Three Keys Vanderbilt vs Old Dominion

What looked in August to be a gimme win for the ‘Dores is now simply a must win for Derek Mason and his staff. Vanderbilt fans can deal with being (potentially) winless in the SEC during a rebuilding year, but losing to a Conference USA team that is still playing a mixed FBS/FCS schedule is not okay.

This has the potential to be a tough matchup for Vandy, with a young defense facing off against an experienced quarterback who is playing below his talent level by being at Old Dominion. Here are the three keys.

1) Stop Taylor Heinicke

The aforementioned quarterback playing below his level is Taylor Heinicke, and he is by far the Monarch's best player. By blowing up for 471 yards and three touchdowns against Western Kentucky in Old Dominion’s last game (they are coming off a bye too) the senior quarterback moved into the top ten Division 1 passers of all time with 13,769 yards. At current pace it would take any of the four Vanderbilt passers who have played this fall approximately 781 years to get to that yardage total.

Along with the 471 yards put up against the Hilltoppers, Heinicke has also gone for 420 (and five touchdowns) against Rice, 362 against Middle Tennessee, and 274 against North Carolina State so far in 2014. On the season the NFL prospect has 2286 yards, 21 touchdown passes, and ten interceptions. The picks are interesting because it would suggest Vandy can get at Heinicke and force him into bad throws. Unfortunately the same would have been said about Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk and look how that turned out.

To put this in a nutshell, the ‘Dores have to stop Heinicke dominating the game.

2) More signs of defensive improvement

It has kind of gone unnoticed with the mess that the Vandy offense has been, but the defense has actually been improving as the season progressed. As with seemingly every unit on this team the defense is young, throw in a major overhaul in scheme and you can see why the ‘Dores were getting blasted by teams right out of the gate.

After giving up a ridiculous 48 points to South Carolina, however, things have improved markedly. In three of the last four games Vandy has help an opponent to 24 points or less, a point total that in the world of college football in 2014 gives your offense every chance to win. The next level of improvement from the defense though has to be taking the ball away and giving that offense some better field position. If the Vandy defense can turn over a mistake prone quarterback a couple of times then this game should be comfortable.

3) Yards after contact/the catch Heinicke may have had a monster game against Western Kentucky, but his team did not. The Monarchs somehow lost a game where they scored over half a century of points, going down 66-51 to the Hilltoppers. The main reason for this, according the ODU coaching staff, was the inability of the Monarchs defenders to make tackles in space and bring down players after a short gain.

Old Dominion practiced in full pads this week after coaches charted a total of 49 missed tackles against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers turn that inept tackling display into 202 of their 601 yards and missed tackles led directly to three touchdowns. Vandy has some guys who can make people miss tackles, Ralph Webb immediately comes to mind, and it will be interesting to see if the ODU woes continue into Saturday’s contest.

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