Vanderbilt started off their season the way Commodore teams of the past have ended theirs - with heartache. The 'Dores led ninth-ranked South Carolina in the fourth quarter but ultimately lacked the execution to put the Gamecocks away at home. On Saturday, they'll be pressed to show up in a big way to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole against 1-0 Northwestern on the road.
The Wildcats gave up four straight touchdowns to Syracuse before getting a last minute TD pass from backup quarterback Trevor Siemian to rally for a 42-41 win over the Orange. Northwestern helped opposing QB Ryan Nassib set school records for both passing yards (470), completions (44), and pass attempts (65) in the loss. After a performance like that, Jordan Rodgers must be salivating at the thought of throwing downfield to Jordan Matthews against a green Wildcat secondary.
Of course, predictability hasn't been this team's hallmark early on in 2012. Vanderbilt and South Carolina were expected to put together a shootout, but the two teams combined for only 30 points. The Commodores were expected to unleash a strong and multi-headed running attack, but the team was limited to just 62 yards on the ground in a game where Jerron Seymour and Warren Norman didn't even play. Vandy's defense was supposed to struggle against a top 10 team, but a rebuilt unit kept the Gamecocks to only 272 yards and a 3-12 performance on third down.
Vanderbilt's offense is going to have a chance to prove itself against a porous secondary. That could mean big things for Jordan Matthews, but you can also rest assured that NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has been devising a plan to stop Matthews from gouging the Wildcats for big yards.
That, however, might open up the floodgates for Vandy's other talented playmakers. Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause, and newcomers Jacquese Kirk and Josh Grady could all see plenty of looks against a Northwestern secondary that looked lost at times against Syracuse. If the Vandy offensive line can hold their ground, expect James Franklin's team to test the 'Cats through the air early in the game.
The bigger factor here will be whether or not the 'Dores defense can stop dual-threat QB Kain Colter and his waterbug tailback Venric Mark. Their flexibility will put Vandy's rebuilt defense on their toes all day, and the team will have to prove that they can remain fresh as the game wears on if they're going to hold off a team also known as the "Cardiac 'Cats." If the Commodores tire late in the game, they'll give a team that has been big on comebacks a spate of opportunities to pull off the upset.
Ultimately, I think the sour taste from Thursday's loss will keep these guys charged up for 60 minutes of high level football. This could be the shootout that we had predicted would happen last week. This time, I'll be a bit more modest with my scoring expectations.
The Prediction: Vanderbilt 24, Northwestern 20. I know this was 24-17 for the LakethePosts guys. I had a change in heart.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Auburn over MISSISSIPPI STATE. Georgia State over UT was tempting for reasons based purely of spite and not of football. I don't think I've properly predicted a single Tennessee upset since we've been making these picks, so let's leave the Volunteers out of this space for a while in the interest of their hopefully awful season. Instead, I turned to a line that didn't make much sense to me - the Bulldogs at -3. Auburn got handled by a good Clemson team in their last outing, but they'll be better prepared than a MSU team that spent their opening week shredding Jackson State. Additionally, Dan Mullen has never beaten Auburn - not as an assistant or as a head coach. I think the Tigers take this one and start making a climb towards the top 25.
KingJamesIV: I’m really hoping to see the offense come alive this week, seeing as South Carolina’s defensive line hasn’t Edsall’d their way onto Northwestern’s roster. Word is that the Wildcat’s
starter second-string DE Deonte Gibson will not play on Saturday, leaving true freshman (yet Top 100 recruit) Ifeadi Odenigbo to line up against the beast himself Wesley Johnson when Jr. Tyler Scott needs a rest. Odenigbo may have a fantastic name and all the potential in the world, but is he ready to take on an all-SEC caliber tackle in Johnson? Methinks not. Let me put it in terms ‘cat fans will understand: "I can has Stacy/Norman/Tate/Kimbrow/Seymour/Grady/Rodgers running at Odenigbo?" Yes, please.
The Prediction: Vanderbilt 34, Northwestern 23. Prove me right, fellas.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Kent State over KENTUCKY, in a game that features a plethora of tackles of opponents running the wrong direction.