The Owls kick off the 2014 campaign with a trip to Nashville for a bout with the Vanderbilt Commodores. Their second season under head coach Matt Rhule starts with a test.
While Vanderbilt used to be the first team that came to mind when you had an argument about how the SEC was top-heavy, they have since abdicated that throne in favor of actually playing good football. Three seasons under James Franklin have ended with bowl appearances for the Commodores, and the last two have seen them finish in the top 25 of the AP and USA Today polls.
We addressed in the last post how Temple finished the season on a high note. However, their shelves aren’t quite as stocked as Vanderbilt’s after a three year run under a program-reviving head coach. If the Owls hope to take down the Commodores, here’s how they’ll have to do it.
Take advantage of a team with a new scheme
All three of Vanderbilt’s best pass rushers are playing in a new position this season after switching to a 3-4 under new head coach Derek Mason. This is the team’s first live action in a new scheme, and Temple’s strength is on offense. If P.J. Walker and the Owls’ spread attack can get on top of the Commodores early, they’ll put the pressure on Vanderbilt’s sophomore quarterback Patton Robinette.
PJ Walker does PJ Walker Things
Sophomore quarterback PJ Walker is the best offensive weapon the Owls have, and playing against Vanderbilt’s fairly green secondary could help him repeat some of his monster games from last season.
Their starters at cornerback are redshirt freshman Tre Bell and sophomore Torren McGaster. They have 1 career start and 0 career Interceptions between them. At safety, they have junior Andrew Williamson, who had 2 Interceptions last season, and redshirt freshman Oren Burks at strong safety.
Undoubtedly, Derek Mason is a highly respected defensive mind from his work as the defensive coordinator at Stanford over the last few years. He will do his best to put them in a position to succeed. However, most of the Vanderbilt secondary being inexperienced could be advantageous for Temple’s passing attack.
The Vanderbilt quarterback is making only his fourth start for the Commodores. In his time last year he completed 52.3% of his passes for 4 TDs and 5 INTs. Not exactly inspiring numbers. Temple was highly unsuccessful against the pass last year--both in trying to get to the quarterback and secondary play. Temple’s best pass rusher, Matt Ioannidis, had 3 sacks last season, and the team as a whole recorded 3 INTs.
Robinette will be playing behind an offensive line that returns all five of its starters, so the odds of Temple’s stagnant pass rush bothering him are less than favorable. The secondary, though sporting a couple of exciting transfers in Alex Wells and Boye Aromire at the safety positions, has limited talent at cornerback. The Owls may well struggle against the pass again this season, so they will need to be creative in how they try to stop Vanderbilt’s passing attack.
Prediction: Vandy 33, Temple 20