After a month of moaning, Vanderbilt fans will finally hit the road for Birmingham and the Commodores’ third bowl in three years. Will the team be ready for action or will they have heard the booster grumbles and feel their “above” the BBVA Compass Bowl? For that and more, here’s our game preview:
BBVA Compass Bowl
Vanderbilt (8-4) vs Houston (8-4)
TV: 1pm ET tomorrow on ESPN
Opening Line: Vanderbilt -1.5
Current Line: Vanderbilt -2.5
Cool Factor: Uh. Well. Um. Ask a Commodore fan and you’ll quickly learn that there’s zero Cool Factor for this one.
What’s At Stake: Vanderbilt’s reputation as an improving football program. Now, there’s no question that VU is indeed getting better under their fiery third-year coach. But fans and media alike tend to swing from one extreme to the other. Win a game and you’re the best team/coach/program ever. Lose a game and you’re a bum coaching bums. Dore fans are growing tired of hearing that just two of their school’s 17 wins over the last two years have come against teams with winning records. They’re tired of hearing that bowls aren’t interested in them because of decades of losses and empty seats in a 40,000-seat stadium. Facing a Houston team with a winning record is the perfect opportunity to shhh a lot of the naysayers. It’s also a chance for Vandy fans to take over a city and a stadium. Will they?
Keep An Eye On: Vanderbilt’s attitude. James Franklin has proven to be a master motivator in his short tenure in Nashville and his abilities will be tested once more. The Dores enter the game with a back-up quarterback. They’ll be playing in a bowl that many Vandy fans feel is beneath them in a stadium that’s been allowed to fall into disrepair. Oh, and Franklin himself has been named in connection with head coach openings at Penn State, Texas, and Cleveland and Minnesota of the NFL. (He’s said that he loves Vanderbilt, but he hasn’t said he won’t leave.) Add it up and there are plenty of potential distractions for VU’s players as they saddle up for this game with Houston.
Hidden Tidbit: Backup QB Patton Robinette will be making just his third start of the year versus the Cougars. In his previous two starts (in a loss at Texas A&M and in a win at Florida), the redshirt freshman completed 21-of-40 for 273 yards, one TD and two interceptions. Robinette also came on in relief of Austyn Carta-Samuels in VU’s win over Georgia. Down the stretch he was used as more as a running option, but he did see action in the Commodores’ last three games and scored the game-winning rushing touchdown versus arch-rival Tennessee. That said, Robinette has thrown just nine passes in Vandy’s last three games. A nice ground game would aid him.
Hidden Tidbit: While Robinette might be rusty, receiver Jordan Matthews should be in his same sweet groove. The SEC’s leading receiver this year (and all-time) caught 107 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns for the season. Houston ranked just eighth in the 10-team AAC in pass defense. They allowed more than 250 yards passing to Southern University (FCS), Rice, UT-San Antonio, BYU, South Florida, and Cincinnati. They also surrendered 195 plays of 10 or more yards this season, which also ranked eighth in the AAC. Expect the Cougars to try and double-up Matthews and/or sit over the top to prevent long gains and force Robinette to make one accurate short throw after another. But others have tried to shut down Matthews in those ways and it hasn’t worked often. The senior had seven or more catches in 10 of Vandy’s 12 games including eight games of 100+ yard production.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 27, Houston 21