywhere had flashbacks of the no-call pass interference a week ago against South Carolina.
Vanderbilt Report Card: Northwestern
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