You could be forgiven for thinking that Vanderbilt has remained undefeated so far with smoke and mirrors. In fact, that might have been an accurate sentiment before this past weekend; a special-teams meltdown allowed the Commodores to come from behind and beat South Carolina (Vandy was outgained 325-225), while six turnovers did in Ole Miss (who outgained the 'Dores 385-202).
But this weekend was different. Vanderbilt and Auburn were tied in first downs at 15 each. The Commodores outgained the Tigers 263-208, including being plus-59 in passing and only minus-4 rushing (on nine fewer attempts). And all of this after starting QB Chris Nickson, who had essentially been the Vanderbilt offense before getting injured, gave way to Mackenzi Adams, who did enough against the Auburn secondary to win the game.
|vs Auburn / 10.4.08
Auburn, meanwhile, was practically unable to move the ball after the first quarter, when the Tigers looked like they were about to show the 'Dores to be the frauds that we all thought they were. Auburn gained 156 yards in the first 15 minutes. Vanderbilt moved the ball a total of 32 yards on four drives.
But then, the Auburn offense remembered who they were, gaining just 14 yards on the next five drives. Vanderbilt closed out the quarter with a good punt return by D.J. Moore, followed by a 30-yard TD drive during which Adams went 4-for-4.
Adams would also account for 56 of the 68 yards on the game-winning drive in the third quarter; the other 12 came on Auburn penalties. The missed Auburn extra point that Brent Musberger kept warning us about ended up being the winning margin, though two missed FGs by Vanderbilt increased its importance.
Where does Auburn go from here? Who knows? The Tigers were supposed to start running the "Auburn offense" to turn things around, but it didn't. "We've got to make some changes," Mario Fannin said. But what changes can you make six games into the season? And to what effect? Auburn is dead in the SEC West; even if they win out, they would need Alabama to lose to someone else along the way and LSU to drop three conference games. The odds of that happening are not worth mentioning.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is still very much alive in the SEC East. They get Mississippi State on Saturday, which should be a win unless Vandy magically becomes Vandy again. The rest of the schedule, though, could be rough: at Georgia, Duke, Florida, at Kentucky, Tennessee, at Wake Forest. On Saturday, the Commodores beat the Tigers without smoke and mirrors. If they're going to win the East, they'll have to do it the same way.