You smell that?
It's the rotting recently-dead corpse of summer, and with its decay comes not only vultures, but also new life in the form of a football season born anew. In a few days, there will be tackles, and thus, we preview Northwestern's first opponent: the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Last year: Vanderbilt was terrible last year. Just terrible. They went 2-10. One win was a 45-0 romp over Western Carolina, the other a 36-17 victory at Rice. They went 0-8 in conference, getting outscored 191-71 over the course of their SEC games. If you take out the Western Carolina game, they were 116th in the country in offense (they were 112th beforehand), scoring only 15 touchdowns on the season. Not good. Nope.
Us and Them: Our history with the Dores is a brief and winless one. (At least part of this sentence won't be true for long - NU will face Vanderbilt in each of the next four seasons, so we have to treat them as a de facto thirteenth member of the Big Ten Conference. As for the winless part, we'll see.) There were two meetings between the teams - both home games in 1947 and 1952. The '47 game - a scant season before Northwestern would win their onlyRose Bowl victory to date - NU opened their season and Bob Voigts' coaching career against Vanderbilt, and lost a 3-0 thriller, a game which will forever be in a relatively large tie for third-lowest scoring game all-time - that is, assuming there has ever been a 2-0 game. Then, in 1952, the Commodores again came up north to participate in a 20-20 tie. Northwestern and Vanderbilt basically have the most boring series of all time: a tie and a 3-0 game. I can guarantee that one of those two things will not happen Saturday, and if the final score of the game is 3-0 - in either direction - I nominate a suicide pact.
When they got the ball: Vanderbilt has one of the worst offenses in Division 1. (Sorry, I'm not about pulling punches.) Their passing game last season was downright anemic: their junior starter, Larry Smith, played nine games last year, and tossed four touchdowns to seven picks, competing 46.7 percent of his passes. Yes, he's a mobile quarterback, and, yes, he led the Commodores to their first bowl victory in a Northwestern long amount of time as a freshman in the 2008 Motor City Bowl, but, JESUS, 46.7 percent? That's awful. Purportedly, there's a mini-QB controversy in Nashville with backup Jared Funk. The team returns its top three receivers, but, I mean, that doesn't mean much. The running game is slightly better - Warren Norman captured the SEC freshman of the year award last year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He's far and away the best player on the offense, something made immediately obvious by the fact that he scored as many rushing touchdowns - three - as he did kick return touchdowns. (And two of those rushing TD's came in the Western Carolina game. The other came in his other 100 yard rushing performance of the year against Rice, meaning Vandy was 2-0 in games he scored a touchdown and ran for 100 yards, and 0-10 when he didn't do one of those things.) Even a very talented running back needs a threat of a passing attack to do something for an offense. And Norman had an MRI on his knee last week - without him, there really won't be much to speak offensively for the Dores.
When we got the ball: Vanderbilt wasn't a halfway bad defensive team - they were 46th in the country in points against, which is impressive for a team that finished 2-10. The key was linebacker Chris Marve, who plays in the middle and has recorded over 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons. There's not much up front for the Commodores - they allowed 197 yards rushing per game. A HUNDRED AND NINETY SEVEN YARDS PER GAME. That means they allowed more yards rushing per game than they attained through passing themselves. That's HORRIFIC. They weren't bad at stopping the pass - opponents only averaged 164.9 yards per game through the air- but lose cornerback Myron Lewis, who ended up being a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Casey Heyward returns at starter, and Jamie Graham will try to fill in.