Vanderbilt started two new offensive linemen last week against Georgia: Kyle Fischer and Eric Hensley. They proved to have a positive effect on the game last week as tailback Jared Hawkins responded with an excellent game, running the ball for over 75 yards against a tenacious Georgia defense. Duke is giving up 160 yards per game on the ground, so Vanderbilt needs to take advantage of Duke's weakness in order to amass points. Duke has had trouble in every game stopping the run, including against FCS James Madison. Jared Hawkins needs to have an excellent day, and a few nice runs by Mackenzie Adams, Gaston Miller, and Jeff Jennings certainly would not hurt.
Simply put, Mackenzie Adams must be outstanding against Duke, and the Duke defense, coached by the son of former Vanderbilt coach George MacIntyre, has given up 190 yards per game throwing the football. They have also recorded 9 sacks, and only three interceptions. This provides Adams a wonderful opportunity to have a confidence building game, in which he could truly break out. If Adams has a strong game through the air as well as on the ground, it will be very tough for Duke to win the game. Look for Adams to connect with Jamie Graham, who seems to have found his stride now. Brandon Barden, Sean Walker, and Justin Wheeler are also targets to keep an eye on. George Smith, after missing several games due to injury is back and getting back into the rotation.
Duke has a great quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis, and first year head coach David Cutcliffe is not afraid to use him. Duke, in only six games, has thrown for over 1200 yards and nine touchdowns. That is impressive. Lewis has also only thrown three interceptions this year. Vanderbilt's secondary cannot let Duke throw the ball all day long, or the day could get long for the Commodores. Vanderbilt's pass rush, which has accounted for 20 sacks thus far, must also be on their game in order to beat the Blue Devils and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982.
Last Meeting: Vanderbilt 45 Duke 28 (2006 in Durham)
Last Meeting in Nashville: Vanderbilt 26 Duke 7
Vanderbilt leads overall series 7-3, including a 4-1 mark in Nashville. Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is 1-0 against the Blue Devils, and Duke coach David Cutcliffe is 6-1 against Vanderbilt (all while coaching at Ole Miss).
Mackenzi Adams photo by Stan Jones.