By Tommy Deas
Alabama has dynamic playmakers like Jalen Hurts and Calvin Ridley, and seems to be getting Bo Scarbrough and the running game on track. Vanderbilt is steady and efficient behind game manager Kyle Shurmer at quarterback, but the Commodores haven’t been able to get their ground game going.
The Commodores lead the nation in total defense and scoring defense, a reflection of head coach Derek Mason’s defensive background. Sustaining drives won’t be easy for Alabama. The Crimson Tide has been nearly depleted at linebacker by injuries but could be getting some key players back soon.
The Alabama kicking game is coming around, with Andy Pappanastos having made 7 of 9 field goal attempts. JK Scott is averaging less than 40 yards per punt, but has pinned opponents deep and is strong on kickoffs. Vandy is average at kicking, but Kalija Lipscomb is a threat as a returner.
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is finding his footing. He has built an offense around Jalen Hurts and is working to build the kind of downhill running game Nick Saban likes. Derek Mason has Vanderbilt going in the right direction coming off last weekend’s upset of Kansas State.
Vanderbilt Stadium is cozy, to put it kindly, so Alabama may feel a bit cramped. This is Alabama’s first true road game, and Vandy is trying to ride a wave of momentum and join in the “Smashville” spirit created by the city’s pro hockey team.
Alabama 32, Vanderbilt 10
Bottom line, Alabama just has more playmakers. Vanderbilt’s defense is for real, but the Crimson Tide should be able to wear the Commodores down if Vanderbilt can’t sustain a running game to keep the stop unit off the field. Sooner or later, Alabama breaks this game open.
Alabama 35, Vanderbilt 10
Alabama opens SEC play on the road in dominant fashion. Vanderbilt puts up a good fight, but its defense won’t be able to limit the Crimson Tide as handily as it did its first three opponents. The end result: Alabama remains undefeated and Vandy picks up its first loss.
Alabama 35, Vanderbilt 7
The biggest game in Vanderbilt’s recent history? That’s fair, but — don’t tell 2014 Ole Miss — games like this one often turn out to be a buzzkill. I don’t see the Commodores’ offense operating as efficiently as Colorado State last week. This will get ugly late.
Alabama 25, Vanderbilt 14
The days when Philip Doyle would kick six field goals in a UA win are in the past but who is to say that Andy Pappanastos can’t do the same? A few Commodore turnovers will make this pick look silly but I’m guessing the game will be clean and close.
Alabama 27, Vanderbilt 17
Neither team has a turnover this year, so it’s unlikely this game will cascade out of control. The Vanderbilt defense can stand and deliver for a while, but Alabama wears it down as the game goes along and holds a comfortable lead for most of the fourth quarter.
Alabama 26, Vanderbilt 10
As the architect who throttled Oregon a few years ago, Derek Mason has built Vanderbilt’s foundation also on a stingy defense. The Commodores are eager to see how they match up against an Alabama team now asking questions about its own defense. Vanderbilt will make this interesting, but the Crimson Tide’s depth advantage will show in the second half.
Alabama 24, Vanderbilt 13
Vanderbilt’s defense is a little further along than Alabama’s through three games. Dang, that sounds crazy to say, but it’s true. However, Alabama has some big-time playmakers that will give Vandy fits. Alabama should turn in a solid effort in a big SEC test on the road.
Alabama 25, Vanderbilt 8
I know, odd score, right. Well, this is an odd game. For starters, Vanderbilt has the higher ranked defense. Regardless, Alabama wins.
Alabama 31, Vanderbilt 20
People are underestimating Vanderbilt. The Commodores are undefeated and statistically the No. 1 team in pass defense, allowing an average of just 95.3 passing yards per game. Things could get interesting, but the Crimson Tide will pull through. This is when the season begins.
Alabama 42, Vanderbilt 38
This game will be a close one especially if Alabama’s defensive line did not have enough time this week to turn themselves into the cohesive unit they hope to be.