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Know Thy Opponent 2019: Vanderbilt Commodores

The Commodores will play Purdue for the first time in 77 years.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After going decades without playing anyone in the SEC Purdue is on a run of opponents from that conference. For decades Purdue only had a handful of games against SEC opponents, all in bowl games such as the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl and a pair of bowl games against Georgia. Now we’re playing the SEC all the time, it seems. We just finished a fun home and home with Missouri and the Music City Bowl against Auburn was, technically, a football game.

Now we get Vanderbilt, our gold and black brethren in the SEC. They are part of our non-conference scheduling of gold and black teams that has already had Missouri and has Wake Forest coming up in a few seasons. Vanderbilt was the last SEC team we faced in a regular season game before Missouri, and that was way back in 1942. It is strange that the return game of this series in Nashville is not until September 8, 2029, but 10 years is nothing when it took us 13 years to give Rice a return game.

This is also our home opener, so it should be a fun early evening game in West Lafayette.

2018 Record: 6-7, 3-5 SEC East

Bowl Result: Lost to Baylor 45-38 in Texas Bowl

Blog Representation: Anchor of Gold

Series with Purdue: Vanderbilt leads 2-0

Last Purdue win: None

Last Vanderbilt win: 26-0 at Vanderbilt on 10/3/1942

Head Coach: Derek Mason (24-28 in 6thseason at Vanderbilt)

Last Season for the Commodores

It was a year were Derek Mason was on the hot seat and he answered it with an emphatic, “meh”. The only teams with a winning record that the Commodores beat were Middle Tennessee State and Nevada. That was their solid 2-0 start, but they then lost five of the next six games. To be fair, that included games against 10 win teams in Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky. (Ed Note: the following has been updated thanks to helpful Vandy fans). They played well in most of those games too, as they lost to the Irish by 5, led Florida 21-3, and fell to Kentucky by just 7.

The Commodores managed to win three of their last four against Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee to reach a bowl game. They lost to Missouri 33-28 so show they were pretty similar to Purdue, but they 38-13 win over Tennessee was the first time since 1926 they had beaten the Volunteers three times in a row.

Vanderbilt wasn’t great last year, but they weren’t terrible, either. They have a running back that ran for over 1,200 yards coming back and even though they lost an excellent quarterback they gained a transfer with experience. Defensively, they are a team that struggled to hold good teams under 30 points, but they were much better against mediocre to bad teams. Of the many teams in college football that went 6-6, they might be the one that went the most 6-6iest.

On an interesting note, Purdue has yet to score against Vanderbilt, as both games in 1941 and 1942 ended 3-0 and 26-0 in favor of the Commodores.

Vanderbilt Offense

We’re going to see a familiar name as the focal point of the Vanderbilt offense: running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Vaughn was a 4-star running back originally recruited heavily by Darrell Hazell, but he went to Illinois as part of the 2015 cycle. He then proceeded to go crazy in the game that essentially seal Hazell’s fate that year. With Purdue facing one of the worst rushing attacks in the country Vaughn ran wild for 180 yards and 2 TDs, plus had a 23 yard reception in a 48-14 blowout win. It was one of the worst performances of the Hazell era, and that is saying something.

Vaughn made it another year at Illinois, rushing for 31 yards against Purdue the next season on just two carries, then transferred to Vanderbilt. He is now a senior and is coming off of the best season of his career. His 1,244 yards last season were more than he ran in two years combined at Illinois (though, to be fair, he only got to face Hazell twice) and he also had 14 total touchdowns. He loses three of his starting offensive linemen, however, making Vanderbilt even more like bizarre Purdue.

At quarterback Ball State transfer Riley Neal is expected to take over for Kyle Shurmur. Shurmur threw for more than 3,000 yards last season and had a 24:6 TD to INT ratio. Neal is a one-year grad transfer solution and his numbers in Muncie were never great. He does have more than 7,000 yards passing in his career and 46 TDs to 25 INTs. In last year’s season finale he threw for 402 yards and 4 TDs against Kent State.

Neal has a great receiver to throw to in senior Kalija Lipscomb. Last season he was 12thin the country with 87 receptions and he finished with 916 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is an experienced 4-year player and great first option. Jared Pinkney (50-774-7) at tight end was second on the team in all categories and there are plenty of other good option with CJ Bolar (34-440-2) back as the No. 3 receiver from last season.

Vanderbilt Defense

Last season the Vanderbilt defense was 13thout of 14 teams in the SEC. They struggled with the pass rush, so it will be critical for Purdue’s makeshift offensive line to keep Elijah Sindelar clean. They had only two games with more than two sacks. Dayo Odeyingbo is the top returning lineman and he had only 2.5 sacks. Overall, four of the top five tacklers are gone.

The best returning player is Dimitri Moore, who was second on the team last season with 84 tackles and a sack. The defense will center around him, as he is expected to have a big season. Frank Coppet and Tae Daley are the returning starting safeties. Coppet had three interceptions last season and Daley had 45 tackles.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, they lost six starters from a defense that was not very good. If the defense gave up more than 31 points it was a loss. They also face Georgia the week before coming to Purdue, so it is not an easy start for them.

Vanderbilt Special Teams

Vanderbilt struggled in the kicking game last season as returning start Ryley Guay was only 13 of 22 on field goals. He had a long of 53 yards, but was erratic from pretty much any distance. The Commodores do need to find a new punter after Parker Thome graduated with an impressive 44.86 yards per kick average.

In the return game Jamauri Wakefield was average at best with a 21.29 average on 28 kickoff returns.

Game Outlook

After opening the season with a long road trip how will Purdue respond? The last time we had a west coast trip early in the year was at Oregon in 2008. That game came down to the wire, but the travel clearly had an effect on the team as it laid an egg the next week at home against Northern Illinois.

Vanderbilt is kind of a stagnant program though. They seem to be stuck in a cycle of 4-6 wins since James Franklin had consecutive 9-4 seasons before bolting to Penn State. They have been to six of their nine total bowl games since 2008, so the last decade has been kind to them from a competitiveness standpoint. Mason seems kind of Hope-esque in that he can get to six wins, but not much more.

Conversely, if Purdue is going to break into that 8-9 win club itself this needs to be a win. This is arguably our easiest non-conference game, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. We’re facing a team with a rebuilding defense and a makeshift offensive line. The running game will be good, but is a QB that was merely okay at Ball State really the answer?

Way-too-Early Prediction

I think we see a game where the offenses feel each other out at first before Purdue pulls away late. I am really excited to see what Purdue’s defense can do with the experience from last season adding talent and depth from a great recruiting class. I think they can at least slow down Vaughn (mostly because we now have competent people running things) and get to Neal a few times. Purdue 34, Vanderbilt 24