Vanderbilt faces their last opportunity to pull a monumental upset this Saturday when they host #8 Arkansas at Dudley Field. The Razorbacks will be looking to dispatch the 'Dores on their way to a BCS bid. Vandy, on the other hand, will look to move one step closer to extending their season and keeping a nationally ranking recruiting class on board.
This game will help define Jordan Rodgers's future as a Vanderbilt quarterback. He established himself as a legit NCAA quarterback with a solid relief performance against Georgia, but the Bulldogs hadn't spent a full week preparing for his unique abilities behind center. He led the 'Dores to a victory against a better prepared Army squad, but the Black Knights are several steps below the SEC's elite. This week, he'll face a stout defense that has spent a full practice cycle drilling Rodgers's tendencies into their gameplan.
Jordan Rodgers isn't the only player whose game tapes have getting more play in Fayetteville this week. The emergence of Chris Boyd and Wesley Tate at receiver means that opposing defensive backs will be keying in on the duo that have become common targets in recent weeks. Expect the Razorbacks to have a spy covering the redshirt junior to snuff out his effective scrambles before they can turn into drive-sustaining runs. Expect Boyd and Tate to get jammed at the line more often and be forced into double-coverage situations. In short, expect a whole new level of defense waiting for Jordan and the boys.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas's high-powered passing offense will test a Vanderbilt secondary that started the season strong but has been struggling lately. The Commodores lead the SEC with 15 interceptions, but they've allowed the league's better quarterbacks to have career days against them. Alabama's A.J. McCarron threw for a career high 327 yards and four touchdowns against the team three weeks ago. One game later, Aaron Murray shredded the secondary for 326 yards and three TDs.
This week, Vanderbilt will face Tyler Wilson, who leads the SEC in passing yards. He's got three great receivers that all rank in the SEC's top nine when it comes to overall receiving yards. By comparison, Vandy's top wideout, Chris Boyd, ranks 25th on that list.
The Vanderbilt secondary will have to live up to their hype Saturday to give the 'Dores a chance to pull a news-making upset. Jordan Rodgers must find open receivers and deliver accurate passes when the opportunities arise. Zac Stacy will have to be the player he's been against Georgia and Army rather than the one that couldn't get past the line of scrimmage against South Carolina and 'Bama.
A win would be the defining statement in a year where James Franklin has made several strides towards improving this Commodore team. A loss in the vein of the Alabama and South Carolina defeats will lead to lots of awkward postgame phone calls to potential players. More importantly, the outcome of 2011's toughest home game could have a rippling effect on recruits and the fanbase alike. If the 'Dores can pull out an exciting upset, then Vandyville should see its population increase. If not, it'll be nine more months of Franklin imploring students to arrive early and stay late.
Train Island: At #8 in the country, is Arkansas overranked, underranked, or just right? They've only lost once, and that was to potential national champion Alabama. They've also got two wins over ranked teams, but one was thanks to Texas A&M's hatred of closing out football games and the other was to a perplexing Auburn team. They've only played one game against a team on a similar level as Vanderbilt, and that was a near-upset to Ole Miss last weekend.
That too-close-for-comfort result may end up dooming the Commodores on Saturday.
Bobby Petrino's team got exposed early by a team that used long, run-heavy drives to put points on the board. The Rebels also held Arkansas's vaunted passing game in check behind solid coverage. However, the 'Hogs recovered to shut down Mississippi's offense and rally to victory. Though Ole Miss dropped the first 17 points of the game on the Razorbacks, they later ceded 29 straight to seal the defeat.
This was probably some good practice for their matchup with the 'Dores. Vanderbilt will be relying heavily on the run while Jordan Rodgers continues to work up to game speed with his receivers. Part of the team's talent under Rodgers has been using running plays - draws, scrambles, etc - to sustain drives and put points on the board. Ole Miss used this strategy October 22nd to pull out to that surprising 17-0 lead. It won't be as surprising on October 29th.
Vanderbilt will have to have success through the air to win this game. If Rodgers can find his receivers consistently and put the ball in places where they can make plays, it will open up the Commodore offense and give guys like Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour more room to be effective. However, we haven't seen much evidence yet that this team can throw for over 200 yards against a top SEC team. Can Rodgers improve by the leaps and bounds that he'll need to in order to provide this team with the offense it needs to pull the upset?
It's a tough question, and while Rodgers has definitely developed well this season, it may still be too much, too soon.
TI's pick: Arkansas 31, Vanderbilt 22
SEC Upset of the Week: Florida over Georgia. Georgia is coming off their bye week and have spent 14 days waiting for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. They aren't going to be caught by surprise by anything the Gators do on Saturday.
However, that Gator squad gets John Brantley back to lead an offense that scored 81 points in two SEC games with him and 17 in two games without him. Granted, that stat is misleading due to the level of competition Florida faced without Brantley, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue that the Gators aren't a better offensive team with him at quarterback.
Georgia needs to win to keep their hopes for a BCS bid alive. Florida needs to win because they hate Georgia. After the UGA/Vandy game, I can appreciate that. Florida gets the upset here.
SectFRow1Seat30: Opening line: 12; Current Line 9.5; O/U 51.5.
What the Line Movement Tells Us: Another week of public money coming in on the Commies.
Suggestion: Vandy and whatever the second half line is. Public is going to buy hard in to the narrative of Arkansas as a second half juggernaut and that line will be inflated.
Prop bet for your consideration: Interceptions by VU: 1.5. I take the over. After having to sit through the misery of defending Army's gimmicky run offense, CayHay and the gang are going to get the party going. Again.
SFR1S30 Prediction: Commies 28, Hogs 24.
(A personal note on this post: Both John Daly and my childhood best friend are huge Arky fans. It makes me sad that they will both have to be shattered by today's game. Especially Big John, whose bank account will likely be impacted for failing to heed the above advice. Oh well. Commodores uber alles.)