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Vanderbilt football vs. Middle Tennessee: Time, TV schedule, game preview, score

Commodores host Blue Raiders in season opener

Quarterback Brandon McIlwain #11 of the South Carolina Gamecocks fumbles against of the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt opens its season at home Saturday against Middle Tennessee State looking to build off a five-win campaign last season, which ended with the Commodores missing a bowl game for the third time in the past four years.

A promising 3-0 start quickly was swept away by losses in seven of their next eight games and improving the defense is a must for success this season after the Commodores finished 11th in the SEC in points allowed per game (31.3).

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network Alternative. LINE: Vanderbilt -3

The Commodores hope new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver - hired from the San Francisco 49ers - can shore up a unit that only returns four starters.

“Teams aren’t made this time of year,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason told reporters Tuesday. “Teams are made in the summer. I thought we had a good summer.”

Senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur returns after a tremendous 2017 season and has the school’s career passing yardage record in sight, but the Commodores will have to navigate a rough schedule which includes trips to No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 4 Georgia, plus three consecutive SEC road games late in the season.

The Blue Raiders overcame an injury-filled 2017 season - in which players missed a combined 125 games with injuries - to win a bowl game for the first time in five tries since 2009.

ABOUT MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (2017: 7-6)

Quarterback Brent Stockstill owns the school’s all-time records for passing yards (8,951) and touchdowns (77), but has missed nine games the past two seasons with injuries. Wide receiver Ty Lee led Conference USA in receptions in 2017 with 79, and a trio of running backs - Tavares Thomas, Brad Anderson and Terelle West - combined for 1,306 yards rushing and 47 receptions a season ago.

The Blue Raiders return nine starters on defense, highlighted by linebacker Khalil Brooks and his 17 tackles for loss last season (tops in C-USA), including 7.5 sacks.

ABOUT VANDERBILT (2017: 5-7)

Shurmur (school-record 26 touchdown passes a season ago) enters the season 2,963 passing yards shy of breaking Jay Cutler’s school record of 8,697, but he lost three seniors from an experienced receiving corps.

All-time school rushing leader Ralph Webb graduated, leaving the running game to Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn (2015 Big Ten Newcomer of the Year) and Khari Blasingame. Senior safety LaDarius Wiley and senior linebacker Charles Wright lead the defense with Wiley recording a team-high 88 tackles a season ago and Wright finished last season with nine sacks – most by a Vanderbilt player since 1993.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Vanderbilt forced only nine turnovers last season, tied for the second-lowest total in FBS behind Rice.

2. Middle Tennessee State faces three SEC teams (Vanderbilt, No. 4 Georgia, Kentucky).

3. The two teams have met six times since 2001 with each squad winning three times (Middle Tennessee State in 2001, 2002 and 2005; Vanderbilt each of the past three seasons).

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 24, Middle Tennessee State 20

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