Head to head Vanderbilt vs. Houston

The Vanderbilt Commodores visit the Houston Cougars on Saturday. VandyMania.com's Don Yates compares the two teams in several critical areas and make a prediction on the games final score.

VANDERBILT PASSING OFFENSE VS. HOUSTON PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Vanderbilt’s offense averages 18 points and 385 total yards per game. Vandy’s is showing significant improvement in first downs (13 pg to 20 pg) and third down conversions (28% to 43%) compared to the 2014 season. However, the scoring output is about the same.   The Commodores passing attack is generating an average of 227 yards a game.  Last week against Missouri Vandy with two quarters; freshman Kyle Shurmur started and played most of the game while veteran Johnny Mcrary played a drive in the first half and several near the end of the game.  Shurmur completed 10 of 20 passes for 89 yards while McCrary completed 7 of 8 throws for 47 yards.  Neither QB had an interception or TD.  Trent Sherfield leads the Commodores with 41 receptions for 518 yards and 2 TDs. Tight end Running back Ralph Webb has 20 catches for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Steven Scheu 21 catches for 2020 yards.  Vandy’s blockers have given up 10 sacks this season.

Defensively Houston has been solid.  The Cougars allow opponents an average of 19.7 points and 362 yards per game.  Against the pass the Cougars are allowing 263.7 yards per game (103rd nationally).  While they give up a lot of yards they make up for it with interceptions and sacks.  Cougar defenders have intercepted nine passes this season with strong safety Adrian McDonald leading with three picks. CB William Jackson, III has two interceptions.   The Cougar defense has sacked opponents 22 times in 2015 with linebacker Steven Taylor leading the way with eight sacks.  Linebacker Tyus Bowser is second for Houston with four sacks.  

VANDERBILT RUSHING OFFENSE VS. HOUSTON RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Vanderbilt averages a 158 yards per game rushing, good for 81st in the nation and ninth in the SEC.  Running back Ralph Webb leads the Vandy rushing attack with 150 carries for 594 yards (3.95 ypc)  and four touchdowns.  Last week against Missouri Webb had 99 yards on 26 carries and scored a TD on a 1-yard dive.  Wide receiver Darrius Sims has seen his role running the ball increase over the past two games with six carries against South Carolina and nine carries in the win over Missouri.  For the season Sims has 22 carries for 204 averaging over nine yards a carry.  Vandy has shown steady improvement with blocking since the MTSU game. 

The Cougars allow just 98.3 yards a game to opponents rushing the ball (98th nationally). Last week in the win over UC, Houston allowed 97 yards on 30 carries (3.2 pyc) and no touchdowns.  Elandon Roberts leads the Cougars in tackles with 76 tackles, 56 of those were solo stop. He also has nine tackles for losses. Steven Taylor has 49 stops and 13 tackles for losses. 

HOUSTON PASSING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Houston has one of the most powerful offenses in the FBS averaging 561.1 yards a game.  Houston’s has a strong passing attack averaging 269.4 yards a game.  Cougar quarterback Greg Ward Jr., is one of the top QB statistically in the nation.  He’s completed 132 of 185 passes for 1,733 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.  Last week in the 59-10 win over Central Florida Ward completed 16 of 23 passes for 210 passes and a touchdown.  Demarcus Ayers (50 catches, 4 TD), Chance Allen 928 catches, 2 TD) and Steven Dunbar (19 catches, 2 TD) are the Cougars top receivers. 

Vanderbilt’s pass defense has limited opponents to just 206.7 yards per game (51st nationally).  The Commodores have sacked opposing QBs 12 times.  Defensive lineman Adam Butler leads the way for the Dores in sacks with three.  Zach Cunningham and Stephen Weatherly each have two.  Jahmel McIntosh has two interceptions to lead Vandy.  The Commodores have just three total picks this season. 

HOUSTON RUSHING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Houston also has a very strong rushing attack, gaining an average of 291.7 yards per game (7th nationally).  The Cougs have ran running plays as opposed to passing about 63 percent of the time this season.  Quarterback Greg Ward Jr., leads the Cougars with 103 rushes for 677 yards and 15 TDs.  Running back Kenneth Farrow is also a significant threat on the ground with 669 yards and eight TDs (6.0 ypc).  In the win over UCF Farrow gained 167 yards on 13 attempts with three TDs.  Ward had 10 carries for 46 yards and a TD.

The Commodore defense has limited opponents to just 109.9 yards per game on average (16th nationally).   Last week against Missouri Vandy limited the Tigers to just 80 rushing yards in 19 attempts (4.2 ypc).   Linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the Commodores in tackles with 50. He has eight tackles for losses.   Fellow linebacker Darreon Herring 35 stops including one tackle for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE: HOUSTON

Tommy Openshaw both kicks and punts for the Commodores. He has connected on 12 of 19 field goals this season with a long of 49 yards.  He missed 2 of 3 last week against Missouri, making a 40 yard kick while missing attempts from 45 and 32 yards.   Openshaw averages 41.8 yards punting and has a long boot of 78 yards.  He’s placed 15 of 36 punts inside the 20 and had 13 fair caught.  One of his punts has been blocked.   Darrius Sims averages 21.3 yards per kickoff return with a long of 47 yards.  Ryan White average 10.2 per punt return, his longest return going for 36 yards.  Vandy’s coverage units have been decent; however the Commodores have up a long punt return for a TD against Georgia earlier in the season. 

Houston kicker Kyle Bullard has made five of nine field goal attempts this season with a long of 41 yards.  He’s only made 1 of 4 from the 40-49 yard distance.   Logan Piper has averaged 41.8 yards per punt with a long of 71 yards.   Brandon Wilson is the Cougar’s return man. He’s returned 12 kickoffs for an average of 26.9 yards.  He had a 100 yard return against Louisville that proved to be the difference in that game. Demarcus Ayers has returned 15 punts for a 13.3 ypr average.  He had a 73-yard scoring return against Tulane. 

COACHING

EDGE: HOUSTON

Derek Mason is in his second season at Vanderbilt with a 6-13 (.316) (1-11 SEC) record.  Prior to Vanderbilt Mason was a successful defensive coordinator at Stanford.  In 2012 Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.  Mason has some NFL coaching experience serving stints with the Vikings, Raiders, Giants and Rams. 

Tom Herman is in his first season as head coach at Houston and is off and running with a 7-0 record.  Herman is a well-known designer of prolific offenses, directing Ohio State’s offense last season.  He coached Iowa State’s all-time leading rusher and passer while with the Cyclones.  In 2007-08 while at Rice his offenses were ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing.   

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: HOUSTON 

Houston will be bouncing off the walls to play an SEC opponent and so will their fans.   Houston has been assessed 52 penalties this season to Vandy’s 41.   Houston converts on 51 percent of third downs while Vandy converts on 43 percent.    Houston is No. 1 nationally in turnover ratio (+1.86) while Vandy is No. 117 (-1.29).    

PREDICTION: Houston 24, Vanderbilt 16.  


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