For the first time this season, Vanderbilt plays non-conference games in consecutive weeks.
However, Saturday’s contest at home against Alabama-Birmingham (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) will be the last against a non-SEC opponent until the final week of the season.
At 2-2 overall (0-2 in the SEC), therefore, the Commodores want to take full advantage of this opportunity to get above .500 – finally – and to try to build some momentum for the heart of the schedule.
Three reasons to believe the Commodores will have success Saturday:
• Little big man: Running back Jerron Seymour is just 5-foot-7 but packs a solid 200 pounds on that frame. He is Vanderbilt’s second leading rushed with 184 yards and is particularly effective near the goal line. He has scored a rushing touchdown in every game this season and in his last five appearances overall. His longest rushing touchdown this year has been from three yards.
• Kicking it: Vanderbilt allows opposing kickoff returners an average of 16.1 yards, which leads the SEC and is ninth in the NCAA. The punt unit is third in the SEC in average returns and 10th in NCAA in net punting. The longer UAB has to go to score, the better.
• Cream of the crop: Since 2006, the SEC has dominated non-conference play with a 333-74 record at the start of this season. Vanderbilt has contributed to that trend of late with victories in each of its last six non-conference games. These teams last met in 1996, when Vanderbilt was nothing close to a bowl team, but the Commodores won 31-15.
Three reasons to believe the Commodores will struggle Saturday:
• In a rush: The Blazers have run the ball more than they’ve thrown it in each of the last two weeks and have attempted 20 more runs than passes for the season. That approach creates the opportunity to control the clock and shorten the game as UMass did last Saturday – for the first three quarters, at least.
• Many happy returns: Junior wide receiver Jamarcus Nelson set a UAB record with 367 all-purpose yards in the opener against Troy. His performance included a school-record 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Last week he scored on a 63-yard punt return, which made him the second UAB ever to score two special teams touchdowns in a season. He’s the kind of explosive player (11 of his 14 career touchdowns have come from 40 yards or more) Vanderbilt has not seen from its first two non-conference opponents.
• Been there, done that: UAB’s players are not likely to be intimidated by playing on the road against an SEC opponent. Three weeks ago they went to LSU and overall they have played SEC teams in 12 straight seasons. Of course, they lost 56-17 at LSU and have won just twice against the SEC.
The bottom line:
Every team has at least one Saturday along the way when it does not play as well as it – or anyone else – believes it should. For Vanderbilt, that Saturday was the last one and a better opponent than UMass might have stolen a victory in that day.
The Commodores simply are better than the Blazers, and the fact that they’ll be focused on restoring their level of play, particularly in front of a home crowd, makes it unlikely they’ll be flat for a second straight week.