Vanderbilt vs. Northwestern
6:35 p.m., Saturday
Comcast Sports Southeast (Comcast Ch. 27)/WRQQ-FM 97.1
About the Commodores: Much has been said about redshirt-junior quarterback Larry Smith’s increased maturity this summer. In nine games last season he threw for 1,126 yards and four touchdowns but completed only 47 percent of his passes. “Larry definitely, from where he is now compared to last season, has improved drastically," center Joey Bailey said. He’s a lot more mature, has a lot better pocket presence on the field.” ... Smith will get help from a group of exciting freshmen receivers. Three in particular are expected to play. Jordan Matthews (6-foot-3 195 pounds) and Chris Boyd (6-foot-4 195 pounds), bring size, and Jonathan Krause adds speed. ... The biggest question is the offensive line. Bailey and left guard Kyle Fischer are the only two linemen with significant experience. ... The Commodores' defense will get an early test against the pass-oriented Northwestern offense. The defense held opponents to 164.9 yards per game passing in 2009. … Junior cornerback Casey Hayward had 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions fall. … ... Running back Warren Norman has recovered rapidly from arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 25 and might play. “I’m thinking it’s going to be Warren (who starts)," coach Robbie Caldwell said. "We’ll see if he blows up (swelling) after (Thursday) or not."
About the Wildcats: Northwestern has been to seven bowl games since 1995, including one in each of the last two season.. Last season they lost to Auburn 38-35 in overtime of the Outback Bowl...Northwestern’s offensive line offensive line has a combined 75 starts between them and should provide ample pass protection for new starting quarterback Dan Persa. Redshirt juniors Al Netter (left tackle) and Ben Burkett (center) have started since their first games as freshmen…Northwestern has a fast-paced spread offense that averaged 286.5 yards per game passing and had 20 total passing touchdowns in 2009. “Superback” Drake Dunsmore is the returning statistical leader for receiving with 47 catches for 523 yards last year… Persa is described as the best athlete on Northwestern’s team, and benches 350 pounds. “He can run and make people miss so you have to make sure that you don’t let him get loose, on every call you make,” VU defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant said. “And I’m sure that he can throw the football. I saw him enough last year to know. They’ve got a great passing game and he’s the one that’s going to control the whole thing.”…In 2009 Northwestern averaged 117.5 yards rushing per game, spreading carries between four returning backs with at least 200 yards.
Something to consider: Since 2005, VU is 15-6 in September. Both wins from the 2009 season occurred in the first month of the season. … Vanderbilt has won three straight season-openers, but Northwestern is not in the same category as Miami (Ohio) or Western Carolina. VU is 7-17-2 all time against the Big Ten with the last win coming against Penn State in 1957. Northwestern was 5-3 in Big Ten play in 2009 … Vanderbilt head coaches are 12-12-1 all time in their Vanderbilt debut.
Prediction: Northwestern 20-13
Vanderbilt’s SEC defense will keep Northwestern’s high-paced passing offense from going wild. Kicker Ryan Fowler will continue his streak of accuracy hitting a pair of timely field goals. But ultimately, Vanderbilt’s offensive line is too green this early in the season to produce enough touchdowns to win.