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Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. MTSU

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Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. MTSU

The Vanderbilt football team plays at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Photo by Claire Barnett

The Vanderbilt football team plays at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Photo by Claire Barnett

Claire Barnett

The Vanderbilt football team plays at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Photo by Claire Barnett

Claire Barnett

Claire Barnett

The Vanderbilt football team plays at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Photo by Claire Barnett

Ben Seltzer

After a long offseason, Vanderbilt football finally returns on Saturday.

The Commodores are set to host the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennesee State University in their first opening-day home game since 2016.

This time around, a blowout is highly unlikely. After everything went right against Middle Tennessee last year, this year’s matchup is shaping up differently. It should be a close, high-scoring game, with two high-powered senior quarterbacks under center.

Let’s take a closer look at just how the positions match up, given a rather new-look Vanderbilt team. 

RB Tavares Thomas vs. Vandy Inside Linebackers

Tavares Thomas has had a much lighter summer than years past.

He came into MTSU as a linebacker before switching to the running back spot in game six of his junior season. Of course, Thomas ended the season as their leading rusher that season, tallying 507 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He’s looking even more like a running back this season, as he has slimmed down from 250 to 234 lbs. Now facing a young Vanderblit line backing core, Thomas is looking to do some damage.

In the last two years, Vanderbilt has lost veteran linebackers Oren Burks and Zach Cunningham to the NFL Draft. This is a tough pill to swallow, as it leaves freshmen to fill in four of the six top linebacker spots.

Senior Jordan Griffin seems like the best bet to replace Burks and lead the linebacking core. He finished last season strong, recording 24 tackles in the team’s final three games.

It will be interesting to see what Thomas will be able to do against this young unit. What he does will likely set the tone for the game as a whole.

QB Brent Stockstill vs. Vanderbilt Secondary

For the second straight year, all eyes are on quarterback Brent Stockstill in this opening matchup. Stockstill, an NFL hopeful, is entering his final season with the Blue Raiders. He had a rough outing against the Commodores last year, throwing for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception en route to a 28-6 loss.

Stockstill is coming off of his first fully healthy offseason in quite some time, but will face a tough Vanderbilt secondary this weekend.

Vanderbilt’s secondary ranked 26th in the nation in total passing yards last season. Their defense, led by many returning players in the secondary, is under new leadership with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver taking the reins.

Veteran starters LaDarius Wiley, Joejuan Williams and Donovan Sheffield give Vanderbilt a very solid foundation against MTSU.  It should be a solid battle and nothing will come easy for Stockstill.

Vanderbilt Football vs. Home Openers

In the last 6 seasons, Vanderbilt has just one win in home openers. Much of this can be attributed to the difficult conference matchups they’ve drawn. Last time they started the season at Vanderbilt Stadium, the game against South Carolina ended in a heartbreaking, 16-13 loss.

Last season, Derek Mason’s squad bucked that trend in a 42-0 beatdown over Alabama A&M. One thing’s for sure: MTSU is no Alabama A&M. The Blue Raiders present more of a challenge, but hopefully this Commodore team manages to take control early, giving the freshman fans something to cheer about after the Anchor Dash.

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About the Contributors
Claire Barnett, Multimedia Director

Claire Barnett ('19) is the Multimedia Director of the Vanderbilt Hustler. As the director of all photo and video content, she is rarely seen without a...

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