It's senior day in Starkville, and the Bulldogs have a chance to finish the season at 7-0. Here is a look at the matchup with our friends over at Anchor of Gold.
1. The last few years under James Franklin were among the best ever at Vanderbilt. How much has his departure played into this season, or has it been more about the departure of veteran players?
AoG: It's certainly been a bit of both. Vanderbilt went into 2014 without its starting quarterback (Austyn Carta-Samuels), the best receiving tandem in school history (Matthews and Krause), their best offensive lineman (Wesley Johnson), and their entire starting secondary. That's a recipe for regression. However, the transition to Derek Mason has been equally damaging. Mason is trying to fit square pegs into round holes in order to operate the offensive scheme he thinks is the ultimate recipe for success. That's led to major problems as Vandy players continue to figure out what their new roles are in Mason's regime.
2. There are quite a few new faces on both sides of the ball for the Commodores. Who are some players to watch for Mississippi State fans?
AoG: Freshman Ralph Webb has emerged as a dynamic runner out of the backfield, and that's a good thing because Vanderbilt has dismissed both their upperclassman tailbacks this fall. He's a complete runner who should challenge Zac Stacy's school records by the time his career is through. He got yanked in the second half of last week's game against Florida due to some fumble-itis, but he should be primed for plenty of carries against MSU (partially by default...but still).
On defense, Stephen Weatherly has developed into a reliable puss rusher along the edge. He should find a way to bring Dak Prescott down on Saturday. Additionally, Nigel Bowden is the heart of the team's linebacking corps. He'll make a ton of stops as well.
3. If Vanderbilt is to win Saturday, what is the one thing they must do well?
AoG: Sustain drives. The Vandy defense looked solid against Florida last week...until the Gators' time of possession built up and the 'Dores defenders were ground down. Despite their youth, Vanderbilt has the talent and athleticism to hang with and limit Mississippi State's explosive offense. What they don't have is the depth to survive if the Bulldogs put a 60:40 TOP split in their favor. If Johnny McCrary can stand up to the MSU pass rush and move the ball long enough to allow his defense the time they need to regroup, he'll have a chance to pull off this massive upset.
4. At one point, it felt that a lot of pressure may have been building on the Vanderbilt coaching staff. Where do they stand now that there are some games in the win column?
AoG: The pressure is still there, even as many fans turn to the familiar Commodore standby of apathy now that a fourth-straight bowl game is out of the question. There's been a small, but vocal contingent who want Derek Mason gone, but the majority of this team's supporters are willing to give him more time in order to see if his new philosophy and strategy can bear fruit in the SEC. Karl Dorrell hasn't been so lucky. Vandy's unimaginative, ineffective, and often boring offense has put this team's OC on the hot seat. There's a reasonable chance that he won't return to the Commodore sideline next fall.
5. How do you see the game playing out Saturday?
AoG: I don't have a good feeling about this one. There's a lack of energy surrounding this team, and it only got worse when Jerron Seymour was dismissed from the team on Wednesday. Vandy will keep it close early, but the Bulldogs have the talent to force this inexperienced team to play the game they want as the clock winds. MSU goes up big in the third quarter, but the 'Dores get some fourth quarter points against State's second team defense to cover the spread.
Mississippi State 41, Vanderbilt 20.