Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vanderbilt/Duke Preview

Stanimal's post on this Saturday's game being a "must win" for the Commodores is dead on. While Vanderbilt fans have to be happy with the 5-2 start, this week's game is a "what have you done for me lately" situation. It's homecoming in Nashville, the fans are desperate to get to 6 wins, and the Commodores are a 10-10.5 favorite with the over/under between 40.5-41 depending on the book. With all that said, David Cutcliff's Duke team is not to be looked past. This team, at 3-3 (1-2 ) is much improved and has the talent to beat Vanderbilt, spoil homecoming, and potentially ruin VSL Nation's week before New Years.

There are some real similarities between these two teams. Both play disciplined football (Vanderbilt is 1st in the conference in penalties, Duke is 3rd in the ACC), and have won games by forcing turnovers (Duke has a +8 turnover margin, good enough for 8th in the nation, while Vanderbilt is +7, tied for 12th nationally). Finally, each team's secondary is the strength of their defense (allowing 190 yards a game). With that in mind, let's compare these two teams and see what what Vanderbilt has to do to win on Saturday.

First things first, Vanderbilt has to contain Duke's QB Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis leads the ACC with 9 TDs and has a completed 57.5% of his passes (111-193) for 1101 yards. Duke's passing attack is pretty potent, averaging 203.2 yards a game, but will be somewhat limited with injuries sidelining Raphael Chestnut and Austin Kelly. Lewis will still have his favorite target, senior Eron Riley, to throw to, so Vanderbilt's secondary can't get too complacent. At 6"3, Riley is a big receiver, who has connected with Lewis for 18 TDs in 28 games. Along with true freshman Johnny Williams, Coach David Cutcliff is sure to draw up plays that keep CBJ's secondary busy. While Lewis will certainly miss the injured Blue Devils, he's connected with 14 different receivers this season, and been extremely effective at spreading the ball around.

It's Duke's stated goal to score 30 points or more a game, and David Cutcliff's got the offensive prowess to make that happen. Based on the numbers, it seems the key for Vanderbilt's defense is to stop the Blue Devils on 3rd Down. In Duke's 3 losses, they've only converted 13-45 times on 3rd down, while converting 53% of the time in their 3 wins. Duke can be a streaky team on offense, so it's extremely important for Vanderbilt to limit the damage when the Blue Devils have scoring opportunities. In their 3 wins, Duke scored 24 straight against James Madison, ended the game on a 24-7 run to beat Navy 41-31, while running off 31 straight to beat UVA 31-3. It cuts both ways however, as Duke gave up 35 straight to lose to Miami last week (their second loss in as many weeks) at home 49-31, and got blanked 27-0 to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

On the defensive side of the ball, the key is for Vanderbilt to contain the linebacking duo of Michael Tauiliili and Vincent Ray who have combined for 121 tackles in 6 games. Tauiliili leads the ACC in tackles and is 6th nationally with 11 a game. For his part, Ray has 7.5 tackles for a loss this season (tied with DE Greg Akinbiyi). Overall, Duke's defense is experienced with 6 seniors, 4 juniors, and a sophomore starting. Yet, their defense is vulnerable to a running attack. They've allowed 160 yards on the ground a game, including allowing 224 yards to Georgia Tech.

Vanderbilt's offense, even with the insertion of Mackenzie Adams into the line-up, begins with the running game, especially Jared Hawkins. Between Hawkins, Jeff Jennings, and Gaston Miller (not to mention end-arounds with D.J and Sean Wheeler) Ted Cain's got a number of options of who to hand the ball off to. Unfortunately, it's more likely than not the play will be a predictable run up the gut for a yard give or take).

While Mackenzie makes the offense more dynamic (he has the confidence from the coaching staff to throw the call down field), he's got to limit some of the bad throws that he made against Georgia. While he only had 2 picks (one of which was actually his fault), there were several other balls that very easily could have been picked.

Based on the numbers (and common sense), the key in this game will be turnovers. Both teams can credit their success to the turnover advantage they've had over other teams. Both Vanderbilt and Duke have lost the only 2 games this season where they've had more or the same number of turnovers as their opponents. Whichever team comes out on top of the turnover battle is likely going to walk off Dudley Field with a W.

Bottom Line:

Call me crazy, but I really think the difference in SEC versus ACC talent will be the difference. Vanderbilt is 3-2 in the best conference in football (yes, better than the Big 12, I said it), while Duke is 1-2 against a very weak ACC. Vanderbilt has NFL caliber players, I don't think Duke can say the same. For Vanderbilt, Mackenzie's got to stay within himself and spread the field, D.J.'s got to make a spectacular play (on either side of the ball), and Brent Upson's got to continue to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Call me crazy, but I think Saturday's the day.

Vanderbilt 34 - Duke 20


Anonymous said...

SOV- 14, Dookies - 23

Anonymous said...

Vandy 42
Duke 17

Anonymous said...

Commies 27
Devils 17