Head-to-Head: Inside Vanderbilt vs. Duke

This is the 10th game in the series. Vanderbilt leads the series six games to three. Vandy won the first game in this series in 1986 by a score of 24-18 when running back Carl "Goo Baby" Woods raced 70 yards for the winning score. Then, Duke won three straight games.

Vanderbilt Vs. Duke

Game 9

Saturday, 28-October-2006—12:00 Noon CDT


Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio



TV: None


Weather Forecast: The day will start off yucky with morning showers and temperatures in the mid to upper 50's.  The temperature should be in the low 60's by kickoff with rain eventually moving out.


Getting There


The drive from Nashville to Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, is deceptively long.  It is actually farther away from the Music City than Chicago, and is the same 530 miles and 8 ½ hours away as Cleveland, Ohio.


Take I-40 East through Knoxville.  East of Knoxville, follow I-81 North toward Bristol.  Enter Virginia and stay on I-81.  At Wytheville, Virginia, I-77 joins I-81 from the North for a short distance.  When I-77 splits south about eight miles past where it joins I-81, take I-77 South (Following Sign for Charlotte).


Continue south on I-77 into North Carolina.  There is an excellent welcome center with a nice picnic area as you enter the state.  Once you enter North Carolina, I-74 overlaps I-77 for a short distance.  When the two interstates separate, follow I-74 East toward Mt. Airy (The famous real-life Mayberry of Andy Griffith).  Follow I-74 about 13 miles to US-52, the Pilot Mountain Parkway (yep, that's where Griffith's Mt. Pilot came from).  Head southeast (right) on the US-52 for 31 miles through Winston-Salem.


At exit 109A, take the Ramp right onto I-40 Bus (US-158) towards I-40-Br/US-421/US-158/Greensboro.  Follow this 13 miles to I-40 and enter I-40 heading east for 52 miles


In Greensboro, I-85 unites with I-40.  When I-85 splits from I-40, follow I-85 toward the Raleigh-Durham Metro Area.  About nine miles after departing I-40, exit I-85 onto State Route 47 (Durham Freeway) for 3.7 miles.


Turn right onto the Ramp for Swift Ave/Ninth St/Duke University East Campus and then turn right onto Swift Avenue.  Follow Swift about two-tenths of a mile to Campus Drive and turn right onto Campus Drive.  Follow Campus Drive to the roundabout (be careful with these if you have little experience with roundabouts).  Go half-way around the roundabout and turn right onto Wannamaker Drive.  About a half-mile later, you are at Wallace Wade Stadium.


 Note:  If you follow I-40 direct to Greensboro, rather than take the jog through Virginia, it is about 15 miles shorter but 15-45 minutes longer.  It takes you through steeper mountain grades and if there are several trucks, an accident, or a rock slide you can get bogged down in long delays.


The Statistics


Vanderbilt 1-4 in the SEC, 3-5 Overall

Duke 0-5 in the ACC, 0-7 overall


This is the 10th game in the series.  Vanderbilt leads the series six games to three.  Vandy won the first game in this series in 1986 by a score of 24-18 when running back Carl "Goo Baby" Woods raced 70 yards for the winning score.  Then, Duke won three straight games.  In 1987 and 1988, during the Steve Spurrier era at Duke, the Blue Devils won 35-31 and 17-15.  Both games were won late.  In 1991, Duke won another nail-biter 17-13.  Since then, Vanderbilt has owned the series.  The Commodores won 42-37 in 1992 thanks to a late touchdown by Eric Lewis Tony Jackson rushed for 123 yards and returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown.


In 1998, the game went to two overtimes before Vandy prevailed 36-33.  John Markham converted on the short field goal after the Commodores drove from the 25 to the two in the second extra period.


A year later, Vandy scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the final 1 ½ quarters to pull away from a 14-14 tie and win 31-14.


In 2000, Markham kicked four field goals, including one from 52 yards as Vandy's defense held the Blue Devils to a single score in a 26-7 win.


