Friday, October 30, 2009

Upset week: Moral Victory! SEC picks

So we're 51-10 (83.6 percent) which I think is the exact same record as ESPN's Chris Low. Which shows that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to make picks in the SEC. Hmmm, Florida's No. 1 and Miss State's unrated... let's go with the Gators. Hmmm, Bama's No. 2 and Tennessee's unrated... ah, let's go out on a limb and pick the Tide.

This week we're shaking things up. Yesterday, a friend gave me Georgia and 17 points and Vanderbilt and 12 points. I immediately took it because I think Georgia and Vandy both have a chance to win outright.


So I'm going to put it right here: I'm picking Georgia to beat Florida and Vandy to beat Georgia Tech.

For two reasons:
1. History, which I'll explain in a minute.
2. I have no reputation to uphold. This is a blog that maybe 80 people will read in a day (and if you're one of those, thank you), as opposed to Mr. Low's millions of readers.

Low, by the way, is picking Georgia to cover the 17 (losing by 5) but Vandy not to cover the 12 (losing by 13).

So here goes:

GEORGIA VS. NO. 1 FLORIDA: Georgia fans are talking about how terrible their team is. Their terrible team lost on the road with a flu-stricken quarterback against a Top 10 team, then it barely lost after out-celebrating another Top 10 team, LSU. And then there's a certain blowout loss in Knoxville. I remind you that two years ago everybody wrote off the Bulldogs after they were — you got it — blown out in Knoxville. Then they squeaked by Vandy in Nashville, took a bye week during which everybody called for Richt's head, and then they upset Florida. Oh yeah, and this year's Gators are struggling to put up points. I'm saying history repeats itself this week. Bulldogs 28-24.

NO. 11 GEORGIA TECH AT VANDERBILT: This time last year, everybody had penciled in Tech to easily win the ACC. Then the Jackets were bested by lowly Virginia. Everybody, even Vandy fans, have written off the Commodores. They're not dead in the water. Commodores 24-21. (Am I an optimist? What do you think? I just picked Vandy to score 24 points.)

TULANE AT NO. 9 LSU: Tigers play this one close to the vest, grind it out and then start preparing for a trip to Tuscaloosa. Tigers 31-10.

NO. 22 SOUTH CAROLINA AT TENNESSEE: The Gamecocks play everybody close, including Bama, Georgia, Kentucky and Vandy. This one shouldn't be any different. Gamecocks 17-13.

NO. 25 OLE MISS AT AUBURN: Chris Todd reminds me of another quarterback named Chris who recovered from a shoulder injury, won back his starting position in the preseason and returned to lead his team to a 5-0 start. And then the bottom fell out. If the Auburn defense was any better, I'd pick the Tigers in this one. But it's not and the Rebels have gotten over themselves. Rebels 27-17.

MISS STATE AT KENTUCKY: This is a huge game for both teams. If Kentucky wins, the Cats will be bowl eligible. If State wins, the Bulldogs will have at least two conference wins in a rebuilding year, which isn't shabby for them. It's a tossup. Call it... Bulldogs 16-14.

E. MICHIGAN AT ARKANSAS: Ryan Mallett will mysteriously regain his accuracy against Eastern Michigan. Razorbacks 34-13.

How Vanderbilt's depth chart has changed since preseason

Here's a look at Vanderbilt's depth chart at the start of preseason camp, and how it's changed since then. Note the emergence of six true freshmen (Warren Norman, Zac Stacy, Collin Ashley, Eddie Foster, Trey Wilson and Eric Samuels) as well as the effect of injuries on this season's roster.


• John Cole: Kept his starting role despite breaking hand
• Alex Washington: Fighting Jamie Graham, who's moved from the secondary, to keep starting job
• Udom Umoh: Still starting

• Turner Wimberly: Started one game after Cole broke hand; still listed as a backup
• Chris Reinert: No longer on depth chart; holder on field goals
• Tray Herndon: Replaced on depth chart by freshman Collin Ashley
• Akeem Dunham: No longer on depth chart


• Larry Smith or Mackenzi Adams: Smith beat out Mackenzi Adams and continues to start despite some fan support for Adams, who has only seen mop-up duty as top backup


• Jared Hawkins: Struggled to recover from broken foot; lost job to freshman Warren Norman and now listed as co-second team with freshman Zac Stacy, who is struggling with injuries of his own

