Head-to-Head: Inside Vanderbilt vs. Alabama

Vanderbilt hopes to pick up its first victory of the 2006 season at Alabama on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Alabama Crimson Tide will be trying to build on an opening win over Hawaii. Here's an exclusive look inside the key matchups.

 Vanderbilt Vs. Alabama 

Game 2

Saturday, 09-September-2006—2:30 PM CDT


Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio

TV: Fox Sports South Regional Telecast (Vandy's first ever appearance on Fox and the only SEC game Fox will televise this year)


The Statistics


Vanderbilt 0-0 in the SEC, 0-1 Overall

Alabama 0-0 in the SEC, 1-0 Overall


This is the 81st game in the series with Alabama leading 57 to19 with four ties.  Alabama has won 14 of 15 games in this series when played at Tuscaloosa.  These teams also played 19 times in Birmingham and three times in Mobile, with Alabama winning 16, Vanderbilt winning four, and two games ending in ties.  The Crimson Tide have won 41 of the last 43 games in this series.


These teams last met on November 2, 2002, in Nashville with the then 12th-ranked Crimson Tide prevailing 20-8.  The last meeting in Tuscaloosa ended with Alabama coming from behind to win 36 to 26 on September 14, 1996.  In both 1998 and 2000, Vanderbilt faced the Tide at Birmingham's Legion Field.  Alabama won the 1998 game 32-7 and the 2000 game 28-10.  Oddly, the Tide registered two safeties in both of those games, the only two times they have ever done so.


The last Vanderbilt win in Tuscaloosa came in 1984 by a score of 30-21.  Coming off a 41-6 slaughter over Kansas, the 3-0 Commodores ventured south to take on the touchdown-favored Crimson Tide on their homecoming.  Vanderbilt took the opening kickoff and drove to the Tide four, where Ricky Anderson connected on a 21-yard field goal.  Aided by two penalties, one a questionable pass interference call on 3rd and long, Alabama retaliated with a 10-play drive that ended when Paul Ott Carruth leapt over the line from the Vandy one and into the end zone.  Alabama led 7-3 after one period.


The second period saw three field goals converted.  Anderson hit from 47 and 36 yards, while Tide kicker Van Tiffin hit from 37 yards.  Alabama took a 10-9 lead into the locker.


The second half started on a sour note for the Commodores, when quarterback Kurt Page lost a fumble deep in Vanderbilt territory.  The Gold Men held on three plays, forcing Tiffin to kick a field goal from 37.  Alabama led 13-9, before the Commodores exploded.  Page recovered and directed the Commodores on a quick six play, 82-yard drive that ended in pay dirt when Page spotted Chuck Scott in the corner of the end zone.  Two key plays on the drive were a swing pass to tailback Carl Woods, who turned it into a 31-yard scamper, and a 25-yard run on the power sweep by tailback Everett Crawford.  With Anderson's PAT, Vandy led 16-13 after three quarters.


Vanderbilt iced the game in the early stages of the fourth quarter when Page drove the Commodores the length of the field and hit Joe Kelly with a quick pass at the goal.  A few minutes later, Woods broke free off-tackle and ran 30 yards for another touchdown.  Leading, 30-13, most of the 60,000 plus crimson-clothed fans left the stadium.  Alabama scored a meaningless touchdown late on a drive where several Vanderbilt reserves saw action.


For the game, Vanderbilt out-gained Alabama 386-269.  Page finished with 19 completions on 32 attempts for 218 yards and two touchdowns.  Woods rushed for 115 yards on 25 carries and caught five passes for another 68 yards. 


With the win, the 4-0 Commodores cracked the Associated Press poll at number 19.  To the present time, it is the last week the Commodores have occupied a spot in the national polls.  


The Matchups


Vanderbilt Offensive Line vs. Alabama Defensive Line and Linebackers


Alabama's front seven are about as good as Michigan's.  The linebackers are quick enough to gamble without getting burned on the short pass.  All three Tide sacks against Hawaii came on linebacker dogs.  Terrence Jones, and backups Zach Schreiber and Prince Hall each dumped Colt Brennan one time.  Juwan Simpson is the best run-stopper of the group. 


The Alabama defensive line does an excellent job of keeping blockers away from the linebackers.  They didn't get many opportunities to tackle any runners, so left end Wallace Gilberry led the line with two tackles. 


Vanderbilt may find a little more success running behind Chris Williams and Josh Eames this week.  Alabama may have some vulnerability in certain situations there.  The right side of the line may be the better side to get Chris Nickson out of the pocket with a run-pass option.  Don't look for great offensive stats this week, but look for better stats than game one.


Alabama Offensive Line vs. Vanderbilt Defensive Line and Linebackers


This is where the game will be decided.  Can Vanderbilt improve enough between game one and game two against an above-average, but not spectacular offensive line?  The Commodores must concentrate on stopping Kenneth Darby, just like Hawaii did last week.  They must stuff the run and force John Parker Wilson to prove he is good enough to beat them.  Look for Vandy to have more success against Alabama's line than they did against one of the best lines in the nation last week.  How much better is the key of the game.  If you attend, or watch in person, focus your eyes on the control of the line of scrimmage when Alabama has the ball.  Center Antoine Caldwell is their stud.  His battle with Jonathan Goff should be one fantastic duel.