The last time these two teams met, it was the final Vanderbilt victory for coach Woody Widenhofer.  On October 27, 2001, running backs Lew Thomas (123 yards) and Rodney Williams (155 yards and two TDs) ran the Blue Devils into the ground as Vandy rushed for 338 yards in a 42-28 victory.  Quarterback Greg Zolman completed eight of 18 passes for 168 yards, including long bombs to Dan Stricker for 45 yards and a score and to M.J. Garrett for 54 yards and a score.  Duke accumulated 537 yards on 94 plays (Vandy had the ball for just 59 plays), with 238 on the ground and 299 through the air.  A late six-yard scamper by Zolman sealed the victory.


The Match-ups


When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball


The Commodores are hurting on the offensive line with the absences of Brian Stamper, Josh Eames, and Steven Bright.  Mac Pyle is still trying to get back to the player he was prior to his knee injury.  Duke is no pushover against the run.  They allow less than 100 yards rushing per game, and those stats aren't distorted by QB sacks, because Duke hasn't registered many of them.


The wider out backs run against Duke, the more likely they are to be gang-tackled by smaller-than-average, but quicker-than-average defenders.  The key to success on the ground in this game will be for Vandy to run power plays and quick-openers straight up the gut between the guards.  This is a game where it would help to have a fullback who can lead interference.


The trend line for rushing stats in this game is 35 rushes for 135 yards.  If the Commodores can top that, they should be on the road to victory.  If Duke holds them under that figure, then the passing game better look like it is 2005 all over again.



When Duke Runs The Ball


The Blue Devils are not overpowering on the ground, and their rushing statistics are further weakened by less-than-average pass protection resulting in more sacks.


There is one caveat here.  Devil back Ronnie Drummer is overdue for making a big play.  If you missed what a devil back is in yesterday's preview of Duke, Drummer is the only one in existence.  Duke coach Ted Roof created this position just for the blazing speedster to get more touches, be it by the run or the pass.  Drummer will line up at tailback, fullback, wingback, slot-back, and h-back.  There might even be a play where he will take a direct snap in some form of single-wing, double-wing, or old-fashioned spread formation.  Even if he does nothing, the Commodores will have to devote at least one defender to key on him every play in which he participates.


Re'Quan Boyette only gets about six carries a game, but he is the other back capable of breaking loose and getting into the clear.  Justin Boyle will be used more as a power back when Duke needs to convert on 3rd and two.


The Blue Devils will likely try to run the ball a little more than they have the last two games (23.5 avg. attempts), as they think they can exceed their normal productivity against Vanderbilt.  Thus, I am predicting that they will attempt to run the ball 30 times in this game.  If they produce more than 100 yards rushing with their 30 attempts, it will allow quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to enjoy a much better passing day—the type that leads to offensive success.



When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball


Might we see more than one quarterback in the first half of this game?  Chris Nickson suffered a major setback last week against South Carolina, and he finished four of 18 with two interceptions.  Richard Kovalcheck entered late in the game and completed seven of 10 passes, all of the short variety.  A completion percentage of 70 will keep the ball moving and open the running lanes.  I have to believe that if Nickson cannot return to the form he showed prior to leaving the game with an injury against Ole Miss, that Kovalcheck or Mackenzi Adams will get a shot to play before halftime.  If the passing game does not get untracked in the first half, then the Commodores can expect to have to play catch up.


South Carolina shut down Earl Bennett until the game was out of reach.  Marlon White was open twice in the end zone and both times the ball never came close enough to catch it.  Sean Walker, George Smith, and Brad Allen complete a fantastic unit; they just need to have somebody throw accurately toward them.


This is the most important match-up in this game.  Vanderbilt absolutely must produce a 200-yard passing day unless the weather is so awful, that the game becomes a rugby scrum. 


Factoring out any inclement elements, Vandy needs to throw 30 passes in this game and realize 7.5 yards per attempt (225 yards).  It matters not whether the final stat line shows 24 of 30 for 225 or 12 of 30 for 225.  The Commodores need to annex the air Saturday.


When Duke Throws The Ball


Lewis is starting to look like a seasoned veteran, even though he is a true freshman.  He quickly drove his team down the field late in the fourth quarter last week against Miami and almost directed one of the most surprising comeback, upset victories in years.  He will enter this game with more confidence than he has entered any other game in his short collegiate career. 