• Kennard Reeves and Gaston Miller: Both unlisted on current depth chart; Reeves seeing spot duty in short yardage situations, while Miller has only played in one game and lost his job as a return specialist


• Brandon Barden or Austin Monahan: Both were co-starters until Monahan was lost for season with a torn ACL; now Barden's the starter

• With Monahan's injury, Justin Green has been moved back to tight end after a short stint at receiver


• Thomas Welch: Remains a mainstay at left tackle despite battling injury
• Ryan Custer or Kyle Fischer: Custer won the job, but his injury has opened the door for Fischer to start at left guard
• Bradley Vierling: Remains the starter despite struggling with injury
• Eric Hensley: Has kept his starting job
• James Williams or Reilly Lauer: Williams won the job and emerged as a force, only to be lost for the season in the LSU game; Lauer has started since then

• Ryan Seymour: Seymour is gaining playing time and could be the future at left tackle
• Joey Bailey: Continues to replace Vierling when necessary
• Chris Aaron: No longer listed on the depth chart as an option at right guard


• Steven Stone: Injured his foot in preseason and is just now starting to recover; replaced in the starting lineup by Tim Fugger
• Broderick Stewart: Has started every game and continues to challenge opposing teams with his speed

• Tim Fugger: Has started every game spelling the injured Steven Stone
• Teriall Brannon or Theron Kadri: Both have seen substantial playing time
• Johnell Thomas: Redshirt freshman has cracked the starting rotation, especially in short yardage and goal-line situations


• Greg Billinger: Senior continues to start most games and remains a fixture on the D-line
• Adam Smotherman: Has started every game at tackle

• T.J. Greenstone: A rock-solid third tackle in the three-man rotation
• Rob Lohr or Colt Nichter: Won by Lohr, who has played in every game; Nichter still fighting for precious playing time


• Patrick Benoist: Senior All-SEC performer has started every game at weakside backer
• Chris Marve: Redshirt sophomore continues to dazzle at middle backer
• John Stokes or Brent Trice: Won by senior Trice, but Stokes fills in when Trice needed at safety

• Nate Campbell: Listed as backup at both weakside and middle backers, but no longer on the team; replaced by redshirt senior Chris Johnson, a stalwart on special teams, and redshirt freshmen Tristan Strong (now injured) and Archibald Barnes


• Myron Lewis: Senior has started every game at cornerback and remains a solid All-SEC candidate
• Jamie Graham or Casey Hayward: Hayward has started every game at corner, while Graham began season at nickel back, suffered a concussion and was later moved back to wide receiver
• Sean Richardson: Sophomore has had a solid season despite battling injury
• Ryan Hamilton: Fifth-year senior lost for the season in the LSU game

• Rich Tompkins: Delegated to special teams, while true freshmen Eddie Foster and Trey Wilson have filled the bill at backup cornerback and nickel
• Al Owens or Micah Powell: No longer on depth chart; have been replaced by starting linebacker Brent Trice and true freshman Eric Samuels
• Joel Caldwell: Replaced Hamilton in the LSU game and has started ever since

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Don't worry: Vandy's current recruiting class will survive disappointing season

A common fear shared among Vandy fans: All these star recruits who've verbally committed to the Commodores are going to jump ship come signing day.

I doubt it. This time last year, Vandy had 10 verbal commitments, including 3-star guys Zac Stacy, Warren Norman, Charlie Goro and Eric Samuels. They had all committed before the season started, when the Dores were picked to win maybe two games.

They kept their commitments.

Maybe we will lose a commitment or two. Jared Morse's commitment hasn't been terribly solid to begin with, and it was no surprise he's been downgraded to a "soft verbal." He's still hoping Bama will offer (good luck), he's got offers from Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky in his back pocket, as well as Florida State, which could be his favorite.

Big deal. We've already got commitments from two three-star defensive tackles, Kyle Woestmann and Vince Taylor, as well as commitments from two three-star swing guys, Thomas Ryan and James Kittredge, who could easily grow into DTs.

One thing's for sure: We're not going to get eight commitments at the end of the season like we did last year. We don't have many offers left to give. And that's the beauty part: Sure, we're having a down year, but we were able to get a whopping 21 commitments (more than last year's entire class) before our season even started. So even if we lose Morse and don't get anybody else, we've still got our best recruiting class ever.

