The Vanderbilt Commodores open their 2017 season on Saturday night in Murfreesboro when they face Middle Tennessee. Here are your three keys to a Commodore victory.
1. PRESSURE BRENT STOCKSTILL
Stockstill is a beast at quarterback for the Raider. He lit Vanderbilt's defense up to the tune of 399 yards passing in last season's game. Stockstill's strengths are his accuracy and quick release. Most defenses don't have enough time to get pressure on him because the ball is gone a half second after he gets the snap. Last season, even though Vandy gave up an enormous number of yards to Stockstill, they still were able to keep him under control, limiting the bottom line in football: points.
2. LOCK DOWN RICHIE JAMES
Richie James is the real deal for the Blue Raiders. Last year he was responsible for nearly half of Middle's receiving yards versus Vandy (183 yards) on 14 catches. James caught an incredible 105 catches last year for 12 touchdowns and 1,625 yards. The year before that he made 108 receptions! Vandy may not be able to "lock down" on Richie but they need to at least hold him to under 10 catches and no more than one TD (which VU did last year). My guess is that if the Commodores put a big body on the 5-foot-9 player, like 6-foot-3 JoeJuan Williams, they might be able to keep the Middle superstar under control. Williams has tremendous leaping ability as well which could make him even more effective at slowing down James. Tre Herndon also has the size and speed to defend against James.
3. VANDY SCORES POINTS
One of the main issues in most of the five opening losses was the inability to score points. For instance, Vanderbilt has scored an average of under 10 points per game over the last three openers. That must be fixed. Against MTSU the first priority should be to establish the run via Ralph Webb and Kari Blasingame. If they are running into brick walls then that's an early clue that the team needs to do things like setup Kyle Shurmur for play action, run wildcat and some two back sets to confuse the Blue Raiders. The thing Vandy doesn't need to do is if the game is close, and low scoring, stick with the 3-yards and cloud of dust philosophy. Open it and roll the dice if necessary.
Vanderbilt's game at Middle Tennessee kicks off at 7 pm CT. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network.
NOTE ON WEATHER: Saturday's weather forecast for Murfreesboro at game time calls for a 69-degree temperature at kickoff which will fall to 62 by the end of the game. Only a 5 percent chance of rain during the game.