Three Keys: Vanderbilt at UMass

The 1-2 'Dores could easily be 2-1 and were a late interception away from even having a realistic shot at South Carolina (against all odds) last week. Now though, the schedule softens and Vandy needs to get a string of wins together if this season is going to end in another bowl game.

The 1-2 'Dores could easily be 2-1 and were a late interception away from even having a realistic shot at South Carolina (against all odds) last week. Now though, the schedule softens and Vandy needs to get a string of wins together if this season is going to end in another bowl game.

With three winnable games before a bye week followed by games against Georgia and Texas A&M the time is now for the 2013 Commodores. First up is a chance to get back to .500 against a UMass team that is 0-3.

Here are the three keys to victory.

1) Stop Tajae Sharpe

Let's get one thing settled out of the gate, UMass are really not very good. The Minutemen currently sit 146th in the Real Time RPI rankings. As any college football fan knows there are not 146 FBS programs and so it is that UMass sit ranked behind 23 schools playing at the FCS level. They also lost to FCS level Maine 24-14 two weeks ago.

Now, having said all that there is one player on the UMass offense who is doing everything he can to make the team better. Tajae Sharpe has in many ways been to the Minutemen exactly what Jordan Matthews is to the 'Dores. Though his quarterback play has been spotty (and that is being nice) Sharpe has 20 catches for 183 yards over the last two games. That accounts for 32 percent of his team's total offense. Even if senior tight end and best all-around player Rob Blanchflower plays (he is a game time decision) Sharpe is the one to watch.

2) Better linebacking play

Of all the issues that have accompanied the 1-2 start one of the most frustrating has been the play of the linebackers. With senior captain Chase Garnham still expected to be sidelined for a while with a right leg injury someone on the second level of the defense needs to step up and start making plays. This was especially evident in the South Carolina game where quarterback Connor Shaw picked apart the 'Dores defense early with designed quarterback runs and short passes. The linebackers have to play faster and with more confidence if Vandy are going to turn the season around and this is the perfect game for those changes to start to occur.

3) Establish a run game

The biggest difference between this season and last is the relative ineffectiveness of the run game and no defined team leader on the ground. The UMass run defense is about as bad as any in the country with the exception of Texas (had to do it). Through just three games the Minutemen have given up 969 yards on the ground and have seen four separate running backs go over the 100 yard mark individually. The three-headed monster at tailback that Vandy is set on employing so far this young season should have every opportunity to have a big day on Saturday. If the team doesn't rush for at least 225 yards and a couple of touchdowns it will be something of a disappointment.

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