NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It has been a difficult start to the season for Vanderbilt, with two of its first three matchups coming against highly ranked teams, so the Commodores are still looking to earn their first victory of the season when they host Northern Illinois on Saturday. Vanderbilt has allowed 46 points per game in decisive losses to No. 3 Georgia, Purdue and No. 5 LSU, but with three of the next four games at home, coach Derek Mason is looking forward to a fresh start.
TV: Noon ET, SEC Network. LINE: Vanderbilt -6.5
"We got a stretch run of games where I think this team can really start to get after some things, but we got to tighten it up all the way around," Mason told reporters after the Commodores were hammered 66-38 last week by LSU. Vanderbilt gave up 599 yards of total offense against the Tigers and through three games has allowed opponents to average 539.3 yards per contest. One bright spot has been senior running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns last week and has moved into a tie for eighth in school history for rushing touchdowns (15). The Huskies opened the season with a victory over Illinois State but gave up 79 points in back-to-back losses to No. 19 Utah and Nebraska.
ABOUT NORTHERN ILLINOIS (1-2)
Senior quarterback Ross Bowers, who transferred from Cal, has passed for 776 yards through three games with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Junior running back Tre Harbison has rushed for 162 yards, but the Huskies have accumulated just 231 on the ground in three games with one touchdown (from Bowers). Junior receiver Tyrice Richie is one of three Huskies to catch at least 10 passes and has two scores, but the Northern Illinois defense has surrendered 44 of its 89 points allowed in the second quarter.
ABOUT VANDERBILT (0-3)
Vaughn has rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns so far while averaging five yards per carry, but the Commodores have struggled to establish the run as they are averaging 110.7 yards per game. Senior quarterback Riley Neal – who started 30 games at Ball State before transferring – has completed 58.2 percent of his passes while throwing for three touchdowns. Defensively, Vanderbilt has given up 12 passing touchdowns while opponents are rushing for 178.3 yards per contest.
1. Neal faced Northern Illinois twice while at Ball State in 2016 and 2018, completing 55-of-96 passes for 536 yards and no touchdowns in a pair of losses.
2. After entering last week as the only FBS team to not record a sack, the Commodores registered two against LSU.
3. Northern Illinois sophomore CB Jalen McKie blocked a field goal and an extra point against Nebraska as the Huskies set a school record with three blocked kicks (senior LB Antonio Jones-Davis also blocked a field goal).
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 27, Northern Illinois 17