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NCAA Football SEC FootballVanderbilt Commodores

Will Vanderbilt’s Run Defense Lead The Way to SEC East Title?

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

While most of the talk during spring practice focused on the competition at quarterback, the Vanderbilt Commodores‘ success or failure ultimately rests with its run defense. Thanks to a very talented front seven, the ‘Dores will contend for the SEC East crown this season.

Make no mistake about it: the Vandy defense was a huge part of the team’s success last year. Sure, Jordan Matthews had an All-American type season, catching 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns. But the run defense was what made the difference between winning and losing.

A closer look at the numbers will bear this out.

Every time that the Commodore defense won the battle in the trenches, the team won the game. In Vandy’s nine wins, the run D was absolutely awesome, allowing just 2.69 yards per carry. In its four losses, the defense surrendered a whopping 5.85 yards per carry, giving up over 300 yards on the ground to the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators.

So, which unit will show up this season?

The former, of course. Although the run defense had a couple of bad outings last year, most of those came early in the season when the defense was still trying to figure things out. By the end of the season, the Vandy run defense was playing as well anyone, allowing just 627 rushing yards in its final seven games.

This year’s squad shouldn’t experience any early-season growing pains. Yes, the defensive line needs to replace three starters, but Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann played well as reserves last season, finishing second and third on the team in sacks. With Walker May, Chase Garnham and Karl Butler returning after ranking in the top 20 in the SEC in tackles for a loss a year ago, there’s no reason to think that the front seven won’t pick up where it left off at the end of the 2012 campaign.

Will the Vanderbilt run defense lead the Commodores to its first-ever SEC East championship this year? Considering the depth in the division, it doesn’t look like that’ll happen this fall.

But if the defense plays as well as it did over the final seven games, Vandy could be looking at its first 10-win season in school history.

Terry Johnson is a college football writer for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and/or Google+.