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Saturday Tailgate: Northern Illinois

Oh, here’s the opponent we were looking for in Week 1.

Another week, another game. Your Vanderbilt Commodores, 0-3 for the first time since — wait for it — 2006, host the Northern Illinois Huskies. The Huskies played FCS Illinois State in Week 1 for their only win of the season; since then, they’ve lost 35-17 at Utah and 44-8 at Nebraska.

It’s perhaps a sign of how quickly the Commodores have faded in the minds of the people who do this for a living that they’re favored to win by only 6.5 points. Northern Illinois’ reputation is much greater than its actual product on the field this year. The Huskies have won 87 games this decade — for comparison, Florida has won 74 games in the same time period — but this isn’t that team.

It would be a mistake to say Vanderbilt should win this game, though. While a good portion of the 0-3 start has simply been due to the competition they’ve played, there have been some issues that simply can’t be ignored. The pass defense has been burned repeatedly, and the pass rush has gotten to the opponent’s quarterback exactly twice, both in the last game. The offensive line looks better in Week 4 than it did in Week 1, though it’s still not what I would call a good offensive line by any stretch — though further improvement could come with the impending return of Devin Cochran.

This could be the start of the turnaround, or it could be the day that we effectively close the book on the season. Vanderbilt has home games against Northern Illinois and UNLV sandwiched around a trip to Ole Miss; win all three of those games, and we can start talking about a potential bowl game again. But there isn’t a ton of margin for error here. Let’s win.

AoG Week in Review

Last Sunday, I was so annoyed about the attendance (or lack thereof) at the LSU game — as well as, well, the game itself — that I wrote a long-winded screed wondering whether the Athletic Department cares what the “home” crowd looks like as long as the tickets are sold. Of course, even with all the purple and gold in the stands, attendance last Saturday was just over 32,000, about 8,000 under Vanderbilt Stadium’s capacity. I shudder to wonder what the attendance is going to look like today, what with an opponent that probably won’t bring many fans, an 11 AM kickoff, and a fan base that seems like it’s already in the early stages of checking out on the season.

As part of our usual game preview content, Shawn looked at the Northern Illinois offense and I took a look at the Huskies’ defense. I also took a look at the latest depth chart, and Shawn wrote about a local beer from DeKalb. DotP wrote about what we learned from last week’s game against LSU. And we all predicted tomorrow’s game.

Meanwhile, we also answered reader questions in the Mailbag. I took a look around the SEC and gave out my weekly bad gambling advice. And we all made our weekly picks.

This Week in Vanderbilt Sports

The nationally-ranked Vanderbilt soccer team went 1-1 this week, the first of SEC play. The Commodores beat Tennessee in overtime on Sunday before dropping one to Arkansas on Thursday night. Women’s tennis put in a strong performance at the Debbie Southern Fall Classic last weekend, and women’s golf scored a runner-up finish at the Mason Rudolph Invitational.

Vanderbilt cross country competes in the Buckeye Invitational today, and the soccer team hosts Florida tomorrow (bonus: you can bring your dog.) Men’s golf starts the Nike Collegiate Invitational tomorrow, and lacrosse competes in a tournament in Louisville tomorrow as part of its fall exhibition schedule. Tuesday and Wednesday, women’s golf will compete in the Windy City Collegiate Classic. Women’s tennis competes in the Riviera Invitational starting Thursday, and on Friday soccer is at Georgia.

There’s Other Football

This week’s SEC schedule has a genuinely solid matchup when Mississippi State visits Auburn tonight at 6:00 PM on ESPN, so what’s CBS doing? That’s right, they’re televising a game in which Alabama is a 35-point favorite over Ole Miss (2:30 PM.) I don’t know who is calling the shots at CBS, but they’re not too good at their jobs. At 11 AM, Texas A&M and Arkansas play at AT&T Stadium in Arlington because reasons. Florida hosts Towson at 3 PM (SEC Network) and you want to watch that even less than you want to watch Alabama-Ole Miss. And in the SEC Network nightcap at 6:30 PM, you get Kentucky-South Carolina.

It’s a good thing the Vanderbilt game is at 11 AM, because you’re really not missing anything in that time slot. 2:30 PM has Top 25 matchups on FOX (USC-Washington) and NBC (Virginia-Notre Dame.) Also, on the CBS Sports Network, Georgia Tech goes to get their hets wet. You might also be interested in Iowa State-Baylor (ESPN) or Minnesota-Purdue (ESPN2.) The SEC games are probably your best bet in the evening, but if that’s not good enough, try Ohio State-Nebraska (6:30 PM, ABC) or Kansas State-Oklahoma State (6:00 PM, ESPN+.) And for late night viewing, Washington State-Utah (9:00 PM, FS1.)

And for parlagi, Friends at Avila, two universities I did not just make up, play at 1:00 PM on ESPN Extra.

Have fun, expect to win, and Anchor Down.