Time to Hit the Road

Don't worry Vanderbilt fans. I'm asking the same question you are. "What? We play outside Nashville this season?" With the first four games of the season at home, why not just play them all at home? Oh well, at least we get two-thirds of our games this season at home.But now it's time to hit the road. And not just any road. The SEC road.

Most teams in the SEC will probably tell you that playing on the road in this conference is never easy. No matter where you go, if you don't bring your best, it could get ugly in a hurry. Teams in this conference thrive on home-field advantage. If you can take care of your business at home, it makes things much easier on you as far as the rest of the schedule goes. Since most teams play half their games at home during the season, you win those games, you put yourself in a great position to get to a bowl game.

Road wins in the SEC can also solidify your place in the conference. Quite frankly, if you can win on the road in what is arguably the toughest conference in America, you've gotta like your chances anywhere in the country. Without a doubt, playing on the road is much tougher than playing at home. A lot of different factors come into play when visiting someone else's home turf. And there's definitely less room for error when playing on the road.

But some teams seem to welcome road trips. Vanderbilt has actually played quite well on the road in recent years in SEC conference play. We all remember the win in Knoxville over the Volunteers two years ago, and the win in Athens last year over the Georgia Bulldogs. We can even look back to the game in "The Swamp" two years ago, when the Dores dropped a double overtime decision to the Gators, 49-42. Fact of the matter is, you can't make the claim that Coach Bobby Johnson doesn't know how to get his guys ready for life on the road in the SEC. The mentality has proved to be much different recently, and the Commodore players expect to win on the road.

That brings us to this week's opponent, the Auburn Tigers. Auburn pretty much salvaged their season with a win in Gainesville on Saturday. Looks like Auburn thrives on big road games, just like the Commodores. But home games? The Tigers haven't looked too ferocious at home. They also hosted their first four games before heading to Gainesville, with not-so impressive wins over Kansas State (although they're proving to be much better) and New Mexico State. Their losses have come against a South Florida team who is now ranked sixth in the country, and a loss against Mississippi State. Not saying it will be easy by any means, but, this isn't Death Valley the Dores are heading to.

There are some looming concerns for both programs heading into this weekend's game. For Vanderbilt, they must improve on their sloppy play from the Eastern Michigan game. Also, the kicking game must get better, as special teams usually plays a huge factor in road games. On the offensive side of the ball, Chris Nickson will have to limit his turnovers if the Commodores want to pull out a victory. And quite frankly, turnovers must be low in all facets of the game, as once again, you don't have a lot of room for error in these types of road games. If the Commodores can address these concerns, I truly think they have a great shot of winning this football game.

As for Auburn, will they avoid the struggle that can sometimes follow big wins? It happens every week, a team that won or pulled an upset the week before comes out and struggles the following week. It's just something that happens. Likewise, can Brandon Cox avoid a letdown, after redeeming himself against Florida last week? He has been a very streaky player throughout his career, so we will have to wait and see which Brandon Cox shows up on Saturday. And perhaps the biggest question of all, will the injury to Quentin Groves greatly effect the Tiger defense?

It goes without saying how huge a win would be in this game for the Commodores.. For the Commodores to beat Auburn would be a big step in the right direction for this program. And after Auburn went and defeated Florida, it would make it even more meaningful, as it would have a lot of people talking not just in the SEC, but around the country. And folks, a win would put Vandy at 4-1 on the season, two wins shy of bowl eligibility.

It will be interesting to see how life on the road in the SEC treats the Commodores this Saturday.

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