Head-to-Head: Inside Vanderbilt vs. Michigan

Vanderbilt and Michigan collide on Saturday in Ann Arbor. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN at 11:00 a.m. Central Time. Howell Peiser gives us an expert look at the Vanderbilt-Michigan matchups. He also provides us with his prediction on the outcome of the game.

VanderbiltVanderbilt Vs. Michigan Michigan

Game 1

Saturday, 02-September-2006—11:00 AM CDT


Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates

TV: ESPN National Telecast


The Statistics


Vanderbilt 0-0 in the SEC, 0-0 Overall

Michigan 0-0 in the Big 10, 0-0 Overall


This is the 11th game in the series with Michigan leading 9-0-1.  The one tie occurred on October 14, 1922 at the dedication game of Dudley Field.  The two teams played to a 0-0 tie in front of 20,000 fans.


These teams last met on September 20, 1969, in Ann Arbor.  It was a game of firsts.  It was Coach Glenn "Bo" Schembechler's first game as head coach at Michigan.  It was the first game at the "Big House" played on artificial turf.  It was the first game where Vanderbilt would use, as its principal base, a 4-3 defense after using either a five or six man line for many years.  It was the first varsity game for Watson Brown and many other sophomores who had comprised Vanderbilt's greatest ever freshman team—one that went 5-0 including a 68-0 shellacking of Ole Miss.


The Wolverines won 42-14 in front of a crowd of 70,183.  Sophomore tailback Glenn Doughty's 80-yard run in the second quarter staked Michigan to a 14-0 halftime lead.  The Commodores struck back on the first possession of the third quarter marching on a 65-yard drive that ended with a Doug Mathews plunge from the Wolverine one yard line.  The score stood 14-7 with 12:47 to play in the third quarter.


Neither team moved the ball until the final minutes of the period.  Michigan commenced a 75-yard drive that led to an early fourth quarter touchdown and a 21-7 lead.  Then, the flood gates opened.  The Wolverines capitalized on a blocked punt and return for a touchdown; they made good on a short drive following a John Miller interception, and the game was out of reach at 35-7.  Both teams' reserves scored late touchdowns. 


After the game, Commodore head coach Bill Pace said, "They whipped us every way you can be whipped."


The Matchups


Vanderbilt Offensive Line vs. Michigan Defensive Line and Linebackers


This is Vanderbilt's strongest and deepest corps of blockers in two decades.  The first team of Chris Williams, Josh Eames, Hamilton Holliday, Merritt Kirchoffer, and Brian Stamper will protect Chris Nickson and give him time to pass the ball.  The Commodores gave up 24 sacks last year, and that number should go down, especially with a more mobile quarterback.  Run blocking must still be improved, and against Michigan's seven-man front, it may be difficult to establish a running game with the exception of Nickson's scrambling.  


Michigan's front seven is loaded with NFL prospects.  It is experienced with three senior and three juniors.  Nose Tackle Terance Taylor can control the middle against good linemen.  Lamar Woodley and Alan Branch could both be 1st team All-Big 10 players. The end spot with either Tim Jamison or Rondell Biggs is the most vulnerable for the Wolverines, but it would be more accurate to say least dominating.  The second unit is tough as well, although they are better run-stoppers than pass defenders in the short zones.  Vandy could capitalize on that by using the run to set up the pass into the seams between the linebackers and secondary.


Michigan Offensive Line vs. Vanderbilt Defensive Line and Linebackers


This will be tough for the Commodores.  The left side of the Wolverine interior line is very solid with center Mark Bihl, guard Adam Kraus, and All-American candidate tackle Jake Long.  Vanderbilt will have to use multiple tactics and try to fool this bunch, hoping not to make a costly mistake.  I don't think Georgia's defensive line would succeed all that well against the left side of Michigan.  The right side is not a pushover, but it is not as strong.  The Commodores could make some nice plays when Michigan runs this way, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone rushing this way gets to Chad Henne.


Vanderbilt Receivers vs. Michigan Secondary


What we have here is strength vs. strength.  This is the Commodores' strongest unit, even stronger than the offensive line.  Marlon White, Earl Bennett, George Smith, Jake Allen, Steven Bright, Sean Walker, Bryant Anderson, Justin Wheeler, Alex Washington, Thomas Welch, and Jake Bradford make this the absolute best group of pass catchers since the days of Allama Matthews, Phil Roach, Chuck Scott, and Wamon Buggs in 1981. And, what about Michigan?  They could have the very best secondary in college football.  Cornerback Leon Hall is an All-American.  Safety Jamar Adams could make All-Big 10.  Even second team members Morgan Trent and Ryan Mundy could start for 10 of the 12 SEC teams.  Vandy may be able to capitalize a couple of times with a height advantage.  White at 6-4 is five inches taller than Hall.  Smith is 6-3.  Backup tight end Bradford is 6-6 and could be a force in the middle seams of the zone if he can withstand the rib-busting hits delivered by the Wolverine safeties.  This will be an interesting chess match.


Michigan Receivers vs. Vanderbilt Secondary


Michigan has four fantastic receivers that will give Henne excellent chances to complete short passes for long gains.  Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, and Adrian Arrington can stretch any secondary both vertically and horizontally.  Tight end Tyler Ecker is a horse in the middle. Vanderbilt will have to concentrate on staying behind these speedsters and holding them to little if any yards after the catch. 


