HEAD TO HEAD: VANDERBILT VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY

Vanderbilt meets Western Kentucky on Saturday in Bowling Green, Ky. VandyMania.com's Don Yates compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

VANDERBILT PASSING OFFENSE VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Vanderbilt's passing offense is ranked 125th nationally gaining just 125 yards per game. Kyle Shurmur has 40 completions in 76 attempts for two touchdowns and an interception.  His top target is Kalija Lipscomb who has eight receptions for 90 yards and two TDs.  Vandy's blockers have allowed four combined sacks in three games. 

Western Kentucky's pass defense is about as poor as Vandy's pass offense, allowing almost 300 yards per game through the air. Cornerback De'Andre Simmons has an interception and four passes broken up so far this season. Defensive tackle Omarius Bryant has three sacks.  

VANDERBILT RUSHING OFFENSE VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Vandy's rushing attack is ranked 79th nationally averaging 162 yards per game. Last week at Georgia Tech the Commodores gained just 85 yards on 30 carries on the ground. Ralph Webb leads the Commodores with 377 yards rushing on 67 carries for two touchdowns.  He was limited to only 69 yards on 18 carries last week at Georgia Tech. 

The Hilltoppers have actually done fairly well defending the run.  WKU allows about 105 yards per game which puts them at 31st in that FBS in that statistical category. It appears that this isn't a fluke. A couple weeks ago at Alabama, the Hilltoppers limited the Tide to just 124 yards on 39 carries (3.2 ypc). Linebacker Keith Brown, a Louisville transfer, leads the Toppers in tackles with 25.   

WESTERN KENTUCKY PASSING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: WESTERN KENTUCKY

Western Kentucky has a very formidable passing game. The Toppers average 345 yards a game through the air and rank 14th in that FBS in passing yards per game. Junior quarterback Mike White is passing for over 300 yards per game. He is tied for fourth in the nation in 25-yard plus pass completions. Senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor is WKU's all-time receiver with 172 catches for 25 touchdowns. 

Vanderbilt's pass defense has been a disappointment this season allowing almost 270 yards per game which put the 'Dores at 103rd in the FBS.  Keep in mind that one of the three games was against an option team. Senior cornerback Torren McGaster has two career interceptions. Star (OLB) Oren Burks has 15 tackles, a sack and an interception for the 'Dores. 

WESTERN KENTUCKY RUSHING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: VANDERBILT

WKU gains about 85 yards per game running the ball, ranking near the bottom of the FBS (123rd). The Hilltoppers top two running backs, Anthony Wales (102 yards) and D'Andre Ferby (1 yard) are both banged up. The Toppers are already missing their top running back who is out for the season.  

Technically speaking, Vandy's rushing defense is one of the strengths of the team ranking 89th while allowing 169 yards per game. That 89th rank is better than most of VU's other statistical categories. Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the 'Dores in tackles with 29. He also plays well in coverage situations. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE: EVEN

Vanderbilt's Tommy Openshaw has connected on 2-of-3 field goals with a long boot of 36 yards.  Punter Sam Loy has been a pleasant surprise for Vandy with 18 punts for a 42.2-yard average. He had one go for 59 yards against MTSU.  His punts have good hang time and are difficult to return.  Darrius Sims has six kickoff returns for a 25.3-yard average. He has a long return of 47 yards. Kalija Lipscomb has two punt returns for a 9-yard average.  Vandy's kick/punt coverage units have been sound.  

Western Kentucky's Ryan Nuss has four field goals made in five attempts with a long of 31 yards.  Jake Collins is solid at punter for the Toppers. He averages 44 yards per punt and has had five of 16 punts go for over 50 yards.  Kylen Towner has eight kickoff returns for an almost 40-yard average. His longest return was for an impressive 79 yards. Nacarius Fant averages over 10 yards a punt return. He returned one 48 yards for a touchdown against Miami (Ohio) last week. WKU's kick/punt return units have been sound. 

COACHING

EDGE: WESTERN KENTUCKY

Third-year head coach Jeff Brohm has a 22-8 record and has led the Toppers to bowl games in his two previous season. Brohm learned his trade from Louisville's Bobby Petrino whose team scored over 60 points on Florida State last week.  Brohm was previously a head coach for the Arena League Louisville Fire and also coached as an assistant at UAB, Illinois, Louisville, and Florida Atlantic. 

Third-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is 8-19 at Vandy. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Stanford and has coached as an assistant in the NFL. Mason took over coordinating of the Commodore defense following the 2014 season and in 2015 Vanderbilt had the most improved defense in the nation (FBS).

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: EVEN

Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 3-1. The Commodores lost last season in Nashville 14-12 but were victimized by two red zone turnovers and a missed field goal. This season the 'Dores are doing better in the red zone and in the turnover department.  WKU's stadium holds just 22,000 fans. The Topper faithful will be bouncing off the walls for the first ever home meeting with a SEC opponent. Mason's teams usually play better coming off a loss (8-9 record).  WKU is converting on just 30 percent of their third downs but Vandy is allowing opponents to convert on  48 percent of third downs. 

Prediction: Vanderbilt 31, Western Kentucky 20.   I know the analysis above doesn't appear to add up to Vandy winning.  I still think Vanderbilt can win. I made this score prediction a couple days ago so I'm sticking with it.   WKU has several key injuries on offense including to two running backs and their left tackle, who is out for the season. The Commodore D should be able to at least slow the WKU offense while Shurmur and the offense have an opportunity to have a fine day passing the ball.  Despite giving up a boatload of yardage, Vandy's defense is still formidable in the red zone (11th nationally).    


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