Everybody's worried about what our commitments and guys still considering offers are going to think about our disappointing performance so far. I'll tell you what they're probably thinking:

Hey, I've got a chance to play right away!

Our receivers look awful. You don't think Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd and Bradley Roby aren't licking their chops? Our offensive line looks awful. You don't think Grant Ramsay and Logan Stewart aren't excited? Brandon Barden can't catch. You don't think Davis Dudchock is thinking he can do a better job? We don't have playmakers. You don't think Jerrell Priester isn't thinking he can make some plays for us? We need some more meat on the defensive line. You don't think Kyle Woestmann and Vince Taylor aren't going back for seconds right now?

So verbal commitment and safety Kenneth Ladler is visiting Kentucky and South Carolina and Vanderbilt after his high school season ends.

You know how many of our recruits made their visits after they committed to us? Of the 10 guys who committed before last season started, every single one of them took his official visit after the season was over.

But here's one concern in regards to Ladler. is reporting that he plans to enroll early. Um, Vandy doesn't allow early enrollment, something it needs to change and fast. But won't.

But Ladler also says he wants to make sure he plays next year. Kenneth, you're a safety! Joel Caldwell's graduating and you know Bobby Johnson plays his DBs right away. Samuels and Trey Wilson are playing a ton as true freshmen in the secondary, and Eddie Foster's starting at nickel back. But all those guys are true corners.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Key to beating Georgia Tech: Stop the Jackets on third down

This time last year, Georgia Tech was 6-1 and everybody was talking about how the Yellow Jacket offense was unstoppable, dominating in time of possession. Sound familiar?

So what happened in the next game? Tech played an inferior Virginia team and lost 24-17. The Cavaliers won the TOP battle 34 minutes to 26 minutes. How? They stopped Tech on third down (4-10 conversion).

A few weeks later, Tech lost again, this time to underdog North Carolina. How? The Tar Heels stopped Tech on third down (4-14) and slammed the door on fourth down (0-2) and subsequently won TOP by a margin of 32-28 minutes.

Earlier that season, Tech squeaked by Gardner Webb 10-7. How? The Bulldogs stopped Tech on third down (4-14) and hung tough on fourth down (1-2) and won TOP 33-27 minutes.

Of course, Tech finished its season with blowout wins over Miami and Georgia. In those games, the Jackets struggled in third down conversions but ripped off some long runs, forced their opponent to pass and play catchup, and won TOP.

Going into its bowl game, Tech was the hottest team in the nation. Unstoppable offense. But LSU whipped the Jackets, holding them to 3-15 on third down and 2-6 on fourth down, kept Tech from breaking long runs, and won time of possession.

So far this season, Tech has one loss and is a popular choice to run the table and win the ACC. But look at the one loss: Miami stopped Tech on third down (6-14) and fourth down (0-2) and won time of possession 34-26 minutes.

Every three or four games, Tech hits a hiccup, often against a seemingly outmatched opponent.

Sure, Vanderbilt's offense has to score some points. But Miss State, which scored a single TD against Vandy, scored 31 points earlier this season against the Jackets. The Commodores should move the ball more easily than they did last Saturday against South Carolina, which shut down Alabama's offense a week earlier.

The key in Nashville will be the Vandy defense. If the Commodores can stop Tech on third down and fourth and short, then they'll keep their defense off the field and give the offense chances to score. If that happens, anything can happen.

I think Vandy has a shot if Bruce Fowler's dice rolling is hot. And if Vandy can get some turnovers and get an early lead then Paul Johnson will take more chances on third and fourth down.

I'm not giving up on the Commodores. This one will be much closer than people think. Bobby Johnson and his staff have played Paul Johnson eight times and know his system as well as anybody.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paul Johnson: Endangering the jobs of coaches everywhere, including Mark Richt... and Bobby Johnson?

Been reading some crap on chat rooms in which so-called Vandy fans say we should just fire Bobby Johnson and try to hire Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and when that doesn't happen hire the disciple he left behind at Navy who's still running his triple Lindy offense.

Paul Johnson has a way of making opposing fans stark-raving nuts. Just ask Georgia fans. The last thing on earth the Georgia Bulldogs — or their best player, A.J. Green — wants to do is run the triple option. Well, actually the last thing on earth they want to do is lose to Tech.

