A tough start to the 2019 season for the Vanderbilt Commodores gets no easier on Saturday when No. 4 LSU lands in Nashville. The Tigers are on the road for the second time this season seeking to push their record to 4-0 while adding their first SEC victory of the 2019 schedule. For the Commodores (0-2, 0-1 SEC), head coach Derek Mason seeks the team's first win after a disappointing 42-24 road loss to Purdue in Week 2.
The Tigers roll into Tennessee with momentum on their side. The team owns the best college football win of the season to date after taking down then-No. 9 Texas 45-38 in Austin. The confidence for LSU kicked up another level in Week 3 dismantling FCS opponent Northwestern State 65-14 in Death Valley. The Tigers' offense is finally fulfilling decade-long hopes of producing a high-achieving unit entering the cross-divisional showdown 10th in the nation at 552 yards per game. But all is not quite perfectly balanced in Baton Rouge.
Just two games into the new season, the Commodores are in a deep hole that will take time to dig out of, and tangling with LSU does not seem like the recipe for success. Last time out, Vanderbilt's defense gave up 540 yards, dropping the team to 126th out of 130 FBS teams (510 ypg). On the positive, the Commodores romped for 491 yards against their Big Ten foe, 420 of those through the air, and that might be the way to slay the visiting juggernaut.
LSU at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -23
When LSU Has the Ball
This is not a misprint — LSU has the second-best passing attack in the nation led by senior quarterback Joe Burrow. After being more of a game manager for the Tigers a year ago, Burrow is now thriving in coordinator Steve Ensminger's offense with new assistant coach Joe Brady controlling the passing attack. LSU is producing 436 yards per game via its aerial assault with Burrow third in the nation (374 ypg). His top three targets, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall, and Ja'Marr Chase, have combined for 45 receptions covering 771 yards with all 11 of the team's receiving scores.
While the passing attack soars, the ground game is less than desirable, which is troubling entering conference action. Over three games, LSU is averaging just 115 rushing yards per game, which is a drastic drop from the 174 a year ago. A position LSU fans are not accustomed to seeing, the Tigers currently rank 105th nationally in rushing offense. Against Northwestern State, LSU ran the ball 35 times for 122 yards against an FCS team. Vanderbilt held Purdue to seven yards on nine carries late into the third game with the Boilermakers finishing with 31 total yards on the ground.
As Burrow rockets up LSU's all-time passing list, he should be able to continue to pad his numbers on Saturday. The Commodores are giving up 333 passing yards per game (126th nationally) as Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar picked them apart completing 34 of 52 attempts for 509 yards and five touchdowns. He did have one interception. VU also could be the medicine needed for LSU's ground game as the Commodores surrendered 323 rushing yards to Georgia in the season opener.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Quarterback Riley Neal is Vanderbilt's offense. The senior graduate transfer from Ball State has thrown for 463 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. Riley has done a good job of spreading the ball around with five players recording at least five catches already, led by Kalija Lipscomb's 11 for 106 yards. Protection for Riley has been shaky with five sacks taken. Where Vanderbilt gets in trouble is on third down, as the Commodores have converted just nine of 29 (31 percent) such situations.
Vanderbilt's rushing efforts have fallen short, averaging 94 yards per game. On 27 attempts, the Boilermakers held the Commodores to 71 yards and one score. The ground game is manned solely by senior Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Vaughn has produced 130 yards off 32 totes. LSU has been strong against the run limiting teams to 80 rushing yards per game with linebacker Jacob Phillips leading the charge. If Vanderbilt gets into the red zone, kicker Ryley Guay is perfect on the year (3-of-3 field goals) with a long of 48 yards.
The LSU defense is already the walking wounded with injuries throughout, especially along the defensive line. The status of defensive end Glen Logan (leg), tackle Rashard Lawrence (ankle), end Neil Farrell Jr. (unknown), and outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson (leg) is yet to be determined and the team has lost backup safety Todd Harris Jr. for the season (knee). The lack of manpower in the trenches is hurting the secondary. The “Defensive Back University” title may be coveted but has not been earned so far this season (222 passing ypg allowed).
In 2010, which was LSU's most recent visit to Nashville, the Tigers walked off the field with a 27-3 win. A similar margin may be expected for this encounter, but this game might be another learning lesson for an LSU defense that is having dig deep into the depth chart due to injuries.
After facing Georgia, Purdue, and now LSU, Vanderbilt might be looking ahead to Northern Illinois next week. Derek Mason's teams play tough and get some juice in their step coming off a bye but will that be enough to go toe-to-toe with the Tigers?
Prediction: LSU 45, Vanderbilt 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.