Previewing Vanderbilt’s matchup with Baylor in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl, which kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m. CT at NRG Stadium in Houston. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
History Lesson: Vanderbilt has faced Baylor just twice in program history. The Bears won consecutive games against the Commodores in 1953 (47-6 in Waco) and 1954 (25-19 in Nashville). The Commodores are 14-13-3 all-time against current members of the Big 12 Conference. In its last meeting with a Big 12 opponent, Vanderbilt defeated No. 18 Kansas State 14-7 on Sept. 16, 2017.
Names to Watch (Baylor):
QB Charlie Brewer
The sophomore passer has thrown for 2,635 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But Brewer has also rushed a team-high 177 times in 2018, recording 50 or more rushing yards on three occasions and notching six touchdowns on the ground.
WR Denzel Mims
Mims has hauled in a team-high eight receiving touchdowns this season and has 49 catches for 699 yards, or 14.3 yards per catch. Expect Mims to garner extra attention from Vanderbilt’s defense in the absence of Baylor’s Jalen Hurd (69 catches, 946 yards, four touchdowns), who will miss the Texas Bowl after undergoing knee surgery earlier this month.
LB Clay Johnston
Baylor’s leading tackler (95 total stops) knows how to stuff a stat sheet. The junior Johnston notched a career-best 17 total tackles, including 14 solo stops, in a 35-31 win over Oklahoma State on Nov. 3. Johnston averaged 13.3 tackles during the month of November.
Yards per game averaged by Vanderbilt’s offense in 2018. Since World War II, only one other Vanderbilt offense has averaged more yardage that this year’s unit: 1974, when the Dores averaged 412.8 yards en route to a Peach Bowl appearance. The Commodores’ 27.7 points-per-game average is also the program’s fourth-best in the modern era.
Baylor’s average time of possession, which ranks first in the Big 12 and 20th nationally. The Bears know how to sustain drives and control the clock, which will be an interesting matchup with Vanderbilt. The Dores rank 33rd nationally in time of possession (31:36).
Number of takeaways produced by Vanderbilt’s defense, the program’s most through 12 games since 2013. New defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has instilled a ball-hawking mentality this season, and the Dores have listened. Vanderbilt has notched nine fumble recoveries – seven more than in 2017 – and 12 interceptions, its most under head coach Derek Mason.
The Big Question: Can Vanderbilt carry momentum into the postseason? The Commodores won three of four games to close the regular season, including a third straight over rival Tennessee. They are playing their best ball headed into the Texas Bowl. But the same could be said for 2016, when Vanderbilt lost to NC State in the Independence Bowl. Will the month-long layoff leave the Dores lethargic? Or can Vanderbilt’s late-season charge spark a big performance at NRG Stadium?
Vanderbilt Needs To: Find balance on offense. Vanderbilt has scored 119 points in its last three wins over Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee, largely due to a balanced offense. The Dores averaged 266.0 passing yards and 167.7 rushing yards in those three wins. Balance is the key with quarterback Kyle Shurmur, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. With a two-dimensional attack, Vanderbilt can put up points against a Baylor defense that ranks 109th nationally in yards per play allowed (6.28).
Did You Know? Vanderbilt has won nine of its last 10 games against nonconference foes. Its only loss during that stretch was a tight 22-17 setback at then-No. 8 Notre Dame on Sept. 15.
He Said It: “We’re excited about going to a bowl game. You’ve earned that. Now what you’ve got to do is go down and win. We need to win and we look forward to the opportunity to compete against a 6-6 Baylor team. Both teams are vying for a winning season, so let’s go.” -Mason
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.