Game Preview


Ryan Field
Saturday, September 8, 2012.  7:00 pm CDT
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Game Preview: Vanderbilt
by Jonathan Hodges

The Northwestern Wildcats (1-0, 0-0) will head back to Evanston to play their first game of the 2012 season and will do so under the lights and against a major-conference foe in the Vanderbilt Commodores (0-1). NU, of course, is coming off of a final-minute come from behind win that featured huge swings in the score, while Vandy lost at home to highly ranked South Carolina last Thursday night by a score of 13-17 after allowing a fourth quarter comeback of their own. Plus, add the intrigue of a "brain bowl" a week after NU won the "prose bowl."

Vanderbilt has a lot of weapons at key positions, like the "Jordans" (QB Jordan Rodgers, brother of NFL-star Aaron, and WR Jordan Matthews, who had a long TD catch and run against South Carolina), RB Zac Stacy, and MLB Chase Garnham. They have upgraded talent over the past couple years under head coach James Franklin and after reaching a bowl last season were able to hold their own in week one.

The 'Cats, meanwhile, had major issues in the secondary (470 yards allowed through the air) and trying to get pressure on the QB (1 sack in 66 pass drop-backs). Thankfully, NU was sparked by return man and running back Venric Mark (281 all-purpose yards) and solid performances by two QBs (Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian). They'll have a difficult task facing a tough Vandy squad who has had an extra couple days of rest.

Opening Line: Vanderbilt by 1.5. O/U 53.

Who Should Win: Vanderbilt. The Commodores have slightly better across-the-board talent, particularly on defense, as demonstrated in the week one scores. They also have the offensive weapons to make the 'Cats pay for playing porous defense.

Upset Factor: Northwestern will be at home and it will be a night game (though in recent years this has seemed to work against NU). The temperature will be more hospitable (in the 60's) and the 'Cats should be more comfortable and settled in. Plus, NU has really good speed at key positions (Mark, Colter) and if they get some breaks on defense they certainly have enough offensive fire-power to pull off the win.

NU Offense vs. Vanderbilt Defense: The 'Cats must be able to control the tempo and move the ball when they need to. Vandy has the talent to neutralize a solid offense, so NU will need to call the right plays and the players on the field must make things happen in tough spots. Thankfully NU was able to do this early and very late in game one, but they must be more consistent this time around.

NU Defense vs. Vanderbilt Offense: Last week, Syracuse didn't seem to realize they could throw the ball all over the field until it was almost too late, but don't expect Vanderbilt to make the same mistake. Rodgers will be throwing early and often while mixing in some Stacy runs, and it will be up to the 'Cats to get some pressure up front while also accounting for the ground game. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, and expect the Commodores to score often.

Special Teams: NU knows what it has in the return game. Now, they must limit gaffes (the 'Cats had two costly ones early in last week's game) and take advantage of opponents' mistakes. We are still waiting to see Jeff Budzien attempt a FG this season.

Notes: Northwestern has not won a home night game since the historic win over Ohio State in 2004, and Fitz is 0-4 in such games. Since the start of the 2009 season, NU is 10-0 when out-sacking its opponent, 4-2 when having the same number of sacks, and 8-16 when being out-sacked. Mark finished week one second nationally in all-purpose yardage at 281 (first place had just one more yard at 282).

Prediction: Northwestern 31 - Vanderbilt 38
Once again, this game should be high scoring thanks to the iffy NU defense and the slew of fast players on NU's offense. Vandy will throw the ball around early and often and will be able to put up some points. While NU's offense has speed and will be able to keep up, the Commodore defense will prove to be the deciding factor as they get one more stop than the Wildcats can manage.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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