Vanderbilt has taken Stanford's approach to college football in that both schools are private institutions with high academic requirements. Thus, Vanderbilt has learned to recruit nationally using its academic reputation to secure players. Under head coach James Franklin who is a dynamic personality, this means that Vanderbilt has gradually improved its talent levels from a recruiting class ranked 70th in 2011 to a current ranking of 20th for 2014. That means that they're still not a particularly fast team but they recruit smart players who can adjust to multiple positions, tall, offensive linemen, and don't commit a lot of penalties or mistakes that will get you beat.
This is reflected by the Commodores' offense which hasn't scored less than 24 points in a game this season but in only one game have they scored more than 38. They rank in the middle to back end of most Southeastern Conference categories and as evidenced by their point totals they don't do anything particularly well but do seem to play better at home than on the road.
Vanderbilt runs a pro style offense with a tight end and fullback and they'll go with three receivers when not in 11 or 21 personnel. The Commodores will keep at least one tight end in the game at all times and use power concepts with reduced formations. For example, the fullback can be aligned in the backfield or on a wing/slot outside of the tight end or tackle. They will also play six and even seven offensive linemen at times in order to get more size on the field or use an unbalanced line with a tight end. Vanderbilt will even use a Wildcat formation with six and seven offensive linemen. They'll go both under center and in the gun although they are more likely to get in the gun in long yardage situations.
Their offensive line features no one under 6 foot 4 but no one over 305 pounds either. It's not a physically overpowering group that can get good pad level and drive you off the ball but they can move and think on their feet which plays to their strengths as players. For example, they will run toss and pull both the guard and tackle to that side with the tight end blocking down on a defensive end. The tackle takes the first guy outside the end and the guard and fullback turn up inside to take linebackers or safeties. They will run outside zone because they can let their backs make reads and aren't quite capable of knocking people back or pushing them around. Even in short yardage situations, they don't always get a hat on hat and zone block people; they'll pull a guard and run power. They communicate well and generally block the right people but they struggle with speed off the edge.
Andrew Jelks is a redshirt freshman who plays the right tackle spot (in place of the injured Andrew Bridges) and he's about 290 pounds. As a result, Vanderbilt tends to run to its left behind senior Wesley Johnson even though he is not a physically overpowering player. Center Joe Townsend is the most imposing of the group at 305 pounds and is one guy who can push people around in the running game. Backup guard Chase White comes in as an extra tight end at times.
Jeron Seymour is the starting tailback at 5 foot 6 and 200 pounds but they'll alternate him with senior Wesley Tate who offers a bigger, more physical style at 224 pounds. Seymour uses his height well to hide behind blockers, sets them up well, and make cuts; he's not overly fast or elusive but can be physical. Fullback Fitz Lassing is a good blocker at 245 pounds.
Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels was injured against Georgia and will not play versus A&M. Patton Robinette, a 6 foot 4, 212 pound redshirt freshman helped to finish off the Bulldogs and will start the rest of the season. He is a classic dropback passer who has pretty good footwork and mechanics and also can be used in the running game. He's accurate but lacks the arm to make downfield throws as well as those across the field.
In the passing game, Vanderbilt runs a lot of play action and shorter routes. They miss receiver Chris Boyd who suspended after an indictment in the sexual assault matter that occurred prior to the season and had 50 receptions last season for 774 yards and was the down the field option in the passing game. They like to try to get the ball in the hands of big senior Jordan Matthews via screens and crossing routes and will line him anywhere across the formation to do so. He's not a polished route runner but he is a monster after the catch but has had a lot of drops. He usually doesn't get the down the field in their offense and leaves those chores to senior Jonathan Krause who has taken Boyd's role in the offense. Krause is built like a slot at 5 foot 11 and plays outside but will also line up inside of Matthews. He's an effective blocker for Matthews in the screen game and he is used down the field on go routes, averaging nearly 18 yards a reception as opposed to Matthews' who is just under 14 yards a reception. Like most tight ends, Kris Kentera and Steven Scheu are used as blockers in the run game and to clear out for other people in the passing game. They'll also sneak them out occasionally on wheel routes when Matthews or Krause go inside. Tight end Brandon Vanderberg was counted on as an option as a blocker at 260 pounds but he was also dismissed from the team after the summer incident and they haven't gotten the same level of play from the remaining players.
A&M has had trouble stopping both the run and the pass this season. In particular, teams that use power concepts such as a tight end and a fullback such have given them particular problems because they have stayed in a base 4-2-5 alignment with a nickel back. Teams won't just run behind the strength of the alignment either; they'll show the Aggies a formation with a tight end and run back the other way with a fullback or H back as the lead blocker. The good news is that A&M will not see the zone read or inverted veer this week; the bad news is that A&M's perimeter defenders sometimes don't close down against trap blocks to their side and backside defenders don't beat enough down blocks and get penetration. Because of this, Vanderbilt will probably make more of an effort to run the ball and use extra linemen and tight ends to do so.
In addition, it's very important that the Aggies get off the field early in possessions. Because they have had the tendency to play the same 11 people, the defensive line has a tendency to get worn down against the rush, don't get their hands moving to shed blockers, and play high the longer a possession or game goes on. They get pushed back and an't protect A&M's linebackers. That also impacts them in that they don't get a pass rush in long yardage situations.
Until last week, A&M's corners had held up well in man situations down the field but that changed as well. If A&M plays off of Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt will make every effort to get him the ball on screens and hitches and the Aggies lack the size at corner to stop those plays at the line of scrimmage (either by beating blocks or tackling). They will also use wheel routes because A&M's linebackers simply haven't picked those defenders up off of play action.
Playing a backup quarterback making his first start on the road, it's hard to imagine that Vanderbilt will put up more than 38 points and they're actually likely to score fewer. The Commodores are not a great running team and if they do run the ball well it's more likely that the Aggies didn't get off the field early in a possession. Vanderbilt will probably stay in the game using Matthews for yardage after the catch and because they will convert enough third downs to stay in the game. Theoretically, at some point, it should be difficult for them to match the Aggies score for score although recent opponents haven't had that issue regardless of how good their offense is. Also, A&M isn't forcing turnovers at the same rate in their past two games which has impacted their ability to get off the field. Overall, look for another good output from an opposing offense unless the Aggies can get some turnovers and get off the field with some three and outs.