Starting Fast the Key For Vanderbilt Against Connecticut

David RutzCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 21: Jordan Todman #23 of the Univeristy of Connecticut Huskies runs with the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 21, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut defeated Notre Dame 33-30 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A big part of defeating favored Connecticut this Saturday will be starting fast, something Vanderbilt has been woeful at the past two years.

Even with Robbie Caldwell's first career victory as a head coach two weeks back, Vanderbilt has only won five of its past 23 games dating back to 2008.

In every victory since then, the Commodores scored first; they're 5-1 during this stretch when they draw first blood and 0-17 when they don't.

No, that's not really a coincidence. Getting off to a quick start for an early game on Saturday is hugely important for Vanderbilt to win, and a victory is absolutely vital if the Commodores want to even sniff a winning record this year.

After this game, the next two weeks are against winless Eastern Michigan and SEC East cellar dweller Georgia. And you read that correctly; Georgia's 0-3 in the SEC and reeling after an ugly loss at Mississippi State.

The Commodores have a legitimate shot at entering that showdown in Athens with a 3-2 record, but the Huskies stand in the way.

However, Vanderbilt's feeling the positive effects of its first open date in nearly two years, with a fully loaded backfield and several other key players nursed almost to full health.

Even more important is that the Commodores have been able to savor a victory over the past two weeks. It had certainly been awhile.

The Huskies are 7.5 point favorites going in, but that shouldn't faze anyone in Nashville. Remember, the Commodores were 12-point underdogs in Oxford. Ole Miss should have been a 12-point dog in that one two weeks ago, and even then Vanderbilt would have covered in a 28-14 win.

Not that Connecticut doesn't deserve the credit. The Huskies have a terrific offensive line and a tough running game to boot led by Jordan Todman, who looks to be healed from his recent injury. Like the Commodores, they're no stranger to instability at the quarterback position, but this is still a tough offense to stop.

This game will be won or lost in the trenches.

Vanderbilt can exploit them in the running game. The Huskies are 74th in the nation in rush defense, allowing 160 yards per game, so, led by Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, and with support from a near fully-healthy Wesley Tate, the Commodores need to be able to move the ball on the ground, eat up clock and take pressure off their defense.

The run-heavy Huskies would have a tougher time rallying from an early deficit, especially with a new starting quarterback, Cody Endres, taking over the offense after he impressed in the second half of a rout of Buffalo last Saturday.

Again, striking quickly and early will be key to quieting the home crowd (not a big stadium at Rentschler Field, but as we know at Vanderbilt, small doesn't necessarily mean quiet) and moving the Commodores back to .500.

A win over an SEC opponent did wonders for Vanderbilt's confidence and has the Commodores hungry for even more.

The last time the opposition struck first and Vanderbilt rallied was the "GameDay" win against Auburn, in October of 2008. That was also the last time the team notched consecutive wins.

But in that one, the Commodores were fresh and optimistic, coming off a road win at Ole Miss and an open date.

That sounds familiar.