While the Vanderbilt offense is one that’s been surprisingly effective and explosive through the first part of the season, their defense is still lagging behind a bit. They’re giving up 29 points per game, which is good for 87th in the country. Their rush defense has given up 140 yards per game at 4.0 yards per carry (not horrible, but not good, either). But the pass defense has really struggled with explosives with their don’t bend, but break, style. They’re only allowing 59% completion percentage, but giving up over 13 yards per completion for 275 yards per game through the air.
New defensive coordinator Nick Howell was an experienced hire after spending most of the last decade as a DC at Virginia, and BYU before that. Howell runs a somewhat hybrid 3-4, 2-4 defense, using a nose tackle and a defensive tackle or two in tandem with a star (the same as a Jack linebacker in Alabama’s defense). They then have two true inside linebackers and an “anchor”, which is a safety that lines up as a linebacker in some formations. The goal for Howell is to use the star and anchor positions as hybrid DL/LB and LB/S so that they can really be in any formation at any time without substituting, even with a dedicated nickel cornerback on the field.
Linebacker Anfernee Orji is the defense’s top player and leads the team in tackles with 29, plus a couple of tackles for loss. The safety duo is the other main strength of the team with veteran starter Maxwell Worship and the athletic De’Rickey Wright bringing a whole lot of size and hard-hitting to the backfield. Wright also doubles as the anchor position and swaps roles with CJ Taylor. He also has the team’s only interception so far through 2022.
There hasn’t been too much in the way of pass rush for the Commodores yet this season. Nose Tackle Christian James leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while a handful of other players have a sack each.
I don’t see a whole lot of hope from the Commodores here to really slow down the Alabama offense. They should do a decent job of shutting down some off-tackle and horizontal run plays and other short, horizontal passes, but Alabama should have a size advantage running inside zone, and the receivers should be able to get open deep for much of the game while Bryce Young shouldn’t have to worry too much about a vicious pass rush.
We’ll say 52 points for the Tide in this one.