Vanderbilt fans hit the team's only bye week with a dash of optimism after a 28-14 road win at Ole Miss impro ved the team's record to 1-2 and erased some of the worst doubts that swirled around this team. The 'Dores used their strengths - a torrid rushing attack and staunch defense - to pull away from the Rebels in the second half and stoke the fires of an increasingly competitive SEC rivalry. Since 2005, Vandy is 4-2 against Mississippi, including a 2-1 record at the Grove.
This week the team returns from vacation to face UConn in the first ever meeting between the two schools. The game, which will be held in scenic Storrs, CT (known for its college and absolutely nothing else), will provide another out-of-conference litmus test for both schools, as neither team has proven much over the first four weeks of the season. The Huskies have beaten up on a couple of poor opponents (wins against Texas Southern and Buffalo by a combined 83 points) while losing to a pair of above average teams in Michigan and Temple (take umbrage with that statement however you would like). Vandy, on the other hand, got spanked by LSU, dropped a heartbreaker to Northwestern, and just as things started to look bleak, beat Mississippi with a strong performance. Though UConn has the better record, the Commodores have the stronger resume so far.
So before the Huskies can move on to a Big East schedule that currently holds exactly zero nationally ranked teams, they'll first have to tear down the 'Dores on their home field. As of Thursday, UConn is a 7.5 point favorite, a number that seems a bit high (also high; the O/U is 47 points - worth a play). What will the final result hold? Our handsome and educated prognosticators have the (presumably incorrect) answer for you below.
Train Island - Judging by each team's schedule and outcomes over the first four weeks, it looks like Vandy should be the favorite here. The Commodores lost to an increasingly strong #12 LSU squad and a currently undefeated Northwestern team who can likely stretch that streak out to 6-0 after a pair of cupcake Big Ten games against Minnesota and Purdue (ed. note: the bottom of the Big Ten this year has more cupcakes than a rich kid's fifth birthday party). Connecticut, conversely, has wins over a FCS team and Buffalo along with losses to Michigan and Temple - a couple of good, but not great teams. However, since Vandy's lone win came against a team who had lost to a FCS school just weeks before, I'm not sure how much the team can brag yet.
The Huskies have a similar offense to the 'Dores, relying on their running game to open up a limited passing attack. Like Vandy, they've got a pair of strong backs in Jordan Todman and Robbie Frey and the two have combined for eight touchdowns and over 700 yards in just four games. However, against Michigan - a team whose defense compares favorably to Vanderbilt's - UConn scored just 10 points and gained only 138 yards on the ground, about 100 yards less than their average in their other three games. If the Commodore front line can step up like they did against Northwestern then they should have the ability to shut down the home team's scoring chances.
Of course, that just leaves the little matter of Vandy's offense. UConn struggled against a mobile quarterback in week one's loss to Michigan, but to compare Denard Robinson to Larry Smith would lead to a beating in most areas of the country. However, the Huskies have given up over 240 yards per game on the ground in their two losses, a figure that bodes well for the Commodores. If Warren Norman, Zac Stacy, and Smith can draw the defense into the box and open up single coverage, then Smith's close quarter passing should be able to ignite the offense. UConn has only averaging two sacks per game, and their relatively weak pass rush is a good matchup for our definitely weak blocking. As long as Vandy get can it done on the ground, Smith will be cleared for a solid but unspectacular day passing, going for between 150-200 yards and a touchdown.
All in all, UConn and Vanderbilt have a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses, but Vandy measures out just a little better. It'll be a low scoring affair, but I think the good guys can win this one.
Prediction?: Vanderbilt 20, UConn 14
KingJamesIV - You've got to think the team is looking at this game as a must-win. Externally, they may be showing no signs that that's the case, but inside the locker room, October 2nd has to be circled in red.
This team may have found an identity in Oxford two weeks ago. Remember this?
The Death Star (VU) taking out the Rebel Alliance (OM)? (I could probably spend the next few paragraphs coming up with allusions. Example: Robbie Caldwell = The Emperor.)
This game represents an opportunity that most didn't think would exist for this team -- with a win suddenly the season outlook swings from bleak to hopeful. At 2-2, we're just a winnable game or two plus a couple other SEC team implosions away from being bowl eligible.
If Robbie Caldwell pulls a bowl season out of thin air, shooting lightning bolts out of his fingers doesn't seem THAT impossible. If that happens, expect an official LucasArts takedown notice sent to AOG due to the photoshopped Robbie-Caldwell-as-the-emperor-over-the-words-"The-Dark-Side" t-shirts we'll be hawking. Remember, when I say get them while they're hot, LITERALLY GET THEM WHILE THEY'RE HOT, or else I may not legally be able to sell them to you.
Prediction? Here's your zero-analysis, 100-percent gut call: Vanderbilt 24, Connecticut 17.