Alabama was efficient without being spectacular over the last couple of weeks. The Crimson Tide handled Fresno State and Colorado State with the ease expected. Now the team moves into SEC play with a trip to surprisingly competitive Vanderbilt. The Commodores shut down a Kansas State attack that had been lights out this season last weekend, making this contest much more interesting than it seemed before the start of the season.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Respect the Vanderbilt defense
It is all too easy to look at this and just assume that Alabama will roll over Vanderbilt. That is what the Crimson Tide does to most opponents, especially to one that has been a bottom dweller in the SEC seemingly since time began. In a strange twist though this clash will feature the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense statistically, but it is the Commodores that hold that lofty position and not the Crimson Tide.
The Vandy defense is loaded with upperclassmen. The Commodores start seven seniors and three juniors, players that are battle tested in head coach Derek Mason’s system. Mason was the defensive coordinator for those Stanford sides that used to give Oregon and USC fits out west, so he knows what he is doing on that side of the ball.
Alabama will be able to move the ball on the Commodores BUT the Crimson Tide cannot go into this with the wrong mental attitude. If they expect to just show up and win – something even Vanderbilt fans will admit was a thing in the past – then this game is going to get much more difficult.
Get Jalen Hurts loose
The Vanderbilt defense has been great so far, but they have yet to face a threat like ‘Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Even when Mason was shutting down the Ducks, mobile quarterbacks would give Stanford fits. That is why the Alabama game plan needs to feature a large number of plays where Hurts is either dictated to run or that he has the option to pull the ball down and make this happen.
The other players in the Alabama running game – namely Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris – have been good this year without really exploding with big plays. Hurts has that ability to score a touchdown every single time he decides to start running as his athleticism and vision are unmatched. Getting him free in the Vandy secondary will very quickly break down their defensive goals and ideas.
Make Vandy one dimensional
The Vanderbilt offense has yet to really kick into gear in 2017. The Commodores have a quarterback in Kyle Shurmur and a running back in Ralph Webb who both have the ability to cause the Crimson Tide problems. The Alabama pass rush has been a huge issue for Nick Saban’s side so far this season and if they give Shurmur the time he wants to sit in the pocket he will find receivers and move the ball. The Vanderbilt offensive line has been worse blocking for the run than the pass, but history shows Webb can go if given the chance.
The best way to stop this is to make Vanderbilt one dimensional. Alabama is still much better than Vandy player for player so Mason will want to keep a balanced attack going to confuse the Crimson Tide. By taking away either the run or the pass – and I would suggest run giving the strengths of the two sides – then Saban will be daring the other part of the Vanderbilt offense to beat them. It is hard to see a one dimensional Vanderbilt side upsetting Alabama.