I sent a few questions over to the guys at Vanderbilt Sports Line, a great Vandy blog and fellow SEC Power Poll voter.
The Bulldogs will travel to Nashville this weekend to take on the Commodores, who are also 1-1 on the season after a road loss to LSU. The game kicks off at 6pm and will be televised by FSN.
1. How well is the Vanderbilt team expected to perform this year? How many starters are returning from 2008?
Vanderbilt has the potential to be as good this year as they were last year, perhaps better. While we returned 17 starters, we've already lost 1 key starter from last year's team (senior safety Ryan Hamilton), and haven't seen starting running back Jared Hawkins or DE Broderick Stewart yet. Injuries have also claimed starting RT James Williams, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with a dislocated ankle. There's no reason to think things will get better, as the team plays 12 games in 12 weeks. For some time, Vanderbilt has talked about how they developed depth. If this team can manage to make another bowl game, that would certainly seem to prove that point true.
2. It was announced today that senior safety Ryan Hamilton is out for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. How does that loss effect the Commodore's defense?
It's a huge loss because you are forced to reshuffle a lot of players. Vanderbilt converted Brent Trice from a safety to a linebacker. With Hamilton down, Trice may have to play some time back at safety. The secondary looked good in the second half against LSU, despite Hamilton going down, so it's possible the young talent will respond.
3. Who should MSU fans be worried about on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball?
On offense, MSU should be worried about freshman running back Zac Stacy, who has already amassed 222 yards on the ground and given Vanderbilt a running attack that we haven't had in quite some time. Joining Stacy is freshman Warren Norman, who has also been effective, including 2 TDs in as many games. On defense, the two players to watch are linebacker Chris Marve and cornerback Myron Lewis, both guys who will (or at least SHOULD) show up on a post-season All-SEC Team.
4. Is there anyone player in particular on the MSU team that the Commodores should prepare for?
Anthony Dixon ran circles around the Commodore defense last season in Starkville, rushing for 114 yards on 27 carries. Obviously, Vanderbilt will have to contain him, since it's arguable that MSU doesn't have that many offensive weapons. An effective running game will open up the Bulldogs passing attack, specifically Brandon McRae out wide.
5. Both teams have started the season in similar fashion, blowing out a lesser opponent in the home opener and not fairing as well on the road in the SEC. How do you think this game will come out?
This is a game Vanderbilt has to win if they are going to be bowl eligible. I think the team will be fired up given that this is their SEC home opener, and the fact that MSU ruined Vanderbilt's perfect start last season. I think the Commodores played LSU a lot tougher than MSU did against Auburn. And, given the fact that LSU is certainly the superior of the two teams, I'd say I like Vanderbilt's chances. Still, the Commodores offense was not impressive in Baton Rouge. If MSU can contain Vanderbilt's running attack (which hopefully will include the return of senior Jared Hawkins), then Vanderbilt will be forced to win through the air (something they've shown a complete inability to do). It would not surprise me if this was a low scoring affair, but given Vanderbilt's talent, the fact this is a definite "must win," and the fact that this is at home, makes us confident (or at least hopeful) that the Commodores pulls one out. Vanderbilt 17 - Mississippi State 10