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Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State Prediction: Picks, betting odds, analysis, more

 Billy Jones   in Football

Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea was a goal-line stand away from his first SEC victory last Saturday. His Commodores will welcome Mike Leach and his patented Air Raid offense into Music City. An up-and-down Mississippi State team lost big at home against an Alabama team focused on revenge last week.

Vanderbilt offense

Vanderbilt brings a new pro-style system that loves to utilize "11" personnel (one running back and one tight end). Offensive coordinator Joey Lynch has struggled to get the offense going. The Commodores have been shut out twice in SEC games-–albeit against Florida and Georgia’s defenses--and average 14.3 points per game. 

The significant change in the starting line-up will be at quarterback. Sophomore Mike Wright replaced Ken Seals, who hurt a finger in the third quarter of the Florida game two weeks ago. The more-mobile Wright brought a spark to the offense, throwing for 206 yards and running for 41. That included a 52-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Will Sheppard, who did most of the work on that play. 

Wright's ability to make plays on the scramble drill and out of the pocket could be vital to unlocking what has been a stingy Mississippi State defense, especially with Vandy's offensive line--as was the case last year--struggling to block in nearly every game. The Commodores are thin at running back, and carries should be split between sophomore Rocko Griffin (3.5 yards per carry) and true freshman Patrick Smith (3.8). 

Mississippi State defense

The Bulldogs defense matches up well with Vanderbilt because of their base 3-3-5 defense that coordinator Zach Arnett brought from San Diego State just two years ago. 

Arnett loves to move players around around to create problems for the offensive line. The push from the defensive line allows linebackers Nathaniel Johnson and Jett Johnson to clean up plays in the middle; the pair leads the team in tackles.

That's going to be an issue for Vandy's rushing attack. Mississippi State has only allowed one rusher to hit the century mark. That's Texas A&M star Isiah Spiller, who ran for exactly 100 yards against the Bulldogs. 

After giving up 49 points against Alabama, Mississippi State’s defense should be poised for a bounce-back week; however, Wright could give MSU some trouble.

Mississippi State offense

Mike Leach’s will make its first visit to Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday. His Air Raid offense loves to do one thing, and that is throwing the football. Will Rogers has thrown for 2,162 yards this year while completing almost 73.7% of his throws. 

While the old-school Air Raid ran a lot of downfield four vertical concepts, SEC defenses have worked hard to take those away/ Leach has responded with a dink-and-dunk offense. This system puts a massive onus on the receivers to break Vanderbilt tackles to move the ball. 

Six Bulldogs have caught at least 22 passes this year, led by wide receiver Makai Polk (53 catches, 489 yards). 

The MSU has not managed to crack 30 since its opening game, but this game could give them that opportunity as Vanderbilt has struggled, giving up 34.0 points a game. 

Vanderbilt defense

Lea’s 4-2-5 defense has seen its share of growing pains thus far this season. It fared well against the South Carolina offense, although it couldn't get the stop it needed at the end.

SEC defenses have played the Air Raid by dropping nine (and sometimes even 10) in coverage and relying on secondary players to make tackles consistently. Lea will undoubtedly play a lot of coverage, but he will have to make a choice regarding his front. He can either opt to move to a three-man front or try his luck rushing four.

Either way, Vanderbilt will be hard-pressed to get to the quarterback. The Commodores have managed only four sacks on the season, which means Lea might have to keep that fourth rusher. Linebacker De'Rickey Wright is coming off his best collegiate game, and leads the team with four pressures. 

Vanderbilt has held opponents to 261.1 yards a game, but its 8.1 yards allow per throw isn't good. No one it has played will throw the ball as much as the Bulldogs’ unique offense.

This game puts the Vanderbilt defense in an interesting position to try and defend against a very different kind of offense. At the same time, Mississippi State will look to kick its offense into gear against what has been a struggling Vanderbilt defense.

Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State prediction

Nick Cole and Christopher Smith share their Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State prediction and betting picks for Week 8 of the 2021 college football season.