Vanderbilt needs a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Texas A&M needs a win to stop a 1-3 slide over their last four SEC games. Will the Aggies once-formidable offense return in Nashville? Or will Vandy's emerging defense shut down another opponent in 2015 and rally towards postseason eligibility?
Let's take a closer look.
Christian D'Andrea: The Aggies boast a top 15 passing defense this season, and that leads me to believe that Andy Ludwig will throw the restrictor plates back on Kyle Shurmur's offense and stick to a run-heavy, conservative gameplan. That actually looks like a recipe for success against an Aggie team that allows more than 210 rushing yards per game in 2015. A&M ranks 113th in the nation when it comes to stopping opponents' tailbacks, and that could lead to big things for Ralph Webb - assuming Webb isn't burned out after carrying the ball 107 times in his last four games.
That last part is a big concern. The Commodore sophomore has already exceeded his total number of carries from the 2014 season, and while he looked strong late in last week's game against Kentucky you have to wonder how much longer he can stay fresh while running into seven to eight defenders every time he touches the ball. Vanderbilt needs him to average more than four yards per carry and reliably extend drives if this team is going to have a chance at upsetting the Aggies.
Fortunately, a flagging A&M team has only scored 17.8 points per game in their last four SEC matchups, and Vanderbilt's defense is peaking at the right time. The Aggies have instabilty at quarterback and the Commodores were able to exploit similar problems, albeit with less talented passers, when they beat Kentucky last weekend. Oren Burks and Torren McGaster have hit their strides as the leaders of this team's secondary, and while the Wildcats had their share of dropped passes they still held UK to only 127 passing yards.
Vanderbilt needs to match that intensity on Saturday against a more advanced offense. Kevin Sumlin is going to make sure that A&M has plenty of new wrinkles for Derek Mason and the 'Dores to worry about. We know that Vandy has a tremendous record in the red zone, but it will only take one or two innovative plays inside the VU 20 to put this team in a hole. As tempting as it is to see what happens when Ludwig takes the kid gloves off and unleashes Shurmur in situations where his team needs to move the ball in a hurry, playing from behind is not a Commodore strength. They'll have to grab an early lead and cling tightly to it to have a shot at the upset Saturday.
Ultimately, I don't think this team has the offensive chops - yet - to match up with the Aggies, even in their diminished stage. They scored 21 points in the first half of last week's game, but defensive play set up 14 of those points, and the other seven came on a trick play where Kentucky straight up didn't cover Caleb Scott because he was hiding near the sideline. While I love how last week turned out, I'm not convinced it's sustainable. Bet the under, and expect a frustrating but encouraging game this weekend.
The Pick: Texas A&M 16, Vanderbilt 14
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Doing anything else over WATCHING SEC GAMES. Buzz, your lineup, woof. Florida Atlantic-Florida? Citadel-South Carolina? Auburn-Idaho? Charleston Southern-Alabama? Charlotte-Kentucky? Hard pass on all of that; a minor coup for a Saturday afternoon in the middle of November.