Head-head: Vanderbilt vs. UMass

(VM-Stan Jones)

On Saturday Vanderbilt will attempt to even its record at 4-4 when it hosts FBS newcomer Massachusetts. VandyMania.com compares each team in several critical areas and predicts the final score.

Vanderbilt Passing Offense
VS.
Massachusetts Passing Defense
Edge: Vandy

Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews is currently second in the SEC and 17th in the nation averaging 94.7 receiving yards per game. Matthews was limited to 3 receptions for 46 yards against the Auburn. Commodore signal caller Jordan Rodgers had a season highs of 237 yards passing and 17 completions against a stingy Florida defense.

Receiver Chris Boyd is Vandy's other big receiving threat with 25 catches for 482 yards receiving. The redshirt sophomore led the team with six receptions for 77 yards last week against Auburn, and is second in the conference averaging 19.3 yards per reception.

Fifth-year senior Darren Thellen is tied for second on the team with 44 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 4 passes deflected. The free safety enjoyed national attention for a spectacular play against UConn when he batted a thrown-away ball back in bounds to Tom Brandt for an interception.

True freshman Trey Dudley-Giles will start his third game against the 'Dores. The rookie cornerback has posted 25 tackles and 2 passes deflected in six games this season. Redshirt freshman Randall Jette holds down the other cornerback spot and has fared about as well, with 26 tackles and 3 passes deflected.

Vanderbilt Rushing Offense
VS.
Massachusetts Rushing Defense
Edge: Vandy
Senior Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy is coming off an impressive performance that saw him gain 169-yards and a touchdown, and set the school record for career rushing yards. The score against Auburn was Stacy's 25th career touchdown. Dean Davidson (1947-50) currently holds the record with 26 career rushing scores. Redshirt junior Wesley Tate adds 127 rushing on 42 carries and is second on the team with 3 rushing scores. In his second career start, Vanderbilt center Joe Townsend earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his 10 knockdown performance against Auburn.

Minuteman linebacker Perry McIntyre leads the team with 77 tackles--with 3½ for a loss--and is second in the MAC averaging 11 tackles per game. Fifth-year senior Hafis Williams leads the defensive line at tackle with 30 tackles, including 3½ for a loss.

Massachusetts Rushing Offense
VS.
Vanderbilt rushing Defense
Edge: Vandy
Fifth-year senior Michael Cox leads Massachusetts with 437 yards rushing and 3 scores while averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Quarterback Mike Wegzyn is second on the team with 155 yards rushing and a score. A solid group of experienced linemen peppered with a pair of true freshman at the guard positions have allowed 12 sacks in 7 games. Left tackle Stephane Milhim leads the group with 32 career starts under his belt.

Commodore linebacker Chase Garnham led the team with 9 tackles and 3 sacks last week. The junior is second on the team with 47 tackles, including 7 for a loss, and a team-high 5 sacks. Linebacker Archibald Barnes is fourth on the team with 37 tackles. The senior posted three tackles against Auburn, two for a loss, including his first sack of the season. Defensive end Walker May leads the defensive line with 20 tackles, 4 for a loss, a sack, and 4 quarterback hurries.

Massachusetts Passing Offense
VS.
Vanderbilt Passing Defense
Edge: Vandy
Redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn has started all seven games for the Minutemen completing 108 for 212 pass attempts for 1,045 yards passing with 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Last week against Bowling Green, UMass had trouble in the passing game with 4 interceptions, 2 by Wegzyn and 2 by true freshman A.J. Doyle. The long completion of the day was for seven yards.

Fifth-year senior receiver Deion Walker leads the Minutemen with 34 catches, 424 yards receiving, and a score. Sophomore Marken Michel has played exceptional in four starts this season posting 16 receptions for 131 yards.

Redshirt senior receiver Alan Williams is second on the team with 19 receptions, 205 receiving yards, and a team-high 3 touchdown catches. Tight end Rob Blanchflower follows closely behind with 17 catches for 186 yards receiving. The Minutemen passing game is expected to have Blanchflower and Williams back after missing the last two games.

Vanderbilt's passing defense ranks second in the SEC and third in the conference allowing opponents 142.6 passing yards per game. Free safety Kenny Ladler leads the team with 48 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. The junior is 11th in the conference averaging eight tackles per game. Strong safety Javon Marshall leads the team with 32 solo tackles and is third on the team with 44 total tackles.

Special Teams
Edge: Vandy
Richard Kent currently ranks 3rd in the SEC and 10th in the nation averaging 45 yards per punt. True freshman Brian Kimbrow has handled the majority of kickoff returns with a long return of 43 yards against Georgia. Jordan Matthews has been Vandy's best receiving threat. The junior receiver ranks fourth in the SEC, averaging 12.1 yards per punt return. Andre Hal had a 52-yard kick return in the opener against South Carolina.

Sophomore Jordan Broadnax has handled kick returns for UMass, averaging 22.9 yards per return, with a long return of 61 yards at Miami. Freshman Blake Lucas is 2 for 3 from field goal range with a long kick of 30 yards. Redshirt junior Brendon Levengood handled kicks earlier in the year, making 3 of 5, with a long kick of 32 yards against Michigan. Minuteman punter Colter Johnson had his best game of the season last week against Bowling Green. The junior booted a season-long 66-yard punt and averaged 47.8 yards per punt.

Intangibles
Edge: Vandy
This will be a great game for the 'Dores to get some rest before they jump back into SEC play against Kentucky. Vandy may throw in a few additional looks for the Wildcats to have to prepare for before the game. The Commodores are 16th in the country in third-down defense (31%). Vandy ranks fourth in the SEC and 18th in the country with opponents gaining 17 first downs per game. Vanderbilt is 27th in total defense, holding opponents to 331.7 total yards per game.

While having to endure the transition from the FCS to the FBS, the Minutemen will start 12 underclassmen against the 'Dores, including 6 true freshmen. The Minutemen have been outscored 285-83 through seven game. UMass averages 268.6 yards per game while opponents rack up 468.1 yards per game. The Minutemen have converted 9 of 19 fourth-down conversion attempts while converting 34% of third-down attempts. UMass has scored touchdowns in 6 of 14 of its red zone trips this season.

Coaching
Edge: Vandy
The Minutemen enjoyed an extra week to prepare last week against Bowling Green and UMass head coach Charley Molnar liked the way his defense played.

"Our defense really performed very well. In the first half it was a 7-0 ball game and even in second half we did a great job of holding Bowling Green out of the end zone for quite a while." Molnar continued, "the offense just couldn't create any momentum for our football team. I think that really hurt us."

UMass is Molnar's first head coaching gig after working as an assistant for 28 years--most recently as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. The Minutemen offense has struggled drastically in its first season of FBS play with opponents scoring more than three times more points.

For the second straight season, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin's team has shown impressive improvement through the season. Last week against Auburn the 'Dores lost the turnover battle 3-0 but still prevailed with a strong defensive performance and high powered run game.

Franklin majored in psychology and it would seem those skills have helped the team, the school, and the fans buy into the program. Falling apart as the season wore on and having trouble finishing games was the norm' for the 'Dores but Franklin has his team believing in the system and fighting to the end, and its paid dividends with a bowl appearance in his first season.

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 48, UMass 3.

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