Vanderbilt looks to start fast vs. Old Dominion
No wonder the Commodores hope to play a bit of keep away Saturday night in their final game outside the Southeastern Conference.
Coach Derek Mason says the Commodores will do their best to keep Old Dominion and senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke off the field. It just won't be easy for an offense ranked near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision and averaging 17.1 points per game.
''We've had our fair share of struggles and we have to get the run game and pass game on track,'' Mason said. ''It's going to be an exciting game for us because any time you face a high-powered offense, it's a challenge for the defense. Offensively, we have to make sure we can get ourselves jump started and play fast, physical and can finish.''
Johnny McCrary is set for a second straight start after having the best day of a Vanderbilt quarterback this season, throwing for 196 yards in a 24-14 loss at Missouri. Patton Robinette also could come off the bench for his first work since suffering a concussion Sept. 20. Still, Vanderbilt (2-6) ranks last in the SEC in several offensive categories and is averaging only 266.6 yards total offense.
Old Dominion (3-5) has lost four straight and will be playing its first SEC opponent, usually a big challenge for a program only restarted football in 2009 and started transitioning to the FBS last year as a member of Conference USA. The Monarchs average 33.1 points a game.
''They know who Vanderbilt is, they know about the SEC,'' Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said. ''But they are already excited about this game. Then the fact that it is on national television, it's a night game, all those things add in to the excitement level for this game. I am very confident that our guys will go in there with a great attitude and ready to compete.''
Here are things to watch Saturday night:
START FASTER: Vanderbilt had to hold on for victory in its last home game, 21-20 over FCS school Charleston Southern. Slow starts have been a bigger issue for the Commodores this season. They have trailed five of seven opponents after the first quarter and been outscored 62-17 in the first quarter this season with 14 of those coming against South Carolina before losing 48-34.
BOWL HOPES: This is a must-win for the Commodores to keep hope alive for a fourth straight bowl berth. Vanderbilt also has had recent success in November, winning nine straight in the month for the first time since the 1903-05 seasons. For comparison, Vanderbilt went 3-32 in November games between 2001 and 2010. The rest of Vanderbilt's schedule features Florida, a trip to No. 1 Mississippi State and the finale against Tennessee.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Vanderbilt leads the nation playing 31 combined freshmen, and that includes 26 first-time starters. The only other program with more than 20 first-time starters this season is Southern Mississippi (22). Old Dominion isn't far behind with 18. That's why Vanderbilt's leading passer, rusher, receiver and top tackler are all true or redshirt freshmen.
AIR TIME: The Monarchs are coming off a 66-51 loss at Western Kentucky. Heinicke, who won the Walter Payton Award as a sophomore, threw for a season-high 471 yards last week. Senior wide receiver Antonio Vaughan caught six passes for a career-high 220 yards and is tied for third nationally with nine touchdown catches. Melvin Vaughn had a team-high nine receptions for 94 yards and a TD.
WEBB GROUNDED: Ralph Webb leads Vanderbilt with 594 yards rushing and is among the SEC's top freshmen. But Webb had a season-low 34 yards rushing on 16 attempts at Missouri.