Vanderbilt Vs. Arkansas
Saturday, 16-September-2006—11:40 AM CDT
Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio
TV: Lincoln Financial Sports (Regional Broadcast)
Vanderbilt 0-1 in the SEC, 0-2 Overall
Arkansas 0-0 in the SEC, 1-1 Overall
These teams last met on September 10th of last year in Fayetteville with the Commodores prevailing in an upset 28-24. Quarterback Jay Cutler led the Commodores with a come-from-behind victory for the second consecutive week. He completed three passes to Marlon White for scores in the final period. The first came with the Gold Men trailing 24-13. Cutler connected with White from 20 yards out for a touchdown. The second completion to White came on the next play, and it converted the try for two points. With just 26 seconds left in the game and Vandy at Arkansas's six yard line, Cutler spotted White for the decisive touchdown. A last gasp effort by the Razorbacks was thwarted when linebacker Moses Osemwegie picked off quarterback Robert Johnson's pass.
Vanderbilt out-gained Arkansas 408 to 398. Cutler completed 23 of 45 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. He added one more rushing. Cassen Jackson-Garrison rushed seven times for 82 yards. Erik Davis caught seven passes for 110 yards. Jonathan Goff registered 14 tackles.
When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball
Last week, I explained that Steven Bright needed to have a big game for Vanderbilt to have a chance to beat Alabama. This week, the onus is on the running backs. Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jared Hawkins, and Chris Nickson need to combine for triple digits. Not only must the running game work to open the offense for Earl Bennett, Marlon White, George Smith, and Sean Walker, it needs to work to chew up the clock and keep our defensive starters on the bench for longer stretches and to keep the ball out of Arkansas's backs' hands.
Arkansas does not have the same quality run defense as Alabama or Michigan. Utah State running back Marcus Cross topped 100 yards against the Razorbacks, and they are vulnerable here. Vandy needs to challenge Razorback defensive end Jamaal Anderson and concentrate on removing linebacker Weston Dacus from the play. Arkansas can be exploited this way. The starting defensive tackles, Marcus Harrison and Keith Jackson, are quite talented and will not be easy to run against. Vandy should run wider than the defensive "3" gap to keep that duo away from the play.
A better rushing attack will make Nickson's short passing game all the more successful. My predicted minimum rushing statistic that will still be enough to win is 30 rushes for 110 yards. If Arkansas's backs run for 250 yards, then I think we will need to average better than four yards per rush and get at least 130 rushing yards.
The blocking burden is on Chris Williams and Brian Stamper. Watch to see how much push they get when we run the ball. If they can carry out their run-blocking assignment and curtail their defender from penetrating, Vandy can achieve that rushing goal.
When Arkansas Runs The Ball
Arkansas will come out and try to run us out of the stadium. Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis make a fine trio of runners—probably the best in the SEC. Houston Nutt will not force his raw freshman phenom of a quarterback to win this game. If Mitch Mustain can execute 50 handoffs without fumbling the ball, he will have performed his job.
Vanderbilt faces the same tactic for the third consecutive week. Arkansas is going to try to win this one the old-fashioned way. The Commodores are going to do everything to force Arkansas to resort to the pass to win. Here's the chess match again.
The Razorbacks have a highly experienced offensive line, and that line is a strong run-blocking quintet. I expect them to run several times to their left behind tackle Tony Ugoh. Vandy's defense has had ample experience trying to stop this strategy.
For Vandy to win, they have to take away the run on 1st and 2nd down and put the Razorbacks in obvious 3rd and long passing situations.
When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball
Expect Vandy to concentrate on throwing quicker passes this week. Arkansas has vulnerabilities with their underneath coverage. They can be nickeled and dimed due to their linebackers being better run defenders and blitzers than they are pass defenders. I would attack the middle after suckering the Hogs with a run-fake.
Once Arkansas begins to invert their safeties to help in the short zones, then it's time for Nickson to sting them with intermediate passes in the deep thirds of the field.
Arkansas remembers how Marlon White hurt them last year, and they know they must stop the Earl of Birmingham. Therefore, George Smith and Sean Walker need to make them pay. This is the week Walker needs to break one after catching a five to 10 yard pass.
When Arkansas Throws The Ball
This is what Vandy fans hope to see happen 30 times Saturday. A true freshman starting an SEC game on the road is going to be nervous and shaky. A multitude of defenses could force him into making a game-changing mistake.
Don't expect Nutt to put a lot of pressure on Mustain. They run the ball very effectively, and did so against Vandy last year.
Going after Mustain and getting him bright eyed on 3rd & long is something that needs to be done. He could misread the coverage and throw into the strength. A couple of interceptions with one of them being returned for long yardage could break open a tight game.
According to Coach Johnson, Mustain's advantage over other true freshman quarterbacks is the fact that he has run the same system with his high school coach for a number of years, and there's nothing new for him to have to learn. That's true, but he hasn't learned it at the speed of the Southeastern Conference.
Special Teams Play
Vanderbilt has a clear advantage here. Arkansas's kickers do not have strong or very accurate kicking legs. Kickoffs barely make it to the five yard line, and they do not hang in the air all that long. Vanderbilt should be able to return any kickoff past the 25 yard line.
Bryant Hahnfeldt might be on the Ray Guy watch-list if he got more opportunities to show off his ability. Besides having a strong and accurate leg, he can make the ball dance on squib and onside kicks. If Vandy is forced to go onside late in the game, Hahnfeldt can really put the bounce on the ball.
Vanderbilt's kickoff coverage has been commendable so far. If they can force Arkansas to start drives shy of their 20-yard line, it will really help. Not many teams can drive the ball 80+ yards on the ground; Woody Hayes is no longer around.
The punting games are about equal. Jacob Skinner for Arkansas and Brett Upson for Vandy can both bring rain with their boots.
PiRate: Arkansas by four points
Vanderbuilder's Guess: Vanderbilt by three points
Vegas Line: Arkansas -6 Over/Under 38 (They think 22-16)
Average of 40 Computer Rankings: Arkansas by one point and ranging from Vandy by nine to Arkansas by eight points (28 predict Arkansas to win/12 pick Vandy to win).
Summary: I have a sneaky suspicion that this is going to be one of the most exciting Vanderbilt home games against a conference opponent in several years. It should be a low-scoring, hard-fought game that turns on which team can force the other to make a mistake.
If you don't have a ticket, there are still a few thousand left. This is definitely a game every Vandy fan would want to see and could kick themselves later if they miss it.
These teams are rather evenly matched, and the game could go either way. I expect Vandy to bring their A-game, and Arkansas can taste blood. When you get two teams that are hungry for some success and ready for blood, you end up with a great game.
If you are old enough to remember some of the Green Bay-Minnesota games of the mid to late 1960's, this is the type of game I expect to see at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday.
If you are coming to the game, be sure to locate the Vandymania tent at Vandyville. While you're there, let Vandymania's ace photographer Stan Jones record your visit for posterity.
Come be Vandy's 12th man. A tight game can turn on a crucial false start penalty where the opponent couldn't hear their signals.
*** ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL ***