Three Keys Vanderbilt vs Mississippi State

With the final bye of the season behind them the Commodores play their penultimate game of the season in Starkville against Mississippi State. When the rotation for SEC games was announced, this looked like it would be a game the ‘Dores could win against a perennially average Bulldogs team.

Under Dan Mullen however the Bulldogs have become a legitimate power and this fall they still have National Championship aspirations with just two games left to play in the regular season. A loss to Vanderbilt will, of course, destroy the season for Mississippi State, and being sandwiched between the Alabama game and the Egg Bowl the potential for a serious trap game exists. Here are the three keys for the ‘Dores to spring the biggest shock of the season.

1) Win the turnover battle

It would not be stating anything outside the box here to note that Mississippi State is a better team than Vanderbilt in 2014. The two squads have very little in common when it comes to statistics, with one big exception. It turns out that both the Commodores and the Bulldogs are just horrible at holding on to the ball.

As with most statistical categories in the SEC the Commodores are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to turnovers. Vandy has given the ball away 23 times (nine fumbles, 14 interceptions), but the Bulldogs have been just marginally better having given it away 21 times (10 fumbles, 11 interceptions). The two schools are the only ones in the SEC to have turned the ball over more than 20 times, and are part of a group of 24 of the 125 FBS programs to have more than 20 giveaways in 2014.

The problem for Vanderbilt is that, though, they have given the ball away plenty, they have not been able to create turnovers on defense. The ‘Dores are -12 in turnover margin, while the Mississippi State has been able to bail out their offense on numerous occasions to bring their turnover margin back to just -3. Turning the ball over against bad teams makes for a long day, while doing so against a good team like Mississippi State would result in the game getting ugly quickly. With this in mind winning the turnover battle is a must for the Commodores this weekend.

2) Make Dak Prescott one dimensional

One of the difficulties when facing Mississippi State is that quarterback Dak Prescott is a true dual threat player who just might be good enough to win the Heisman Trophy. Prescott throws too many interceptions, but he has passed for over 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also rushing for over 850 yards and an additional 11 scores. This offense is all about the 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior and taking advantage of the mismatches he creates with his ability to move the ball either on the ground or through the air.

The result of the unique skill set which Prescott brings to the table is that Mississippi State is one of the most balanced teams in the country. The Bulldogs average almost 38 points and over 510 yards per game and do so by rushing for 243 yards and passing for 270 yards each time out. The way to stop a team which likes to play with this much balances is to take away one aspect of their attack. If Vandy can somehow find a way to use the front seven to stop Prescott running the ball and make him pass, then the game becomes much more winnable. Derek Mason may have had a lot of problems in his first season in Nashville, but something his team has done much better than any other in recent Vandy memory is contain running quarterbacks. If his defense can step up and do this again on Saturday then you never know what can happen.

3) Run the ball and control the clock

Against a superior team one of the things Vanderbilt must do is control the tempo of the game. This, as always, starts by establishing the run and making sure that the Bulldogs never get settled into the game on offense by keeping them off of the field. Even though it seems like Ralph Webb has had a good season, he has already broken the program’s freshman rushing record, the ‘Dores have actually only averaged 114.4 rushing yards this fall. This is the worst average this century and the third worst in the last 25 years.

With the dismissal of Jerron Seymour late this week it is going to be entirely on Webb and Dallas Rivers to carry the rushing load. Though Seymour wasn’t exactly eating carries, he was still a nice option to have coming off of the bench. One of the big problems has been negative rushing plays where a combination of indecision in the backfield, botched exchanges, and sacks, has seen the ‘Dores loss 185 yards this season by being stopped in the backfield. If those negative runs can be prevented then maybe Vandy can find a way to control tempo and cause a massive upset.

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