Vanderbilt Receivers vs. Alabama Secondary


Alabama's secondary is quite competent.  Cornerbacks Simeon Castille, Lionel Mitchell, and Ramzee Robinson are not in the class of Leon Hall, but combined, they are the equal of Michigan's cornerbacks.


Strong safety Jeffrey Dukes is a better run supporter than pass defender, and the middle could be an area where Vandy might find success, especially if the blitz pickup gives Nickson the time to throw to the seams.


Earl Bennett will receive the same defensive treatment that Shaquille O'Neal receives in the low post.  Marlon White, George Smith, Brad Allen, and Steven Bright will need to take the pressure off Bennett and force Alabama to respect them.  Bright really needs a top-rate game, as he could be the hot receiver when ‘Bama sends the linebackers.


Alabama Receivers vs. Vanderbilt Secondary


Vandy must do to Keith Brown what the Tide plans to do with Bennett.  They need to rough him up at the line and give the Vandy pass rushers a chance to worry Wilson.  Wilson will be looking Brown's way frequently, and he might be a little slow reacting if Brown is covered tightly all day. 


Vanderbilt's Running Backs vs. Alabama Run Defense


As mentioned previously, Vanderbilt should find a little more success this Saturday, but not enough so that a back will break loose for a 100-yard day.  If the Commodores can pick up first downs on 3rd and short and get four yards rushing on first down, that will be more than enough to take enough heat off Nickson.


Alabama's Running Backs vs. Vanderbilt Run Defense


What Vanderbilt will try to do is the same thing Hawaii tried to do.  They forced the Tide to beat them through the air, and Alabama just barely succeeded. 


Special Teams Play


Both teams are strong here.  Even if kicker Jamie Christensen isn't ready to go (groin injury), freshman Leigh Tiffin (son of Van) looked solid against Hawaii. 


Bryant Hahnfeldt is better than Tiffin in both length and distance, so Vanderbilt would have the advantage if the game became a battle of kickers.


Punters P.J. Fitzgerald (Alabama) and Brett Upson (Vandy) are about equal.  They can both  fire rockets for 55 yards, and they can both shank a 35-yarder that is not returnable. 


Vanderbilt may have an ever-so-slight advantage in kickoff returns, but let's hope they only have to return the second half kick and no others.


The Predictions


PiRate: Alabama by 19 points


Vanderbuilder's Guess: Alabama by 11 points


Vegas Line: Alabama -16 Over/Under 41 (They think 28-12 or 28-13)


Average of 38 Computer Rankings: Alabama by 16 points and ranging from Vandy by 9 to Alabama by 35 points (37 predict Alabama to win/One picks Vandy to win)


Summary:  Alabama beat a Hawaii team that will more than likely play in a bowl (okay host their bowl) at the end of the season.  However, Hawaii is a Jekyll and Hyde team.  At Aloha Stadium, they play like Texas Tech.  On the mainland, they play more like Texas-Arlington.  The fact that they came within eight points of Alabama means the Crimson Tide did not play a great game in week one.


Vanderbilt was dominated at the line of scrimmage against Michigan.  If the Wolverines had been coached by Bo Schembechler last week, they would have run the ball 60 times for 300 yards and put the game away early.  However, by failing to stick with their successful running strategy, they let Vanderbilt stay in the game for three quarters.  The longer the Commodores stayed within a touchdown, the more confidence the defense gained.  By the fourth quarter, Michigan was no longer moving the ball.  Take away the Nickson fumble and say that drive would have gone the distance, and it would have gone down to the wire.


So, what do I see for this Saturday?  If Hawaii's defense could hold Alabama's offense to two touchdowns and three field goals, Vandy's defense should be able to hold them under 20 points, as long as the offense doesn't help Alabama.  As long as the Tide begins every drive on their side of the field and the ‘Bama defense and special teams don't score or set up a score, they should not reach 25 points this week.  Vanderbilt may find it hard to score again this week, but they should be in this game for most of the day.


The Commodore passing game may look slow to Alabama compared with Hawaii's passing game.  What Vandy needs most of all is a long bomb completion that forces Alabama to respect the pass.  If the Tide have to worry about getting beat deep, the running backs will start to see some holes to burst through. 


The one area where Alabama's defense is not in Michigan's class is pursuit.  It's not that they cannot pursue, they tend to over-pursue.  Vanderbilt might sting them cutback runs and counters.


I see this game being about 13-6 Alabama after three periods.  It will be anybody's game at this point.  Throw in a disputed official's call and give the dynasty school the benefit of the doubt, as Alabama wins 20-9.  The Commodores do have a chance though, and a few timely Alabama turnovers could turn the tide.

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