Vanderbilt has talent in the back with Reshard Langford the leader of the pack.  The linebackers are going to be crucial in this game.  Whether they are dogging or playing in the coverage, Jonathan Goff, Kevin Joyce, and Marcus Buggs are going to have to all bring their A++ game.  Backups such as Funtaine Hunter must contribute as well.  It will be vitally important to throw Henne off his rhythm and make him a little worried, especially from the back-side.


Vanderbilt's Running Backs vs. Michigan Run Defense


Can the Commodores do to Michigan what Northern Illinois did last year?  Even though the Wolverines won 33-17, NIU was the only team that ran through the maize and blue with glowing success.  You cannot include Minnesota, because they were a run-dominated team in a class by themselves.  Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jared Hawkins, and Gaston Miller are three completely different types of backs.  CJG can run up the middle and power his way for four yards.  Miller can get out on the perimeter and turn a pitch into a breakaway.  Hawkins combines some of CJG's power with some of Miller's quickness.  However, all three need blocks to open up the area.  If the backs have to face defenders in the backfield, it will be a long day.  Hopefully, the pass will spread out the defense just enough to create some holes for a couple of long-gainers.  We could see a running line like: +7, 0, -2, +12, -1, +2, +1, -4, +20, 3.  That would be just 3.8 yards per rush, but those two double-digit runs might contribute to scoring drives.


Michigan's Running Backs vs. Vanderbilt Run Defense


Stopping number 20 is the most important thing Vanderbilt's defense will have to do.  Mike Hart is a game-breaking tailback who can rush for 150 yards and catch three passes for another 35 yards.  Vanderbilt has not been able to stop a good rushing attack this decade.  The only chance Vanderbilt has for an upset is if they can hold Michigan to under four yards per rush.  If Henne is forced to throw the ball on obvious passing downs, then the pass defense can come up with two or three big plays and turn the game around.  If Hart has a 100-yard rushing day, then Vanderbilt's offense will have to come up with a repeat of the Florida game last year to have a chance. 


Backup Kevin Grady is no slouch either.  He will spell Hart here and there, and he cannot be ignored.  Curtis Gatewood, at 245 pounds will have to use quickness and brains to outmaneuver Long at 6-7 and 313 pounds.  He will have help from improved pursuit, but he is sure to see Hart coming his way a lot this week.


Special Teams Play


Vanderbilt should be okay here.  Freshman Brett Upson may shank a punt here and there, but his shanks are usually decent punts going for 35-40 yards with hang time.  When he really gets into one though, he outdoes what Jim Arnold did at Vandy.  I have seen him sky a rocket that travels 60 yards from scrimmage with so much hang time, it forces a fair catch.  Let's hope he can display his exceptional talent and pin the Wolverines deep in their territory with one of those rockets.


Bryant Hahnfeldt is rock-steady and gives Vanderbilt everything it wants in a place kicker.  His kicks are high and straight; most of his field goal attempts this month would have been good in Arena Football.


It's too early to gauge how strong Vandy will be with kick and punt returns.  Coaches do not like to go full speed in these drills, because the collisions are violent to say the least.


Michigan has a super punt and kick returner in Breaston.  He is second only to Ohio State's Ted Ginn in the Big 10.  Hopefully, Vanderbilt will have to worry more with his kick returns than punt returns, but he could break open a close game if he gets loose.


Michigan's punter Ross Ryan doesn't get much distance, but he kicks the ball high.  Vandy probably won't get much of a chance to return punts, as close to half of his punts last year were either fair caught or allowed to roll.  Place-kicker Garrett Rivas is not as good as Hahnfeldt, but he is above average.  If the game came down to a test of kickers, Vandy would have the decided advantage.


The Predictions


PiRate: Michigan by 28 points


Vanderbuilder's Guess: Michigan by 18 points


Vegas Line: Michigan -26


Average of 35 Computer Rankings: Michigan by 22 points and ranging from 10 to 42 points (All 35 predict Michigan to win)


Guest picker: Walter Overton.  Overton was a starting wide receiver with Jesse Mathers on the 1974 Peach Bowl team.  In 1974, Vanderbilt finished 7-3-2 and set the team record for most offensive yardage gained.  To this day, that team is the only Commodore offense to average better than 400 yards per game.


Overton was an All-NIL star at Pearl High School in Nashville (where he played with current Nashville Vice-Mayor Howard Gentry), and when he enrolled at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1969, he was one of the first African-American football players in the SEC.


Overton teamed with Gary Chesley in 1971 and 1972, and he also excelled as a punt returner.  In a game against Mississippi State his sophomore year (1971), he returned a punt 60 yards for an icing-on-the-cake touchdown, allowing the black and gold to set a team record by scoring 49 points in a Southeastern Conference game (A record that stands to this day).  He led the Commodores in receptions a year later.


Today, Overton serves as General Manager of LP Field for the Tennessee Titans.  He oversees the facility and operations for all events, including Titans games, Tennessee State games, and Fanfair.


His Prediction: Vanderbilt will upset Michigan 21-17!!!

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