Vanderbiltkeeps taking one step forward and two steps back. A week after an offensive explosion which resulted in a 47-24 victory over in-state opponent MTSU, the Commodores were stomped out by Georgia Tech, scoring a touchdown on its first drive but getting nothing better than a punt on the rest of its offensive possessions. At 1-2 and already halfway through their non-conference schedule, the Commodores are on the ropes in terms of keeping their bowl game hopes alive.
Western Kentucky, on the other hand, is 2-1 with its only loss coming at the hands of No. 1 Alabama. In fact, Western Kentucky played the Crimson Tide to a closer score (38-10) than USC did in the season opener (52-6). The Hilltoppers look to win another Conference USA championship and finish in the Top 25 for the second straight season, and a win over an (albeit weak) Power Five team couldn’t hurt.
The two teams met last season in the opener, with Western Kentucky coming into Nashville and escaping with a 14-12 victory.
Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBSSN
Spread: Western Kentucky -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mike White vs. the Vanderbilt secondary
WKU fans were worried that regression might be in store for the team after star quarterback Brandon Doughty finished his college career and moved onto the NFL. Fortunately for them, South Florida transfer Mike White has been more than adequate as a replacement, averaging 306.6 yards per game through the air. Both of his top receivers, Nicholas Norris and Taywan Taylor, are averaging more than 100 receiving yards per contest and should have little problem continuing that trend Saturday.
Vanderbilt’s passing defense has plummeted from 43rd in the FBS last season to 107th through the first three weeks of the 2016 season. After losing a few safeties to graduation, the Commodores have looked lost in the back end, giving up big plays in crucial situations. Last week, against a run-first Georgia Tech team, Vanderbilt gave up 158 yards and two TDs on two passes alone. White should be able to connect on a few big plays and put his team up early.
2. Thunder and Lightning
The only aspect of Vanderbilt’s team worthy of a nickname, the running back tandem of Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame has been effective despite being the main target of opposing defensive game plans. Webb has averaged 5.6 yards per carry this year, largely thanks to a 211-yard, two-TD performance against MTSU. Blasingame has brought the thunder with 98 yards and three touchdowns in goal-line situations. If Vanderbilt is to put up more than one offensive touchdown, something the Commodores have only done once so far, the running game will play a big role.
3. Kyle Shurmur
Western Kentucky’s pass defense has been even less effective than Vanderbilt’s, surrendering 292 yards per game. The difference is that Shurmur, has completed a little more than half of his passes and is averaging barely over 100 yards per game. While the running game will be important for Vanderbilt to stay competitive, it is hard to envision the Commodores winning this game or any others this season without improved performance from their quarterback. A big game on Saturday would do wonders for Vanderbilt’s offense moving forward.
Vanderbilt seems to have taken a step backward defensively and hasn’t shown the offensive improvement to back it up. Western Kentucky has stayed strong despite losing a campus legend and head coach Jeff Brohm’s squad is looking to improve its record against SEC teams to 1-1. Rumblings are starting up about Derek Mason’s job security after starting yet another season with disappointment. If Vanderbilt loses this game by more than one score, look for those rumblings to erupt into full-on turmoil ahead of a matchup with Florida.