By (Matthew Speakman)

Alabama will open up its SEC schedule with a road trip to face Vanderbilt, who knocked off No. 18 Kansas State last week at home. The Crimson Tide has not traveled to Nashville to take on the Commodores since 2007 – Nick Saban’s first year as head coach. The Crimson Tide won that game, 24-10, but both programs have come a long way since then. To get more insight on the Commodores, I talked to Cutler Klein, the sports editor of Vanderbilt’s student newspaper, Vanderbilt Hustler. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Vanderbilt’s defense has been lights out [Top 10 in total defense in the country] this season. How much of a different challenge does Alabama present for the Commodores’ defense?

A: Alabama’s offense will be the best Vanderbilt has seen so far, no question about it. However, it won’t be a new style that Vanderbilt hasn’t seen. Last week, Vanderbilt was able to effectively force Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz to beat them through the air instead of on the ground. The result was a season-low in passing yards and two picks for Ertz. Jalen Hurts is on a new level from Ertz, but if Vanderbilt can force Hurts to beat them through the air, they may be able to slow them down just enough. It will be the biggest task this defense will face all season.

Q: Charles Wright has had a great season rushing the passer. How big of a factor will he be facing Alabama, who has struggled with pass protection?

A: Wright has been a menace all season long up front. He has both the size and athleticism to become a nightmare for offensive linemen. The entire Vanderbilt front seven has been remarkable so far, racking up 10 sacks through three games, compared to 15 all season in 2016. Players like Wright, Dare Odeyingbo, Emmanuel Smith and Oren Burks have been an integral part in shutting down great quarterbacks like Ertz and Brent Stockstill from MTSU. The front seven will have to have another stellar performance and put pressure on Hurts if Vanderbilt wants any shot at springing an upset.

Q: Kyle Shurmer is top 10 in quarterback rating and also has not turned the ball over this season. What does he mean for Vanderbilt’s offense?

A: Shurmur has become the centerpiece of this offense. Last season, you saw his confidence and skill grow, and this season, he has looked like a bona fide SEC pocket passer. He looks comfortable, poised and in command of the offense. Quite simply, he’s running the show. If defenses want to stack the box against Ralph Webb, Shurmur is going to make them regret it, as he’s done three times this season. His chemistry with his veteran receivers is off the charts. If his offensive line keeps him on his feet and comfortable in the pocket, which they have all season, only conceding a couple of sacks so far, he is set for another big game.

Q: What do you think of the matchup between Ralph Webb and Alabama’s front seven?

A: The matchup regarding Webb will come down to Alabama’s defensive strategy. The first three opponents of the season decided to stack the box and make Vanderbilt beat them through the air, and so far, Vanderbilt has beaten all three opponents through the air. If Alabama goes the same route, then Webb and this new-look offensive line will have to find a way to create gaps and get into space. Once you get Webb into space, there’s no slowing him down. If Alabama decides to give more respect to Shurmur and clog up the secondary, then Webb will have to have a big game and allow the play action to open up the passing game.

Q: How big was last week’s win and do you feel that Vanderbilt was robbed of a top 25 ranking this week?

A: Last week’s win over No. 18 Kansas State was monumental in terms of Vanderbilt’s reputation nationwide. It turned a lot of heads and made people realize that this team is not just good by Vanderbilt standards – they’re good, period. As far as the ranking goes, it’s not surprising Vanderbilt did not get ranked. Objectively, they deserve a ranking, but they received so few votes after Week Two that it would have required a complete upheaval in the rankings to get them in. They’ll likely be ranked by the end of the season.

Q: How do you feel Derek Mason’s coaching stint has gone thus far?

A: Derek Mason has built himself a fine football program. He took a program torched and gutted by the departure of James Franklin and built it into a culture of winning and winning the right way. His players have bought into his culture, he commands respect from his players, his staff, opponents and the local media. He has slowly, but surely, started recruiting very well, and has Vanderbilt fans believing in the future of this program. In addition, he’s let more and more of his personality show as he’s become more comfortable in his role. He’s charismatic, knowledgeable and could make even the staunchest of doubters run through a wall for him.

Q: Give us your score prediction and why you chose that.

A: The way I see it, if Vanderbilt manages to spring this upset, it’ll be the biggest win in school history, including a hypothetical future national title. With that being said, this game should be much closer than the 19.5-point Vegas line on the game. Ultimately, Hurts and this Alabama offense will be far too much for this Vanderbilt defense to handle for four quarters, and this stifling Alabama defense should hold Shurmur and Webb in check. Vanderbilt will keep this thing close for three quarters, but I predict a 28-17 Alabama win.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports