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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 8, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,130) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network Home Record: Vanderbilt 0-1, Northwestern 0-0 Away Record: Vanderbilt 0-0, Northwestern 1-0. Neutral Record: Vanderbilt 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Conference Record: Vanderbilt 0-1, Northwestern 0-0. Series Record: Tied 1-1.
GAME NOTES: Two teams that took part in two of college football's best season- opening games will square off when the Vanderbilt Commodores head north to Ryan Field to pay a visit to the Northwestern Wildcats.
Northwestern battled Syracuse in arguably the most exciting game of last weekend and came out on top in a 42-41 marathon shootout. Under head coach Pat Fitzgerald the Wildcats are now 7-0 in season openers. It was the first time both Northwestern and an opponent scored at least 40 points since 2007 and the first time in regulation since 2005.
Vanderbilt had the honor of being the front-liner of this college football season's opening night with a nationally televised bout against conference foe and nationally-ranked South Carolina. The Gamecocks had the highest preseason rank in school history after an 11-win 2011 campaign but that didn't scare the Commodores who gave the Gamecocks all they could handle, before falling short 17-13.
The all-time series between these squads is tied with each team capturing a win. The last meeting was in 2010, when Northwestern escaped with a 23-21 victory. The other meeting came 58 years prior, when Vanderbilt won a 3-0 defensive struggle at Northwestern in 1947.
Despite being out-gained 596-337 and having 12 fewer first downs than Syracuse, Northwestern did just enough on offense to scrape by with the one- point decision last weekend. Northwestern took full advantage of every scoring opportunity it had in the game going 3-for-3, all touchdowns, in the red zone.
The biggest play of the game came when Trevor Siemian hit Demetrius Fields for a nine-yard scoring strike with less than a minute left in the game.
Instead of using just one quarterback to replace last season's starter and two time All-Big Ten selection Dan Persa, Fitzgerald decided to go with a tandem of signal callers in the opener. Kain Colter was the official starter and got the bulk of the work, completing 14-of-21 attempts for 135 yards and a pair of scores. Colter also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown in the game. Siemian was the second-part of the combo and completed 8-of-11 passes for 78 yards and a score of his own.
The Wildcats were also replacing All-Big Ten wideout Jeremy Ebert and look to have found his heir apparent in Fields, who caught eight passes, for 83 yards and a touchdown. Venric Mark was the leading rusher in the game with 82 yards on 14 carries.
The Wildcat defense almost let the game slip away by allowing Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to throw four touchdown passes on four straight drives in the second half to turn a 35-14 lead into a 41-35 deficit. Obviously Fitzgerald will be expecting more from the unit after it was burned for 596 total yards by the Orange.
Safety Ibraheim Campbell, who clearly has a ton of talent despite a lack of experience, illustrated that in the first game. The sophomore led the team with 13 total tackles. Chi Chi Ariguzo did a bit of everything in the win, recording seven tackles, including 1.5 for loss, recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass.
The scoreboard read in favor of South Carolina last Thursday but Vanderbilt did manage to end the game with its offense out-gaining the Gamecocks. However, the margin was slim (276-272) and neither squad did much offensively in the game. Interestingly enough the two teams were polar opposites of each other with Vanderbilt relying on the pass and South Carolina on its strong running attack led by Marcus Lattimore. The Commodores had 214 yards through the air and 62 on the ground, while the Gamecocks had 205 rushing and only 67 passing.
With the running game struggling, the offensive responsibility fell mainly to quarterback Jordan Rodgers. The brother of the Green Bay Packers' signal caller Aaron, the senior completed 13-of-23 pass attempts for 214 yards and a score. Like his bother, Rodgers is not afraid to move in the pocket and take off, but the USC defense limited him in that regard, sacking him five times.
Jordan Matthews was Rodgers' favored target in the game, catching eight balls for 147 yards and a score. That left just five receptions for the rest of the squad. Jonathan Krause (two receptions) was the only other receiver with more than one catch.
The defensive effort put forth by the Commodores is yet another piece of evidence of how powerful the SEC is on that side of the ball. The Commodores allowed only 272 total yards and had only surrendered 155 heading into the final period. However, from there on the Gamecocks out-gained Vanderbilt by a 115-17 margin to pull out the win.
There were still a great many positives to be taken from the effort though as Vanderbilt held South Carolina to a 3-for-12 performance on third down conversions and sacked quarterback Connor Shaw three times. Javon Marshall was the leading tackler in the game (10), as the Commodores had a total of seven tackles for loss and two turnovers.
No team likes to lose but Vanderbilt certainly has to feel good after it went toe-to-toe with one of the SEC's elite squads. Now the Commodores need to turn the promise of that performance into victories.
That will be a tougher task on the road than it was at home, especially against a Northwestern squad that had no trouble putting up points last week. This should be a tight contest that Vanderbilt ultimately wins.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vanderbilt 20, Northwestern 17
09/05 10:34:04 ET
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