Vanderbilt’s toughest test of the season comes on Saturday. So can the 4-4 Commodores take a massive step forward and earn their biggest win since 2007?
Oddsmakers don’t think so. Sportsbooks across the globe have Vandy as a 26-point underdog in Jordan-Hare Stadium. They may have a point. Standing in the ‘Dores way is No. 9 Auburn — a team that certainly looks like the toughest matchup on the VU schedule.
The Tigers have been powered by one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. The only man who has run for more yards in the SEC than Ralph Webb this season is Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway. He’ll run alongside Kerryon Johnson, who has 580 yards through just seven games. The key to stopping Auburn is stopping those two — which means All-SEC linebacker Zach Cunningham will have to be on his horse this Saturday.
The Commodore defense has the means to limit Auburn, but they’ll need a monster performance from Kyle Shurmur and the Vandy offense to get there. Did the bye week give Andy Ludwig enough time to plan and execute the gameplan to upset a top 10 team? Or will the Tigers prove too much en route to a sixth straight victory?
Christian D’Andrea: The good news is Vanderbilt has had a full two weeks to prepare for the only team in the SEC against whom it’s got a winning record. The bad news is it might not matter.
Auburn has hit its stride after a 1-2 start to the season, dismantling Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Ole Miss by a combined score of 134-46 to cap off a five-game winning streak. They have the most dangerous offense the Commodores will face in 2016, led by a spirit-breaking tailback platoon led by Pettway and Johnson.
Zach Cunningham is going to make a ton of tackles, but if the offense can’t stay on the field long enough to let this defense rest, he and the rest of his unit are going to fade as this game rolls on.
Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen this script before. Vanderbilt gives up an early score before composing itself on defense. The offense struggles but does enough to keep the Tigers close at the half — let’s say 10-3 or 14-7. Then, as more and more short drives add up for the Commodore offense, the defense begins to tire and the Auburn running game begins to find consistent success. The final score looks worse than the game actually was, but Vandy ultimately loses by a significant number.
The Pick: Auburn 34, Vanderbilt 13.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Missouri (+7) over SOUTH CAROLINA. Sure, the Tigers are bad this year. But so are the Gamecocks. And a Mizzou win adds a little more chaos to an already messy East. It seems like the natural choice no matter how many winnable games the Tigers have lost.
Tom Stephenson: Remember back in the preseason, when we looked over the schedule, saw a road game at Auburn in the first week in November and thought “Hey, maybe Auburn’s season will be off the rails by then and we can go down there and beat them and then Gus Malzahn will get fired the next day!” Good times.
Instead, Auburn is 6-2, ranked 9th in the first CFP rankings of the season, and has won their last three games (against Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Ole Miss, with two of those on the road) by scores of 38-14, 56-3, and 40-29. Kevin Steele has turned the Auburn defense into a juggernaut, ranking 11th in the nation in defensive S&P+, including 13th in rushing S&P+. And while Auburn’s run game gets all the attention, the Tigers rank 6th in passing S&P+, with a legitimately good passing attack since Sean White grabbed the starting job.
Do YOU see Vanderbilt winning this game? You can make an argument for Vanderbilt maybe being able to slow down Auburn’s offense a bit, but can you make an argument for Vanderbilt’s offense scoring enough points to make it matter? Didn’t think so.
The Pick: Auburn 35, Vanderbilt 7.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: KENTUCKY (+2.5) over Georgia. Wait, seriously, how is UGA favored in this one? Doesn’t make sense.
VandyTigerPhD: So remember when we all said we were going to get smashed by Georgia? What about when we all figured that Ole Miss last year would be a slaughter? One thing we’ve seen is that somehow VU manages to play games tight that we have no business playing tight. Well, so long as that’s an SEC team.
I foresee the game starting much as CDA described. We’ll be down a score going into the half. The half will end with either a big stop on our part to keep it one score, or it’ll be a 2-minute drill on our part to bring it within reach.
What happens next WILL SHOCK YOU. Nah, just kidding. It’ll be either the standard “same ol’ Vandy” crash and burn, and lose big; or, it will be a long drawn out battle that ultimately dashed our hope on the rocks. The Arkansas game has caused people to lose their minds and think that we’re going to be steamrolled.
I do not see us beating Auburn, but I’d not be shocked if we did. I’m not expecting it, but hey, we’ve pulled off bigger miracles.
I’m going to go out on a matchstick of a limb though and say that something about the TSU game will get our passing game going.
The Pick: Auburn 31 - Vanderbilt 24.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: For over a thousands years LSU (+7.5) were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. Before the dark times, before the Bammers.