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    Football Preview: Northwestern at Vanderbilt

    6:30 p.m. CT
    Nashville, Tenn.
    Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
    Overall: 0-0
    [Matt Stewart, play-by-play; Chris Doering, analyst; Allison Stewart, sidelines]
    Overall: 0-0
    SEC: 0-0


    Pat Fitzgerald is in his fifth season at Northwestern and overall with a record of 27-23 (.540). The Wildcats' offensive coordinator is Mick McCall and the defensive coordinator is Mike Hankwitz.

    Robbie Caldwell is in his first season at Vanderbilt and overall. The Commodores' offensive coordinator is Jimmy Kiser and the defensive coordinator is Jamie Bryant.


    Northwestern has 16 starters returning, including eight on the offensive unit, which produced 621 yards vs. Auburn in the Outback Bowl and averaged 404.1 yards per game. The Wildcats have their five starters on the offensive line back, along with their top two superbacks, several regular receivers and their entire corps of running backs. Offensive tackle Al Netter, an honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree in 2009, leads the returnees up front, while superback Drake Dunsmore and wide receiver Sidney Stewart are some of NU's top returning skill players. Sophomore Arby Fields, NU's top rusher from a year ago, leads the list of candidates at running back.

    The depth of Vanderbilt's tackle position might depend on the health of senior defensive co-captain Adam Smotherman, who entered preseason camp recuperating from a leg injury early in spring drills. A 23-game starter, Smotherman is coming off his finest season: 31 tackles and three tackles for loss. Chris Marve, the first SEC linebacker in a decade to surpass the 100-tackle plateau as a freshman and sophomore, earned All-SEC status in 2009 as the league's second leading tackler. The Butkus Award candidate also has the versatility to play either the middle or weakside linebacking positions. Casey Hayward, who ranked fifth on the team in total tackles and contributed 8.5 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions, has lock-down cover ability and All-SEC potential.


    Defensively, all three linebackers return and represent three of NU's six returning defensive starters. Outside linebacker Quentin Davie and middle linebacker Nate Williams lead that group. Up front, tackle Corbin Bryant and end Vince Browne return at their positions, while cornerback Jordan Mabin is the lone returning starter in the secondary. Safety Brian Peters, who has logged considerable time over the past two years and started five games, could easily be considered the team's seventh returning starter on defense.

    No position will get closer scrutiny in the weeks leading to the opener against Northwestern than the quarterback role. In his first full year as a starter, Larry Smith threw for 1,126 yards in nine games, but completed less than 50 percent of his passes before his season ended due to injury. In 2009, Warren Norman and Zac Stacy rushed for 783 and 478 yards, respectively. Norman's total ranks No. 2 all-time among Commodore freshmen. Some long-time observers of the Commodores believe Norman and Stacy rank among the best tailback duos in team history.


    Northwestern will return one of its special teams weapons in place-kicker Stefan Demos, who was named a second-team All-Big Ten kicker and one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, which honors the nation's top place-kicker. Demos also was named an ESPN The Magazine second-team Academic All-American in 2009. Demos converted 18-of-25 field goal attempts last year and led the team in scoring with 88 points.

    As a first-year starter in 2009, Ryan Fowler gave the Commodores accuracy and consistency in their kicking game, gaining confidence with each game played. Fowler finished the campaign as a freshman All-America and freshman All-SEC recipient, tying the team single-season record with 16 field goals. The Commodores return an All-America candidate at returning kicks in Norman, who had three returns for touchdowns and a 26.2-yard average on returns a year ago.

    Record: VU, 1-0-1

    This Vanderbilt preseason camp hardly resembled the 2009 one when Bobby Johnson greeted a Commodore squad coming off a 7-6 campaign capped by victory in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. In early August, a new leader - interim head coach Robbie Caldwell - guided the squad arriving for camp. The veteran Vanderbilt assistant took over in mid-July when Johnson unexpectedly announced his retirement. When camp opened in early August, Caldwell and his staff greeted more than 12 starters and 44 letterwinners from a 2009 Commodore squad that ended a disappointing 2-10 season with eight straight losses.