Commodores Launch SEC Bowl Season
By Matt Smith
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Vanderbilt will play a de facto home game when the Commodores face NC State in the Music City Bowl.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: N.C. State vs. Vanderbilt
Site: LP Field (Nashville, Tenn.)
Time: Monday Dec. 31, Noon ET/11:00 CT
TV: ESPN (Carter Blackburn and Rod Gilmore)
The SEC bowl season begins on New Year’s Eve as Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3 SEC) plays a de facto home game at LP Field, just three miles from its campus, against N.C. State (7-5, 4-4 ACC) in the 15th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Despite their states sharing a border, the teams will be meeting for the first time since 1946, a 7-0 win for the Commodores. Vanderbilt enters the game on a six-game winning streak, its longest in 30 years. The Wolfpack dropped three of five down the stretch and head coach Tom O’Brien was dismissed. Dave Doeren was hired away from Northern Illinois, but outgoing offensive coordinator Dana Bible will serve as the interim coach for the bowl. Let’s look at five questions for Monday’s game.
1.How motivated are the Wolfpack?
Desire plays a major role in bowl games, since, outside of the BCS Championship Game, they are glorified exhibitions. Add in the pending coaching change in Raleigh, and it’s difficult to project the mindset with which N.C. State will show up on Monday. Is the team frustrated with the coaching change? Are they looking to impress Doeren? How important is sending Bible and the seniors out with a win? Situations like the one N.C. State is facing are what make bowl games so difficult to predict. Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon has an NFL future, but his draft status will be impacted far more by the Senior Bowl and scouting combine than by his performance against the Commodores. Does playing an SEC team factor in? The ‘Pack haven’t defeated an SEC opponent since 1999.
2.Can Mike Glennon handle a blitz-heavy scheme?
Glennon has ideal size an arm strength for a pro-style quarterback, but lacks the ability to avoid pressure. N.C. State allowed 36 sacks this season, third most in the ACC. Also playing into the Commodores' favor is that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop loves to bring pressure, including from middle linebacker Chase Garnham, who led the team in sacks. Vanderbilt doesn’t sport an overly-athletic defensive front, rather an overachieving group that has successfully battled some of the top offensive lines in the SEC. The most comparable quarterback to Glennon that Vanderbilt faced, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, was held to just 154 yards and threw three interceptions in a 41-18 loss to the ‘Dores.
3.What are the one-on-one battles to watch?
Depending on alignment, we should see two good ones on the outside. N.C. State’s David Amerson led the nation in interceptions in 2011, but has come back to earth a bit in 2012 with just five. Vanderbilt boasts all-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews, one of the best all-around receivers in the nation. Amerson likes to take chances, but Matthews can burn the Wolfpack deep. When the ‘Pack have the ball, they’ll also have to deal with a cornerback who is no stranger to having the ball in his hands. Senior Trey Wilson has three career interception returns for touchdowns, but he’ll have to deal with veteran Tobias Palmer, who had five touchdowns in the team’s final two games.
4.Who has the special teams advantage?
The edge goes to Vanderbilt. Punter Richard Kent has been a valuable weapon all season, and Carey Spear has missed just three of his 22 field goal attempts, none coming during the team’s current six-game winning streak. Wolfpack kicker Niklas Sade has struggled this season, converting only 12 of 21 field goals, including just five of his past 11 attempts dating back to an Oct. 27 loss at North Carolina. Both teams have a pair of return touchdowns on the season. Vanderbilt’s Jonathan Krause returned punts for scores against Massachusetts and Wake Forest, while Palmer took a kickoff back for a touchdown against the Demon Deacons and Rashard Smith scored on a punt return against The Citadel.
5.How significant would a nine-win season be for Vanderbilt?
Considering it hasn’t happened since World War I, it would be a monumental accomplishment for a program that was the laughing stock of the SEC for the better part of 30 years. For a senior class that began their career with an 0-8 SEC season and dealt with their coach quitting less than two months before the start of their sophomore season, closing their career with a 9-4 season would leave a lasting legacy as the class that put an end to the dark ages of Vanderbilt football. Don’t expect any letdown from the Commodores arising from staying home for their bowl game. There may have been some initial disappointment when the bowl pairings were announced that they were passed over by the Gator Bowl, but the Commodores are treating the event as if it weren’t in their home city, including staying at the Opryland Hotel during the week leading up to the game rather than on campus.
Bonus: Who wins?
As mentioned, it’s hard to predict what N.C. State team will show up – the one that shut out Florida State in the second half or the one that lost by 27 points at home by Virginia. On the other hand, since it was blown out by Georgia on Sept. 22, Vanderbilt has been as consistent as any team in the country – blowing out bad teams (UMass, Kentucky), outlasting average teams (Missouri, Ole Miss) and battling for 60 minutes with great teams (Florida). Side with consistency and the much stronger running game here and take the Commodores to win their seventh straight. Vanderbilt 30, N.C. State 17