The Vanderbilt Commodores will stay in Nashville for their postseason action as they take on the NC State Wolfpack in the 2012 Music City Bowl at LP Field.
"I love Nashville, and I'm excited about the (possibility) of the Music City Bowl, but we try to focus our time on the things that we can control, and wherever they tell us we're going we will be unbelievably excited," VU's coach James Franklin said after the team's regular-season finale win over Wake Forest. "There is no bad bowl game."
Franklin got his wish after leading his Commodores to an 8-4 record, its best in 30 years, courtesy of a six-game winning streak that they will take into the bowl game. The Commodores also finished with an impressive 5-3 mark in SEC action. Vanderbilt's last loss came on Oct. 13 when it hosted Florida and its previous losses came to South Carolina, Northwestern, and Georgia, who are all playing in bowl games this season. Franklin has done a tremendous job since taking over the helm of the program as he has now led it to an unprecedented two straight bowl game appearances and its best record in 30 years after a 2-4 start.
Vanderbilt may not know what to expect as it takes on an inconsistent yet talented NC State squad. The Wolfpack will be led by Dana Bible for one game after Tom O'Brien was dismissed on Nov. 25 despite the team's 7-5 finish to the regular season that yielded the school's fourth consecutive bowl appearance. The program will move forward under the guidance of Dave Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to a BCS game this season. The Wolfpack tallied a 4-4 ACC record that included a victory over Florida State but an embarrassing 33-6 home loss to Virginia.
"This is our last chance together," said Bible. "It is important to us that we finish strong. There is nothing better than being successful in a bowl game. There are no bad teams in a bowl game. We're playing the top guys and they will bring their A-game. Its a chance for us to bring our A-game and anytime there is that type of challenge you want to run with it."
This will be just the second meeting in history between these schools on the gridiron. The only previous matchup game in 1946 when Vandy earned a 7-0 decision.
The Wolfpack's air it out offensive system gave them the 20th best pass offense in the FBS (304.0 ypg), but a 106th ranked rushing attack with only 116.9 yards on the ground per contest.
Graduate student QB Mike Glennon led the offensive attack with NC State and joined Phillip Rivers as the only other player in school history to average more than 300 yards passing per game in a single season. Glennon finished the regular season with an ACC best 3,648 yards and 30 TDs to 14 interceptions on 295-of-511 passing. The fifth-year QB had a strong finish to the season with 738 yards and eight TD passes in his last two outings.
Glennon has a trio of capable receivers in Quintin Payton, Tobias Palmer, and Bryan Underwood. Payton ended the season with team-high totals of 48 catches and 761 yards. Palmer made history on Nov. 17 at Clemson with an ACC record 496 all-purpose yards (277 kick return, 219 receiving). He made five of his six touchdown grabs in the final two games of the season. Underwood reeled in 43 receptions for 615 yards and 10 TDs, which is the second most in the ACC.
The Wolfpack's defensive unit gave up 419.7 yards per game, but allowed an average of only 24.5 points due to its aggressive nature. NC State led the ACC in sacks per game (2.7) and ranked 10th in the FBS in tackles for loss (7.5).
Safeties Earl Wolff (110) and Brandan Bishop (99) were the team's top tacklers. All-American David Amerson tied for first in the conference with five interceptions, while Justin Burris and Bishop recorded three picks apiece. The talented and physical secondary of NC State has the respect of its opposition's head coach.
"We usually have a size advantage, but we really don't this week. They are huge at the corner, 6-2 and 6-3 is what they are, which is unusually large not only for college but even for the NFL," said Franklin on NC State's secondary.
Vandy's offense picked it up down the stretch with 430 yards or more of total offense in four of its last five games after reaching that mark just once in its first seven outings. The unit began to thrive as quarterback Jordan Rodgers and tailback Zac Stacy found their groove.
Rodgers, the younger brother of the All-Pro NFL QB Aaron Rodgers, finished his first season as a full-time starter with 2,431 yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions with a 59.5 completion percentage. The senior signal caller has thrown two touchdown passes in five straight games with only three picks during that span.
Stacy reached the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season by gaining 180 yards on 21 carries in the regular-season finale at Wake Forest to bring hi season total to 1,034. He also scored twice on the ground to arrive at nine rushing TDs. Thanks to his stellar junior and senior campaigns, Stacy is the all-time leading rusher in the school's 123-year history.
Rodgers also has a pair of dynamic targets in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Matthews was the second leading receiver in the SEC and sixth in the FBS with 1,262 yards and seven TDs on 87 receptions. Boyd, who has terrific size for a wideout at 6-4, 205, also made an impact with 756 yards and four TDs on 46 catches.
Defensively, the Commodores were solid all season long as they allowed only Georgia, Florida, and Ole Miss to gain more than 400 yards of total offense against them. Vandy finished the regular season ranked 17th in the FBS in total defense (326.4) and 15th in scoring defense (18.3). The junior safety tandem of Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall tied for the team-lead with 80 tackles each. Chase Garnham and Karl Butler contributed 11.5 tackles for loss apiece to the unit that totaled 93 to go along with 28 sacks. Trey Wilson is the Commodores' best defensive playmaker as he returned both of his interceptions for scores.