Auburn a stern test for Vandy offense
Posted: Friday, October 3, 2008 6:13 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The 13th-ranked Auburn Tigers pride themselves on playing anorexic defense against the run. No. 19 Vanderbilt’s spread offense is much more about running the ball than throwing.
Something will have to give Saturday.
“They are really tough. They’re big, and they’re fast,” Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson said of Auburn’s defensive line.
“We’re going to have to have a big game plan. Hopefully, we can get in the middle. If not, we’ll find ways to get outside, but our running game won’t change. We have very competent running backs, and we’re going to put forth a strategy to get those guys to be successful.”
The Commodores (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) will be playing their first game since moving into the Top 25 for the first time since 1984, trying to reach 5-0 for the first time since the middle of World War II. This will be the sixth straight game for Auburn (4-1, 2-1), and the Tigers are coming off a 14-12 win over Tennessee.
The Tigers lead this series 20-19-1 and have won 13 straight dating back to the 1955 Gator Bowl. They thumped the Commodores 35-7 last year at Auburn, but Nickson warns that nobody should overlook Vanderbilt now.
“We have a lot of talent here. We have a great strategy, a great coaching staff. We can do things. We don’t make too many mistakes and come out and get in over our heads. I feel we can take advantage of anybody in the SEC or the nation,” he said.
Thankfully, Vandy has the undefeated record to back up those bold words because the Commodores won’t worry too many defenses with the statistics they’ve put up so far.
They rank last in the SEC and 112th nationally in total offense with 282.8 yards per game and 116th nationally with a slim 80.8 yards passing.
But the Commodores’ strength in their spread offense comes from the run. They hold the ball for 31 minutes, 4 seconds per game — 40th in the country. Jared Hawkins has run for 314 yards followed by Nickson with 270 yards and a team-high five touchdowns on the ground.
Vandy takes good care of the ball.
The Commodores have had only five turnovers and are among three teams nationally who haven’t been intercepted.
Tuberville will be playing both Chris Todd and Kodi Burns after the Tigers rolled up only 226 yards offense against Tennessee.
“It’s tough on everybody. We switch defensive line every three plays, linebackers probably every five plays and receivers every play. Quarterbacks are not any different. They have got to be mentally ready to play when their number is called,” Tuberville said.
The Tigers’ biggest challenge will be quieting a sold-out crowd eager to see if the Commodores can make history and win their third straight SEC game for the first time since 1982 — the last time they had a winning season or went to a bowl. They’ve won three straight league games only seven times.
“People at Vanderbilt, they’re excited they’ve got a good team this year,” Auburn center Ryan Pugh said. “We’ve seen them on film, and they’re Vanderbilt, they play smart, they play fast, it’s just another good SEC defense that you’re going to play. But we’ve got to be prepared. They’re definitely going to be a good football team.”