[private]Duke (3-3) takes to the road this weekend for a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores. This will be Duke’s second road game this season. Vanderbilt (5-2) opened the season with five straight victories but has dropped back-to-back in conference road games the past two weeks. There are still tickets available for $22 so anyone interested in traveling to Nashville to root on the Blue Devils should call (615) 322-GOLD.
The Commodores are averaging 23 points and 249 yards of offense per game. They have executed 399 plays from scrimmage with 65 percent being running plays and 35 percent pass plays. Vanderbilt has scored 19 touchdowns with 12 coming via the run and seven via the pass. Quarterbacks Mackenzi Adams (4) and Chris Nickson (3) have also thrown seven interceptions. Nickson has also rushed for six touchdowns this season. Adams replaced Nickson as the Commodores starting QB prior to their game against Georgia, as Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson attempted to improve Vanderbilt’s passing game. Vanderbilt is last in the SEC in passing offense and total offense. Adams threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions in the 24-14 loss to the Bulldogs.
Vanderbilt has a big offensive line. Right guard Eric Hensley and left tackle Kyle Fischer recently joined the starting line-up and each are listed as 6’6″ and over 300 pounds. In post game interviews, after the loss to Georgia, Coach Johnson stated, “Our offensive line played a whole lot better…We were a lot more physical…We’ve got some guys in there that sort of understand what we’re trying to get done on the offensive line…We’re looking for people that want to do what we’re suppose to do…”
On the defensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt leads the SEC in interceptions (13) and sacks (19). They are also the least penalized team in the SEC, and ranked second in both Red Zone offense and defense. The Commodores have a +7 turnover margin. Their defense has yielded 17.4 points and 318 yards per game this season.
As far as Special Teams are concerned, Vanderbilt punter Brett Upson was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 44.6 yards on seven punts against Georgia.
For Duke, last Saturday’s second half meltdown against Miami marked the second game in a row in which the Blue Devils did not execute in the second half. Coach Cutcliffe stated in post game interviews that he wouldn’t allow anyone to back off the throttle and that he didn’t plan on being very patient.
With Vanderbilt seemingly in position to contain Duke’s passing game, it is paramount that Duke is able to run the ball. Against Miami, Duke ran the ball for 144 yards and they’re going to need to replicate that performance against Vanderbilt. This is a game where Duke must run to setup the pass.
Team health is a question mark for Duke going into the weekend so this week’s injury report is invaluable information. At wide receiver, Eron Riley is nursing a bad thumb and Johnny Williams missed the Miami game with a dental abscess. Having both these receivers healthy and available would be nice.
The match-up against Vanderbilt will be tough and Duke must execute for 60 minutes on both sides of the ball in order to leave Nashville with a victory. The game is going to revolve around the standard clichés: controlling the line of scrimmage, turnovers, and taking advantage of opportunities. If Duke can play for four quarters, they have an opportunity to win, but any performance less than stellar could very well result in a long afternoon for the Blue Devils.