If there has ever been a must-win game for Auburn, this is it. The fact that it comes against Vanderbilt says something about where the program stands at this point. What it says exactly, I don't know. I just know it says something, and it's probably not very flattering. With all the questions surrounding this season, the Vanderbilt game brings back painful memories of the 2008 season. Thinking back to the Tony Franklin experiment, there are some parallels to draw. In 2008, the offense was abysmal due to limited production and difficult to explain play-calling. The loss in Nashville that year was followed quickly by the dismissal of Franklin, the late-season collapse and, eventually, the parting of ways with head coach Tommy Tuberville. It's not a stretch to assume that another loss in Nashville could lead to a similar fate for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and head coach Gene Chizik. It's a must win, and it won't come easy.
The Commodores are averaging 149 yards per game on the ground, led by Zac Stacy and freshman Brian Kimbrow. Their passing game, led by Jordan Rodgers' arm and Jordan Matthews' hands, averages 216.7 yards per game. It's a quick-hit, big-play offense. The 'Dores have scored 12 total touchdowns on the year, including a 78-yard reception by Matthews, an 86-yard run by Stacy and a 49-yard run by Kimbrow.
The Tigers have to be wary of...
Matthews and where he lines up on every play. You could make a case for him being the best receiver in the conference this year. He's a big receiver at 6'3, 205, and he runs clean, crisp routes. He's averaging just shy of 109 yards per game receiving, and his 43 receptions easily lead the team -- the next-best Vandy receivers are Chris Boyd with 19 receptions and Josh Grady with six. Matthews is clearly Rodgers' go-to receiver, and the Tigers are coming in with a couple of cornerbacks dinged up. Chris Davis may be limited after missing the Ole Miss game last week, and true freshmen Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones will see more playing time if Davis is unable to go. Matthews will be one of the most difficult matchups for the defensive backfield all season.
Stacy is also a guy that can do some damage. He's only 5'9, but he has good balance, vision and power. He has gained 499 yards and four touchdowns this season, averaging 83.2 yards per game. Stacy has shown that he's a threat to find the endzone from anywhere on the field, as evident by the 86-yard score against Presbyterian. Auburn's defensive front seven will have to be solid in their assignments in order to contain Stacy.
Can Auburn find a weakness to exploit?
If the Tigers are going to exploit anything in this game, there is a chance it could be with the running game. The 'Dores are ranked 100th in the nation in rush defense, giving up an average of 203.5 yards per game on the ground. Auburn's game plan this week has to involve a healthy dose of Tre Mason and Jay Prosch. Many fans have had questions about the disappearance of Mason in the second half of last week's game. We would love to see him get 25 carries, at least. If the Tigers are going to get off the schneid, they have to run the ball between the tackles.
Bonus stat of the week to watch... Auburn's struggles in the fourth quarter have been well documented, as the Tigers have been outscored 63-3 in the final period this year. While the differential isn't quite as stark, the Commodores have had their own late-game struggles. Vandy have been outscored 43-26 in the final frame and 77-57 in the second half. If Auburn is going to have a chance to finish strong in a game, it could come this weekend in Nashville.