Thursday, August 28, 2008

Commodore Banter: Gameday Edition

The wait is over. The Commodores will take on the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

In his pre-game notebook, Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper notes that Vanderbilt is the first Southeastern Conference team to play in Oxford, Ohio.

"Any SEC team has a big target on their back, wherever they go, because everyone says we’re the best conference in the nation,” said center Bradley Vierling. “We take that to heart, because we’re going to have a target on our back.”

Vanderbilt rushed for 290 yards in its 24-13 victory over the Redhawks last year in Nashville, but Hait says it'd be unwise to expect a similar performance tonight. Miami features three linebackers who were recently named to the watch list for the Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker.

Hait also notes that the Commodores are 4-point underdogs, which seems just a little bit high to me...

In Mo Patton's notebook, he adds that Vanderbilt is 8-3 all-time against current Mid-American Conference opponents. And, on another note, the Commodores have sold 18,177 season tickets for their six-game home schedule, which is nearly 7,000 more than the 11,500 season tickets sold in 2006 — the last time South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee all played at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Finally, Patton breaks down the matchup and predicts that the Commodores will win 20-17. Here's a look at the rest of his analysis:
The defense may have to hold down the fort early while an inexperienced offense finds its way. Though a little young, Vanderbilt's defensive line and linebackers will need to keep Miami's ground game in check. Offensively, the Commodores will need to get Sean Walker and Justin Wheeler involved in the passing game.

Defensively, the RedHawks, with their stable of linebackers, may be able to slow down Vanderbilt. On the other side of the ball, though, Miami has to muster something behind quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh.

LT Reilly Lauer spent last season as a reserve defensive end before earning a starting role on the offensive line. A bit undersized at 6-6, 275, a matchup against Miami's defensive ends should help his transition into SEC play.

LB Clayton Mullins. One of three Miami linebackers on the Butkus Award watch list, Mullins led the team with 143 (69 solos) total tackles last fall.

Vanderbilt WR Sean Walker vs. Miami CB Jeff Thompson. Walker needs to be Vandy's go-to guy in the passing game, and he has the speed to do it. But Thompson is the RedHawks' most experienced cover guy, with five defensed passes last year.

There's a hesitance to place too much importance on a season opener. However, this is a game that could define the Commodores' season — at least, if it goes the wrong way. Facing an SEC opponent at home for the first time, Miami and its fans will be jacked up. Vanderbilt should weather that emotion, though, and pull out the win.

I'm off to class, but I'll have more up this afternoon. Less than eight hours to go...

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