One of the more sneaky intriguing bowls of the season happens on Saturday afternoon as Vanderbilt takes on Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Both these teams have the chance for a nine win season, but each got here in different ways. Vanderbilt started slow before hitting their now usual November hot streak, while Houston started 5-0, then 7-1, before winning just one of their last four games. This is a game Vanderbilt needs to win in order to keep moving in the right direction as a program, but it could be far from easy.
Here is a look at the three keys to victory.
1) Slow down the Houston passing game
The Cougars want to air out the ball and the single biggest key to the game will pit strength against strength as the Houston passing game meets the Vanderbilt secondary. It is not hyperbole to say that Vandy has one of the best secondaries in the SEC this year and the duo of Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler may well be the best pair of defensive backs on any team in the conference. They both have speed, range, and ball skills, all of which will need to be on display in Birmingham.
Houston quarterback John O'Korn was the AAC Freshman of the Year with his 26 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions on the season. He will spread the ball around to test a secondary which has allowed just 16 passing scores all season, but he will often be looking toward his favorite target Deontay Greenberry. Greenberry is a former five star recruit who is the highest ranked prospect ever to sign at Houston. He has 76 catches for over 1,100 yards and ten touchdowns coming into the bowl game.
2) Get Jordan Matthews his catches
With Austyn Carta-Samuels out it will be up to Matthews to shoulder an even greater offensive leadership role. Patton Robinette will get the start, and luckily for the Commodores he has had plenty of work with the offense this year. One of the big benefits for Vanderbilt here is that the lateness of the bowl game means Robinette will have had even more time to learn and get comfortable as the primary guy under center.
Matthews though MUST have a big game if is to win. We know Houston can move the ball and that they will likely score, so Vandy has to have a downfield threat of their own. This has proven to be a challenge with the run first style they have used with Robinette under center, but I expect the playbook to be opened more in Birmingham. Matthews has caught ten or more passes on five occasions this year and Vandy is 4-1 in those games. He should see at least 15 targets on Saturday if Vanderbilt is to use his mismatch of size and ability to its potential.
3) Win the turnover battle
Both these teams can win on Saturday through the opportunistic play of the defense. Vanderbilt generated 26 turnovers on the season, with many coming at key points in games. The 'Dore defense also did a great job throughout the year at bringing those turnovers back into the opponents territory, setting up the offense with great field position. Though the 26 turnovers Vandy put up is impressive, it pales in comparison to the ridiculous 40 takeaways that Houston has to its name in 2013. This is by far the most in the country (five more than Tulane) and is the reason that a defense which can give up a lot of yards is so highly ranked in other categories. The winner of the turnover battle will most likely win the game.
Three Keys - Vanderbilt vs. Houston
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