VANDERBILT PASSING OFFENSE VS. AUBURN PASSING DEFENSE
The Vanderbilt passing offense is still very much a work in progress. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur is 106 of 200 attempts for 1,089 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions. While Vandy still hasn't passed for a touchdown in a SEC match, Shurmur did throw one against TSU before the bye. The homecoming win over the Tigers was one where the running game did most of the work while Shurmur was content to take the quick and easy throws when Vandy was ahead of the chains. This is going to be the mantra and look of the passing game going forwards. Ralph Webb will again be a key player leaking out of the backfield.
Auburn beat Mississippi 40-29 last time out, but Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly threw all over the Tigers. Kelly passed for 465 yards (on 59 attempts) for three touchdowns. This shows that the Auburn defense can be vulnerable to big passing days. Teams average 231.6 yards passing against Auburn and have scored nine touchdowns through the air. Auburn is not nearly as aggressive as Tennessee State on defense and the Tigers have just 11 turnovers gained on the year, six via interceptions.
VANDERBILT RUSHING OFFENSE VS. AUBURN RUSHING DEFENSE
The TSU game was an outstanding one for Vandy on the ground as the team still embeds its offensive identity. Ralph Webb rushed for 125 yards while backup Khari Blasingame had his best game as a 'Dore as he went for 100 yards and three touchdowns. Webb now has 855 yards and six touchdowns on the year and the cumulative ground game has been responsible for 1,303 yards and 15 scores.
The Auburn rushing defense has been good in 2016 to date. The Tigers allow only 126.6 yards per game on the ground, a good number in this era of college football. The biggest stat when it comes to their rushing defense is that Auburn has allowed just four touchdowns on the ground all season. The four teams that are ahead of that mark Alabama (two), Louisville, Michigan, and Ohio State (all three) are right in the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion.
AUBURN PASSING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE
Auburn has passed for 1,634 yards this season on 124 receptions and has nine passing touchdowns. Most of those passes have come from sophomore QB Sean White who has attempted 165 passes, and 113 have been completed sitting at roughly 68.5 percent. This is an efficient passing attack that has seen White throw for eight scores. There are two main targets when the Tigers are on offense as WR Tony Stevens (24 catches) and WR Ryan Davis (22 catches) have combined for four touchdowns. There are five pass catchers with double digits receptions on the year.
The Vanderbilt passing defense has had to step up given that the offense struggles to score. The Commodores rank 82nd in the nation in passing yards allowed per game at 240.4. Vanderbilt though has been good in the red zone and play that bend but don't break style that has seen the opposition score just 10 touchdowns passing despite the yardage. One area Vandy could improve is when it comes to taking the ball away as the team has just five interceptions on the year.
AUBURN RUSHING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE
The Auburn rushing attack is dynamic and dangerous. RB Kamryn Pettway comes into this one on the back of a monster 236-yard effort against Ole Miss. In his last three games, Pettway has 597 yards and six touchdowns. On the season he has carried the ball 148 times for 933 yards and seven touchdowns. Pettway isn't even the leading touchdown scorer for the Auburn ground game however. Kerryon Johnson has rushed for 580 yards and eight touchdowns as this unit has rushed for 2,427 yards and 24 touchdowns as a group. It is a scary rushing attack that might be the best in the SEC.
Stopping Auburn is going to be a matter of desire as much as technique. Pettway is a 6-foot, 240-pound wrecking ball that is the leading rusher in the SEC despite having played just six games this season. The matchup of Pettway against Zach Cunningham, the leading tackler in the SEC with 85 tackles to his name, is going to be outstanding. Cunningham has shown he is a big game player after almost single-handedly taking down the Georiga rushing game with 19 tackles, and a game winning stop, against Nick Chubb and Georgia.
Vanderbilt's Tommy Openshaw missed his only field goal attempt against TSU and has now connected on 8-of-11 field goals with a long of 48 yards on the year. Openshaw is perfect on extra points and on field goals shorter than 40 yards. Darrius Sims may be one of the most dangerous return guys in the nation, but his effectiveness will be limited by an Auburn kicker that has hit 44 of his 49 kickoffs for touchbacks this season.:
The Tigers have one of the very best kickers in the country in Daniel Carlson. Carlson was named as one of the 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award this week and he is 17-for-18 this season on his field goal attempts. Last weekend against Ole Miss, Carlson was 4-for-4 on his field goals and hit from 45, 32, 30, and 47 yards. No field goal kicker is automatic, but Carlson is about as close as it gets.
Fourth-year head coach Gus Malzahn is 33-15 at Auburn. Malzahn made his name as a high school coach in Arkansas where he used an innovated offense to great effect at schools such as Hughes, Shiloh Christian, and Springdale. Malzahn previously was the head coach at Arkansas State and had stints on staffs with Arkansas, Tulsa, and Auburn.
Third-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is 11-20 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). Mason has Vanderbilt two wins from bowl eligibility with four games left this season
Gus Malzahn has gone from a hot seat position to a potential coach of the year candidate based on how his offense has taken off this season with the Tigers. Auburn wants to run the ball right at you and they are doing just that at a level that could lead to an Iron Bowl for the ages with the SEC West Title up for grabs. An early kickoff could make this one ugly for a few series and that is why Vandy has to strike if the Commodores are at all upset-minded.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 17, Auburn 41. It is just hard to see any way that the 'Dores slow Auburn down enough to make this one much of a contest. Pettway is an absolute beast and Vandy does not have the scoring power to keep up.