Three matchups to watch: Vanderbilt vs. Northern Illinois

Vanderbilt hosts Northern Illinois on Saturday, and the Commodores’ game plan relies on three key matchups


Hunter Long

Vanderbilt falls 42-24 at Purdue on September 14, 2019. Photo by Hunter Long

Alyssa Muir, Senior Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores are still searching for their first win of the year after three tough losses at the hands of Georgia, Purdue and LSU to start the season. They will have a chance to get the badly-needed first victory this week when the Northern Illinois Huskies come to town. The Huskies are 1-2 on the season with their two losses coming to Nebraska and Utah.  

Here are three matchups to keep an eye on during Saturday’s game. 

Vanderbilt Secondary vs. QB Ross Bowers

Quarterback Joe Burrow tore up the Commodores secondary in last week’s loss to LSU. Burrow threw for 398 yards and six touchdowns as he led to the Tigers’ offense to a 66-point onslaught. If Vanderbilt wants to get its first win of the season on Saturday, the team will need to show major improvements in the secondary. 

Huskies’ quarterback Ross Bowers has gotten off to a solid start, completing over 60 percent of his passes and throwing for 776 yards. Bowers has already faced Nebraska and Utah’s defenses so he is plenty accustomed to playing against Power Five teams.  

WR Kalija Lipscomb vs. CB Jalen McKie

Lipscomb came into this season with sky-high expectations but has yet to break out one of the huge games that he is known for among Commodore fans. He has a modest 16 receptions for 174 yards on the season. Fortunately for the Commodores, however, he caught his first touchdown of the season last week against LSU, so that could help him get going. The more production that Vanderbilt can get from Lipscomb, the more pressure it will take away from running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn as Northern Illinois will not be able to load the box as much.  

Huskies’ cornerback Jalen McKie will spend a lot of time matched up against Lipscomb. McKie has been the Huskies’ best cover corner so far, and he has an interception, three pass break-ups and nine tackles on the season. 

McKie is only listed at 5’8”, so Lipscomb’s size advantage should help him establish position early. 

Vanderbilt Defensive Line vs. Northern Illinois Offensive Line

The Commodores finally got their first two sacks of the season last week against LSU after failing to record any against Georgia and Purdue. The lack of pressure through three games has been especially concerning given the struggles in the secondary. The few times that Vanderbilt was able to force LSU to punt last week was largely as a result of increased pressure on Burrow. 

The Huskies’ offensive line has given up nine sacks through the first three games, so this is definitely a line that is susceptible to pressure, and the Commodores should look to exploit this weakness.