VANDERBILT (1-2) at CONNECTICUT (2-2)
11 a.m., Saturday
Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT
Big East Network/ESPN3.com
About the Commodores:
• After resting up during an off week the running backs will be at full strength for the first time. Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate all had injuries that lingered from August. The offense averages 161 rushing yards a game and has produced touchdown runs of 80, 35, and 33 yards.
• The coaching staff consolidated and simplified the offensive blocking schemes after a 28-3 loss to LSU. It paid off the following week. Against Ole Miss, six offensive linemen saw the field, blocked for 227 rushing yards and allowed just one sack.
• Tight end Brandon Barden is over an ankle injury sustained against LSU and a foot injury sustained against Ole Miss. He is the top receiver with 118 yards and one touchdown. He’s made critical plays against Northwestern (a 36-yard TD that brought VU within two points in the third) and Ole Miss (a 17-yard catch that moved the Commodores off their own 5-yard line, which triggered a 98-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead).
• The defense has forced five turnovers, often at pivotal times. In the fourth quarter against Ole Miss, a fumble recovery led to the final score and a Casey Hayward interception with 1:43 remaining sealed the outcome. VU has the second best turnover margin in the SEC (plus-3).
• Three Commodores rank among the SEC’s top 10 tacklers – safety Sean Richardson (third, 9.7 per game), linebacker Chris Marve (fifth, 9.3 per game) and linebacker John Stokes (eighth, 7.7 per game).
About the Huskies:
• Running back Jordan Todman leads the Big East and is fifth in the country in rushing at 159 yards per game. He did not play last week against Buffalo with an arm injury, but his backup Robbie Fray rushed for 112 yards in his place. Todman will likely play Saturday.
• An experienced offensive line leads the power rushing attack. Returning players accounted for 49 of the 65 starts on the offensive line in 2009.
• Quarterback Cody Endres makes first start this season. He was suspended for the first three games but replaced Zach Frazer at halftime last week against Buffalo. Endres entered with the game tied 14-14; UConn won 45-21. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
• Coach Randy Edsall is the school’s all-time winningest coach with 68 victories. Under his guidance the program made a successful jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A in 2004. Since becoming a member of the Big East, UConn has been to four bowl games, the most recent a 20-7 victory over South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
• Linebacker Lawrence Wilson led the Big East with 140 tackles last year. He currently averages 9.8 tackles per game, second best in the conference.
Something to consider:
• Vanderbilt won the only previous meeting between the programs, 27-24 in 2002 at home. UConn is 1-2 all time vs. the SEC.
• Vanderbilt is coming off an off week for the first time since 2008. That year, the Commodores beat No. 13 Auburn 14-13 following the break.
• Other than a Week 1 loss to Michigan (Big Ten), UConn hasn’t faced many big conference opponents this year. It beat Texas Southern, a FCS team, 62-3 and lost to Temple (MAC), 30-16. Last week it beat Buffalo (MAC). All of Vanderbilt’s games have been against Big Ten (Northwestern) and SEC opponents.
Expect a physical, attrition-style conflict. UConn’s running game is for real and the Huskies will not back away from the pounding the ball. VU’s playmakers lie in the backfield, and will focus on the run as well.
The difference lies in the quality of defense. It takes some offensive balance to win. Endres passed well in his debut, but Buffalo’s secondary doesn’t come close to Vanderbilt’s. VU quarterback Larry Smith managed the game well against Ole Miss.
The Commodores will match points with the Huskies in the first half. A second half turnover, or consecutive stops, by the defense allow them to pull away to a second consecutive road win.
Vanderbilt 23, Connecticut 17