Duke has three excellent receivers, and Lewis will spread the ball equally amongst them.  Eron Riley will go deep more than once.  Reshard Langford will have to shut him down when the Commodores are in cover 2 zone coverage.


Jomar Wright will be the primary receiver when the Devils need to convert on 3rd down passing situations.  The Commodores also have to watch out for tight end Nick Stefanow.  It only takes one catch in the open middle to make a difference.


Then there is the situation with Drummer.  I mentioned earlier that he is overdue for a big play.  All it takes is a tiny bit of air, and he will be off to the races.  Vandy's deep backs will have to give up more cushion when he is in the game, and even if Drummer is used as a decoy, it will open up the shorter zones.


Look for Duke to throw the ball 30 to 35 times in this game.  If they complete 55% of their passes, they will end up with 225 or more yards.  If Vandy can pick him off twice in this game, it should be the difference, unless the Commodores repeat their giveaway plan from the Ole Miss game.


Special Teams Play


I think special teams will be a major deciding factor in this game.  Vanderbilt has done some things quite well in this area this year, but they have also failed to help themselves in other areas.


While the Commodores have done a great job covering punts, they have done virtually nothing in the return game.  Vandy averages just 4.6 yards per return.  In 1982, that was okay because Whit Taylor threw for 250 yards a game.  In 2006, the Commodores need their punt return game to contribute something.  Saturday could be the day for that to happen.  Duke does not cover their punts all that well.  Even if the Commodores don't break away a long return, it would be big if Alex Washington could return three punts for more than 10 yards each with one of them going for 20-30 yards.


When Vandy must punt, they need to provide maximum protection for Brett Upson.  It's time for Upson to begin to live up to his hype.  He needs to relax and not press.  When he hits it just right, he can punt the ball as far as Jim Arnold and Ricky Anderson did.  Duke isn't going to do any damage with their punt returns unless they decide to put Drummer back there.


If the game comes down to a field goal contest, Vandy should have a big edge unless they cannot block out Casey Camero. 


The Predictions


PiRate: Vanderbilt 19  Duke 10


Vanderbuilder's Guess: Vanderbilt 20  Duke 18


Average of 43 Computer Rankings: Vanderbilt by 11 points.  All 43 select Vanderbilt to win the game by a range of four to 34 points.  A large majority of these ratings pick the Commodores to win by 8.5 to 13.5 points.


Summary:  Look at the strengths and weaknesses here.  Duke is strongest defensively against the run and slowing the short passing game, while they are considerably weaker stopping the intermediate and long passing game.  They gamble too much trying to make the big play, but do so a good deal of the time.  However, when they gamble and lose, they lose big.  They really cannot afford to sit back and react like Auburn's or LSU's defense; they have to create the risk to produce the reward.


Vanderbilt's offensive strength is the very same run and short passing game.  A lack of pass protection, due largely in part to three injuries on the offensive line, makes it difficult for the quarterback to set up and throw the deeper routes off the bigger drops.


Duke does not run the ball all too well, but they pass it better than average.  Vandy doesn't stop the run all too well, but they are tougher against the pass. 


You get the picture.  When the Gold Men have the ball, they will be going strength vs. strength.  The running game may not be able to establish much and if relied on to carry the load, it may produce dismal results.  The passing game can excel in volumes if the Commodores decide to stretch the field vertically as well as horizontally.  If the black and gold can come out playing like Texas Tech, and one of the three quarterbacks on the roster can get comfortable and locate his receivers, then the Commodores can sail their aerial navy down the field.


When Duke has the ball, they will face the same circumstances.  Vandy should be able to dump quarterback Lewis at least twice and disturb his rhythm.  The Duke ground game should have about as much success as the Vandy scout team and in no way resemble the rushing attacks of Michigan, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas. 


What I am getting at is this will be a close contest.  When teams match up like this, the game is usually decided on a special teams' play and/or turnover margin.  Of course, a wet field could come into play and one defender slipping at the wrong time could be just as big as a turnover or special teams' play.

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