After back to back to back games against teams with scrambling quarterbacks, Vanderbilt faces a more traditional running game Saturday at Connecticut – one that features running backs.
That does not mean things get any easier.
Connecticut running back Jordan Todman is averaging 149 rushing yards per game, which is fifth-best in the country. He notched a career-high 192 yards against Temple, but also had a 105-yard performance against Big Ten opponent Michigan.
Utilizing large, blocking tight ends and an experienced offensive line (including two players with over 30 starts), the Huskies are averaging 212 rushing yards per game as a team. It’s a stat that has grabbed the full attention of Vanderbilt’s coaching staff.
“They’re going to line up, they don’t make any bones about it,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “They’re coming at you with the power-I, they’re going to run the counter, and they’re going to slam at you. They did it against everybody from Notre Dame right on down (last season). So you better bring your lunch pail.”
Todman didn’t play against Buffalo last week due to an arm injury, but UConn’s backup Robbie Fray racked up 112 rushing yards in his place.
Todman’s injury status hasn’t altered Vanderbilt’s preparation. Caldwell expects UConn to force the issue with the run game.
“It creates some uncertainty, but I don’t think they’ll get away from their bread and butter, that power running game,” Caldwell said. “He’s a good running back but they’ve got some others as well.”
Vanderbilt’s rushing defense is giving up 206 yards per game this season. But at critical times it has smothered opposing rushers.
Ahead 21-14 at Ole Miss, the Commodores made two consecutive game-saving stops at midfield in the fourth quarter. They stuffed the box on third-and-1 and held running back Enrique Davis to no gain. On fourth-and-1, quarterback Jeremaiah Masoli was stopped behind the line of scrimmage.
“We don’t’ approach this game any different than we approach any other games,” defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant said. “They’re going to lineup with two tight ends and two backs and they’re going to pound it at you, then try to play-action pass and throw it over your head. They’re going to line up with two backs, one tight end and try to pound you and throw it over your head. That’s what they do.
“We’re going to do the same thing we try to do every week—stop the run and be as physical as we can.”
The kickoff time for Vanderbilt-Connecticut is 11 a.m. (CDT). It will be the earliest the Commodores have played this year.
Caldwell said the team has been holding meetings and meals at 7 a.m. this week as part of preparation.