AutoZone Liberty Bowl Game Preview: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt

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In Butch Jones’ first season, the Bearcats went 4-8 in 2010, but turned things around finishing 9-3 this year to claim a share of the Big East title. The Bearcats’ last postseason victory was in 2007 when they defeated South Miss 31-21 in the Bowl.

Fortunately for Cincinnati, Jones announced Thursday that QB Zach Collaros will be the starter on Saturday. Collaros broke his ankle in a loss to West Virginia on November 12th and missed the final three games of the campaign. In his absence, the Bearcats went 2-1 despite inconsistent play from Munchie Legaux who took the snaps behind center. Collaros completed 63.4% of his passes for 1,854 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions and ran for eight scores and 242 yards, while Legaux had a completion percentage of 47.4% and threw for 749 yards, five TDs and four INTs. Although Collaros has played a large roll in Cincinnati’s strong season, the defense may be a bigger reason for the turnaround.

The Bearcats allowed an average of 20.0 points, good for 19th in the FBS and led the nation with 3.6 sacks and 8.9 tackles for loss per game. Cincy is sixth-best in the FBS against the run, holding opponents to 92.67 rushing yards per game. Ranked 106th the Bearcats struggle against the pass allowing 268.8 ypg. DT Derek Wolfe ranks sixth in the country with 19.5 tackles for loss and has 9.5 sacks.

Under first year head coach James Franklin, the Commodores are playing in the fifth bowl game and second in four years following back-to-back 2-10 seasons. Vandy opened the season with three straight wins, including a 30-7 victory over Ole Miss in its SEC opener, but lost its next five conference games.

The Commodores came back to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible, surrendering 15 points in those victories. When the season began RB Zac Stacy replaced Warren Norman, the SEC freshman of the year in 2009, after Norman failed to recover from a knee injury that kept him from the final four games of last season. Stacy, who rushed for a combined 809 yards in 2009 and 2010, broke Vanderbilt’s single-season rushing record with 1,136 yards and 13 touchdowns. Over the final six games of the regular season Stacy averaged 125.8 yards per contest.  Defensively, Vanderbilt is tied for 19th in the FBS, giving up 324.6 yards per game of total offense, and is 27th in points allowed at 20.8 per game.

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc