Vanderbilt (3-1) begins a brutal stretch of opponents that starts with #2 Alabama (3-0) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Commodores held on 38-28 against Northern Illinois after boldly starting true freshman QB AJ Swann over Mike Wright.
Alabama, on the other hand, thoroughly dominated UL-Monroe by outscoring them 63-7. They blocked a punt for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown, and Will Anderson had a pick six.
Can the Tide remain undefeated and cover the large spread? Their odds to do so are found below, as well as predictions, picks, and key matchups.
Vanderbilt vs. Alabama Odds
After covering the -49.5 spread against UL-Monroe, Alabama again faces a significant gap. They are -40.5 in this matchup due to a clear talent advantage on both sides of the ball. The over under sits at 58.5 total points, which implies that there is no faith in Vanderbilt’s ability to score on Will Anderson and company.
Vanderbilt vs. Alabama Prediction & Pick
The best bet for this SEC matchup is taking Vanderbilt to cover the spread. Alabama will trounce the Commodores, but 40.5 points is too much against a team that possesses enough weapons to orchestrate some drives.
AJ Swann displayed intriguing accuracy against Northern Illinois, and he immediately flashed chemistry with WR Will Sheppard, who has 313 yards and 7 touchdowns already. Vanderbilt also trots out speedster WR Jayden McGowan on the outside. Per PFF, he’s averaging 12.5 yards after the catch per reception, which is 4th in the nation (minimum 10 catches).
Should Vanderbilt’s weak offensive line fold, RB Re’Mahn Davis is a safety blanket in the flat who can pick up meaningful yards when the play is busted. As a runner, Davis is hard to bring down and will gain yards after contact. Out of the 64 running backs with at least 40 rushing attempts, Davis ranks 7th in PFF’s signature Elusive Rating.
Alabama’s defense is a different animal. Their mammoth defensive tackles form a wall, and Will Anderson is virtually unblockable as a pass rusher. Linebackers Moody and To’oTo’o are effective against the run, while the secondary mostly suppresses receivers. Vanderbilt likely struggles to run the ball and consistently drive, but Swann, Sheppard, McGowan, and Davis are talented enough to score 14-17 points. Therefore, is it probable that Alabama produces 55-58 points?
They managed 63 points against UL-Monroe, but that total included 21 points from special teams and the defense. Bryce Young threw two interceptions, and the fact that they only churned out 42 points against a highly inferior team is slightly concerning. Plus, Vanderbilt’s defense is a tougher test.
The offense remains effective with Young under center, but it lacks the explosiveness and ease we are used to witnessing. WR Traeshon Holden has been the only consistent receiver, yet he isn’t a true number one target in the mold of a Calvin Ridley or DeVonta Smith. Jermaine Burton has disappointed so far, and true freshman Kobe Prentice needs to refine his route running.
RB Jahmyr Gibbs and Jase McClellan will likely be effective against a weak Vanderbilt run defense, so I expect Alabama to lean on the ground game. Look for medium to long drives that chew up the clock and somewhat restrain the potential scoring.
Will the Tide dominate Vanderbilt? Without a doubt. But I see them ending with 49-52 points and failing to cover the spread here.
Vanderbilt vs. Alabama Key Matchups
Which crucial defensive unit can contribute in a huge manner: Alabama’s secondary or Vanderbilt’s linebackers? Their tough matchups are found below.
Will Sheppard and Jayden McGowan vs. Alabama Secondary
Due to Alabama’s fierce front seven, Vanderbilt’s best hope for scoring is through the air. Sheppard has thrived in between the numbers, as he has 12 catches on 14 targets for 172 yards and 4 touchdowns in this area (per PFF). If Swann can routinely find Sheppard over the middle for 8-12 yards, he can patiently wait for the moment until McGowan burns his defender for a chunk play.
CB Terrion Arnold and Kool-Aid McKinstry will be tasked with neutralizing these two threats. Arnold has locked down opposing receivers this season; he only allowed one catch for one yard in the near-upset against Texas. However, Kool-Aid is the weak link who Vanderbilt may exploit. He can be out of position and beaten with vertical speed; this causes him to hold too often. Whichever team wins this matchup likely end up covering the spread, and I expect Vanderbilt to produce enough here to cover.
Jayden McGowan • @VandyFootball
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) September 5, 2022
Vanderbilt Linebackers vs Alabama Run Game
Vanderbilt’s defensive tackles are mediocre against the run, so their linebackers have to wrap up and generate stops. Anfernee Orji is truly elite at stopping the run; he’s a sound tackler who will be the leader of this defense. Kane Patterson and Ethan Barr are not on Orji’s level, but they are solid defenders who can make plays.
Jahmyr Gibbs in particular poses a massive threat to Vanderbilt’s defense, but there is some hope that the Commodores prevent Alabama from gashing them for 200+ yards. If they are successful at limiting Alabama’s run game, then the offense has a far better chance of keeping the game somewhat close.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 17, 2022