Friday, October 10, 2008

Bobby O'Shea's Haphazard Mississsippi State Preview

Vanderbilt has to work very hard to avoid a let down this weekend against Mississippi State. Despite their 1-4 record, the Bulldogs played well against LSU. They are coming off a bye week, and have replaced sophomore QB Wesley Carroll with walk-on junior Tyrone Lee. Vanderbilt is riding an emotional high with a comeback win at home against a ranked opponent, on ESPN. With the meat of Vanderbilt’s schedule still in front of them, it’s vitally important the Commodores don’t look past Mississippi State.

Our friends at Mississippi State Sports Blog gave us some things to watch out for, but there a few more things VSL Nation should watch for heading into tomorrow’s game.

Mississippi State’s defense, especially against the pass, is one of the better units in the country. Currently, Sylvester Croom’s squad ranks 11th in passing yards allowed letting up just 153.4 yards per game, and 25th nationally in pass efficiency. While I don’t know what the hell that means, it sounds impressive. Vanderbilt’s passing attack is murky right now given the uncertainty at quarterback. Nickson’s strength this season has been on the ground. He is currently 10th in rushing in the SEC with 310 yards on 61 carries. He’s completed 55% of his passes (33 for 60), but only thrown for 296 yards in just under 4 and a half games. Not exactly setting the world ablaze. Adams, on the other hand has completed 16 of 28 passes (57.1%) for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. More importantly (and perhaps reflective in the stats), Adams was a lot more accurate than Chris against Auburn. Given Mississippi State’s strength at defending the pass, it’s likely Vanderbilt will (as they have all season) focus on the ground attack. Chris Low of thinks Mississippi State will likely use All-SEC free safety Derek Pegues as more of a center fielder this week against Vanderbilt. Pegues told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger the Bulldogs were putting in more zone coverages and were going to get away from some of the man coverage with no safety help that has burned them at times this season. As Jason writes, if that’s the case, Tight End Brandon Barden (who has emerged as a great option over the middle), will be likely on short or intermediate seam routes over the middle. Having a QB who can deliver that pass will be key.

As Low also pointed out, “Mississippi State has had trouble getting to the quarterback, which has made man coverage even more difficult. The Bulldogs are 10th in the SEC with eight sacks through five games.” As such, zone coverage down field might give the QB (whomever he is) a chance to make some plays with his legs.

Vanderbilt fans should keep an eye on Pegesus along with senior DT Jessie Bowman. With the injury to injury to senior linebacker Jamar Chaney, these two are the keys to the Bulldogs defense. The Bulldogs run-stopping has suffered this season. On average, they are allowing 178.4 yards per game, but that stat is somewhat misleading considering they gave up a whopping 438 yards in a 38-7 beat-down at the hands of Georgia Tech. Still, that’s their achillies heel on defense, which means Jared Hawkins and Jeff Jennings will be called on a lot as the game wears on.

The MSU offense isn’t that dynamic to begin with, averaging just 112.6 yards per game. For me, the three main players to watch are quarterback Tyrone Lee, running back Anthony Dixon, and junior wide out Brandon McRae. Mississippi State considers the strength of their offense to be their running game. Still, due to miscues (11 turnovers in 5 games), they’ve fallen behind early and had to play from behind and thus abandon the running game. The team will undoubtedly rely on the running game even more with a new quarterback starting under center for the first time this season. Given MSU’s history this season, and playing on the road, it’s key for Vanderbilt to get a lead early and force the Bulldogs to change their offensive game plan.

McRae has 28 catches, averaging 5.6 a game for 263 yards (52.6 per game), and 2 TDs will most likely be defended by D.J. Moore. If D.J. shuts Brandon down, it makes the Bulldog offense that much more one dimensional.

One more stat that jumped out at me: Mississippi State is only averaging 37.1 yards per punt. While Vanderbilt’s 39.4 isn’t much better, given Vanderbilt’s opportunism on offense this year (95% success rate in the Red Zone and some ridiculous stat about scoring when they start with the ball on their 40 or better), field position is likely to be critical in this game. Vanderbilt’s stats don’t belie their 5-0 start. What does, is they’ve capitalized on opportunities whenever they’ve had them. This game can’t be any different.

Keep these nuggets in mind:
- Vanderbilt hasn’t allowed a point in the second half since week 2
- Vanderbilt hasn’t allowed a point in half the quarters they’ve played this season; even more impressive, they haven’t allowed a point in 75% of quarters in their last 3 games.
- Vanderbilt has a 58-10 second half scoring advantage (when was that EVER the case?)
- Finally, Vanderbilt has trailed in all 5 games. If they get down early, they have shown time and time again they can come back.

The Nashville City Paper's Matt Wilson gives you his "What to Watch For"

Here's Athlon's Week 7 Preview as well.


Vanderbilt 24 - Mississippi State 13

What will you be looking for? What did I miss?


Anonymous said...

Does that prediction come with us being down 10-0 after 7 minutes in the 1st quarter?

Jason said...

At what point in time does the "let-down game" become so cliche that we, as sports fans, no longer need discuss it?