Vanderbilt is great at knocking off the nation’s No. 1 team in Nashville. In basketball.
Kevin Stallings notched back-to-back seasons with victories over the NCAA’s top-ranked teams in 2007 and 2008, toppling SEC rivals Florida and Tennessee. Derek Mason can get halfway there by beating No. 1 Alabama Saturday afternoon.
He’ll have to do it as a 19.5-point underdog. The Commodores have only given up 13 points on the season. Alabama only beat Colorado State, at home, by 18 points. Those two facts should give you a pretty good idea of what the betting public thinks about these two teams.
But Vanderbilt is much better than any double-digit spread would suggest. Mason’s team is 3-0 for the first time in his tenure and coming off a win where it smothered then-No. 18 Kansas State, holding an offense that had scored 55 points in each of its first two games to a mere seven. More importantly, the team got the play it needed in the clutch to pull out a win — the kind of victory that had been largely absent on West End before 2012.
A win Saturday will be the kind that’s been entirely absent in the modern era. Do the ‘Dores have a chance against Bama?
Christian D’Andrea: Derek Mason held an offense that had scored 110 points its past two games to only seven in last week’s upset win over Kansas State. While dual threat quarterback Jesse Ertz gave the ‘Dores an occasional scare through the air, he had much more success on the ground, where he ran for 126 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
That’s bad news for a team about to face Jalen Hurts, who is a decent passer but a dynamite runner. Hurts has run for nearly nine yards per carry this fall and currently has more rushing yards than Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris combined. He hasn’t had the same problem with forcing passes this fall, instead choosing to pull down the ball and reducing risks with his legs.
While Mason’s confusing schemes can break down passing attacks, Hurts’ ability to escape the pass rush and break contain makes him the most dangerous quarterback the team has faced. Vanderbilt has the ability to break down plays on a regular basis, but Alabama is exactly the kind of team athletic enough to improvise and still hurt the ‘Dores.
That will put pressure on Kyle Shurmur and the Vandy offense to respond. Last week they averaged only six yards per play and scored 14 points against a good Kansas State defense. On Saturday, they face a great Crimson Tide unit. That leaves no room for error — and will probably require at least one turnover to fall into the home team’s hands — if the team is going to march off Dudley Field with the biggest win in program history.
Ultimately, Alabama’s ability to turn chicken shit into chicken salad will overcome a tenacious defense, and the Vanderbilt offense, while improved, won’t be enough to make up the difference. The Tide are going to attack Vandy’s shaky offensive line, and unless major strides have been made in the past week — the kind that can turn 2017 Ralph Webb into 2016 Ralph Webb — this one won’t end well.
The pick: Alabama 24, Vanderbilt 13
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: UMass (+27) over TENNESSEE. oh please oh please oh please oh please oh please oh please oh please
VandyTigerPhD: There’s no denying this team is capable of something special. This is a team that believes in itself, and plays and acts like a family. It’s not something we’ve seen in a long time, if ever. We have an incredible defense that will keep us in games all year. Our offense isn’t explosive, but it’s getting the job done. There’s really no slouches anywhere on this squad. We also have a lot of good depth, something Vanderbilt fans are not accustomed to seeing.
Alabama is a team you have to be near-perfect against to beat. Can Vandy be perfect? Yeah, but we’ve not seen it yet. You can make mistakes, but you better make sure you have the ability and tenacity to not let them capitalize on it... and Alabama is excellent at capitalizing on mistakes. Can we do it? Yes, but it’s going to take the game of the century. If any Vanderbilt team is capable of it, it’s this one.
I know we don’t like talking about “moral victories” anymore, but this game is much more about our character than anything else. There’s times in all our lives where the greatest opponent isn’t what’s staring us in the face, but our ability to persevere. For some of these guys, this will be the toughest football game of their lives. This game is about who they are as men. Are they going to crumble under seemingly impossible odds? Or are they going to fight til the end, shocking even their opponent by their tenacity and desire to keep giving it their best? A scene from one of my favorite movies has been rolling through my head all week...
Vandy goes the distance, proves it’s not just another bum. We keep it close all game. Ultimately falters late.
The Pick: Alabama 24 - Vanderbilt 17
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: KENTUCKY (+2) over CHOMP CHOMP. Why? Because we can’t have nice things, and the UK game has to mean something this year.
Tom Stephenson: Vanderbilt is 3-0 this year, and I’m 3-0 in my picks for Vanderbilt games, having picked us to beat MTSU, Alabama A&M, and Kansas State. The passing game has looked great, with Kyle Shurmur being one of the top quarterbacks in the nation statistically through three weeks, while the defense has looked as strong as ever even without Zach Cunningham.
This is a legitimately good football team, and anyone who tells you that Vanderbilt being one of the best teams in the SEC means that the SEC is down is full of it. The speculation about which job Derek Mason will take after the season is already beginning. Get ready, and drink a beer with a Mississippi State fan and talk about how obnoxious this is.
All that said... Alabama is a completely different animal. The Tide have lost eight games in six years. They’re 3-0 this year and not even Florida State was able to keep it close. Can Vanderbilt win this game? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. This is the 1 in Vanderbilt’s 11-1 record at the end of the season.
The Pick: Alabama 21, Vanderbilt 7
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Mississippi State (+5) over GEORGIA. CLANGA CLANGA CLANGA CLANGA CLANGA (gonna play Vandy in the SEC Championship Game!)