Vandy Opponent Preview: at Houston

The Commodores final non-conference game of the season is a weird one as they travel to Houston to take on the Cougars. This game is sandwiched in-between six SEC contests, but it is far from the usual throwaway game against a multi-directional school. This team is expected by many to be in the conversation to win the AAC this year, so Vandy may well be the underdog.

2014 Record: 8-5 (5-3 in the American.) – Beat Pittsburgh 35-34 in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Series Record: Vanderbilt leads the series 1-0, with the only game being a 41-24 win for the ‘Dores in the BBVA Compass Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.

Last Meeting: Vanderbilt won their last game under James Franklin with a 41-24 victory over Houston in Birmingham. It was also the last game for Vanderbilt record breaker Jordan Matthews, who caught five of the six Vandy completions on the day for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Matthews once again proved he was a once in a generation talent at the school by doing all this while constantly facing multiple defenders.

Head Coach: Houston will have a brand new head coach to start the 2015 season as Tom Herman takes over the reins in South Texas. Herman has never been a head coach at any level, but has worked his way through positions starting at Texas Lutheran (WR coach) to his most recent position which was as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State. At the end of last season he was awarded the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Spring News: The spring was buzzy in Houston as the Cougars look to move forward from their epic comeback in the Armed Forces Bowl victory over Pittsburgh. A change in offensive system was inevitable under a new head coach and Herman worked hard to get some of the concepts into place. A switch to a 3-4 base defense, which will help the Cougars play faster and more downhill, was also implemented over the month of practices.

Projected Strengths: The Cougars defense has produced 73 turnovers over the past two seasons and despite the change in initial defensive alignment the goal is very much to continue pressing the opposition offense into mistakes. If opposing quarterbacks put bad passes into the air, then the Cougars secondary has the ability to take over games as it is the strongest unit on the entire team. All four starters’ return, with the standout being cornerback William Jackson who is playing at a level which has the NFL scouts heads turned his way.

Offensively the Cougars best unit heading into 2015 is the running backs. Kenneth Farrow (photo above) rushed for over 1,000 yards a year ago and he led the AAC with 15 total touchdowns. The senior will be looking to build on that season while splitting some of the carries with fellow classmate Ryan Jackson who is a true speed merchant and a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Projected Weaknesses: There will definitely be some growing pains at wide receiver for the Cougars this fall. The unit is gutted due to graduation and also the surprising decision of Deontay Greenberry to take his 72 catches in 2014 to the NFL. Those catches were more than double that of any other Cougar receiver, so some of the younger players on the roster are going to have to grow up early to fill the holes. One player to watch out for is Oregon transfer Chance Allen, who should be able to step in and contribute from day one.

The offensive line situation is also in flux for the Cougars with only two players having really nailed down starting spots prior to the start of fall camp. At least both these pots are the bookends though as right tackle Alex Cooper and left tackle Zach Johnson giving their quarterback protection from the best edge rushers in the league. Johnson in particular will be interesting to watch as he is coming off of an ACL reconstruction.

Prediction: Houston has swung for the fences with the hire of Herman. The school paid big money to bring in a guy with instant credibility that is used to winning football games after clinching the national title last year. His first job was to transport some of that famed Big Ten toughness to Houston, which will keep the Cougars in with a shot against the better teams on their schedule. This is certainly not a gimme win for Vanderbilt and either team could win this game.

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