Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. NC State preview

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The Matchup: Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. NC State (7-5)

When: Monday, December 31st

Where: Nashville, TN

Game Time: 12:00 PM ET

TV: ESPN

NC State’s ranked wins: #12 Florida State

What you need to know about NC State: NC State fired head coach Tom O’Brien after their 7-5 season, and they have just hired Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren. Even though O’Brien has led the Wolfpack to three straight bowl games, his teams have failed to live up to expectations throughout his tenure, thus leading to his dismissal.

The Wolfpack were hammered by Tennessee early in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game 35-21, and Tennessee’s defense actually looked good against the Wolfpack’s offense.

Future NFL quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 3,648 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, completing 57.7 percent of his passes with 14 interceptions. But let’s be honest –the passing game is the entire offense. Glennon has three 600-yard-plus receivers to throw to in Quintin Payton, Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood. Payton notched a team-high 48 receptions for 761 yards; however, Underwood led the team with 10 touchdown receptions. But the rushing offense was ranked just 109th in the country. There’s no balance to offset the passing game, and Vanderbilt’s strength is certainly their secondary. They match up well.

The Wolfpack’s defense finished 45th in the country in scoring defense and 80th in total defense, allowing teams nearly 420 yards of offense per game. But they are decent at rushing the quarterback, as they are 21st in the country in sacks.

The player who can hurt Vandy the most is no doubt Glennon. His ability to make explosive plays against the Dores’ secondary will be key for a Wolfpack upset.

What you need to know about Vanderbilt: This team continues to surpass expectations, as this marks the school’s first time in history that they are playing in back-to-back bowl games. James Franklin has created winning momentum and has taken the program to heights everyone thought wasn’t possible. And he just signed an extension and got a raise – can Vanderbilt become the south’s Stanford?

The Commodores’ offense has been good, but not great. However, running back Zac Stacy and Jordan Matthews have been great. Stacy notched back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and will leave as the program’s all-time leading rusher. Jordan Matthews caught 87 passes for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s just 10 receptions shy of the all-time SEC record of 97 set back in 1983. We’ll see if he can get 11 in the bowl game to set the record.

Vanderbilt’s strength is on the defensive side of the football, as is the case with any successful SEC team, right? The job that Bob Shoop and his staff have done has been nothing short of fantastic. He’s elevated the level of play with players who were inherited as part of a 2-10 roster two years ago. The Commodores’ strength is defending the pass, as they finished 5th in the country in passing defense efficiency. Safeties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall lead the team in tackles, but linebacker Chase Garnham is the player you need to watch against NC State.

Vandy’s ability to force Glennon into some turnover situations in the passing game will have a massive impact on the outcome. Vanderbilt matches up particularly well to the strengths of the Wolfpack’s offense.

By the numbers:

Category Vanderbilt NC State
Scoring Offense 29.3 ppg 28.4 ppg
Total Offense 392.6 ypg 420.9 ypg
Rush Offense 170.42 ypg 116.92 ypg
Pass Offense 222 ypg 304 ypg
Scoring Defense 18.3 ppg 24.6 ppg
Total Defense 326.4 ypg 419.7 ypg
Rush Defense 150.58 ypg 157.96 ypg
Pass Defense 175.8 ypg 261.8 ypg
Turnover Margin -5 -4
INTs 13 16
Sacks By 28 32
Sacks Against 23 36

Who has the edge? Anytime an SEC team plays against an ACC team, you have to tip your hat to the SEC team, right? Of course you do. I really like the Commodores’ matchup with NC State’s passing game. The Dores might not be the flashiest defense, but they tackle well and are very sound in coverage. Corners Trey Wilson and Andre Hal, combined with safeties Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler, creates a potent pass defense that is very disciplined in their assignments. Glennon turned it over 14 times this season, and the NC State offensive line allowed 36 sacks. So, Vandy’s defense should be able to create some opportunities to get after the quarterback and make Glennon make quick decisions, hopefully forcing a couple turnovers in the process.

The Commodores’ running game could end up being the difference. Vanderbilt’s ability to move the chains with Zac Stacy, Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate is just as important as defending the pass. The running game and defense is why the SEC excels against lesser foes, and this game will be no different. Stacy’s ground-pounding ability makes quarterback Jordan Rodgers and receiver Jordan Matthews better on play action.

Before the season started, one figured there was no way Vandy would notch nine wins. Now, it will be a disappointment if they don’t. We’ve come to expect this team to win football games. The cultural change is well ahead of schedule.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

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