I don't believe Paul Johnson will ever be the head coach in Athens, but he just may play a big role in removing the guy who's there right now. Sure, Mark Richt wants to beat Florida, but he's already proven he can lose consistently to the Gators and keep his job. He dang sure can't lose consistently to the Yellow Jackets and keep his job.

What does this have to do with Bobby Johnson? Well, Vandy fans are thinking perhaps when their school fired Woody it should have hired P. Johnson instead B. Johnson.

You know how many D-1 schools whiffed on Paul Johnson? Hundreds. The guy's a genius, and geniuses don't always have fluffy hair and Italian suits and a great resumé. In other words, they don't always look like Nick Saban.

Hey Vandy fans, take a reality check. Sure, Paul Johnson uses a lot of trickery and maybe he doesn't have the athletes that, say, Florida and Georgia have. But he's got better athletes than Vandy. And he doesn't play in the SEC.

Maybe Tech goes 11-1 this year. But no way Paul Johnson goes 11-1 playing Vanderbilt's schedule.

The guy is smart, no doubt. And only one team can have him.

So let's stop throwing our coach under the bus.

And do you really want him to install another new offense next spring?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Woulda coulda shoulda: Referees change the course of this season

Let's say that the referees hadn't blown these calls:

• Calling a celebration penalty on Georgia's A.J. Green against LSU.
• Calling Tyson Lee beyond the line of scrimmage on a crucial fourth-down pass against Houston.
• Calling a pick penalty against Udom Umoh when an Army defender threw him into another Army defender as Alex Washington was catching what would likely have been the game-winning touchdown.
• Not calling Mount Cody for throwing off his helmet after he blocked what would have been the game-winning field goal by Tennessee.
• Calling the South Carolina running back down when he fumbled deep in Vandy territory on the game's opening drive, and especially giving SC a touchdown when the receiver was clearly on the stripe without control of the ball.
• Calling a bogus 15-yard personal foul Malcolm Sheppard during a key moment in the Arkansas-Florida game.
• Giving Florida a touchdown when Dustin Doe fumbled before crossing the goal line.

Let's just say the right call was made in those games. You could have this:

• Georgia at 5-2 instead of 4-3.
• LSU at 5-2 instead of 6-1.
• Alabama at 7-1 instead of 8-0.
• Florida at 5-2 instead of 7-0.
• Miss State at 5-3 instead of 3-5.
• Arkansas at 4-3 instead of 3-4.
• Vanderbilt at 4-4 instead of 2-6.

OK, so I'm not so sure about Mount Cody. The guy just blocked the winning field goal. Wasn't the game over? Can't you celebrate once the game's over?

Moral Victory! Power Ratings

After Vandy's respectable showing in Columbia on Saturday, we've moved them back to No. 12 — after banishing them to No. 13 last week.

Here's the rest of the power ratings for this week:

1. Alabama: 8-0 (5-0). After a torrid start, Bama is just winning. The bye before the LSU game gives them time to get some questions answered.

2. Florida: 7-0 (5-0). The Gators have a ferocious defense but are struggling on offense. Georgia will have the best offense the Gators have faced this season, but Urban Meyer has a way of taking Mark Richt to school.

3. LSU: 6-1 (4-1). The most solid team in the SEC behind Alabama and Florida, and if they take care of business the Bayou Bengals will get another shot at Florida and a ticket to the national championship game.

4. Georgia: 4-3 (3-2). Two losses to Top 10 teams and another loss to the team that just lost to Alabama by two points. A win over the Gators on Saturday and the Bulldogs are back in business.

5. South Carolina: 6-2 (3-2). Everybody knows the Gamecocks defense is big-time, but the offense is also discovering lots of new weapons.

6. Tennessee: 3-4 (2-3). And you thought Vanderbilt was the only team in the state that collected moral victories. The Vols held their own against the nation's top two teams and put a licking on Georgia. But they're still in a fight for a winning season and bowl eligibility.

7. Ole Miss: 5-2 (2-2). The Rebels stepped up with a must-win victory on Saturday over a hot Arkansas team. A win in Auburn would boost them into the SEC's top half.

8. Arkansas: 3-4 (1-4). The Razorbacks have faced a murderous conference schedule, with losses to both Alabama and Florida. They'll reach .500 this week after a romp over Eastern Michigan.

9. Kentucky: 4-3 (1-3). With one more cream puff non-conference game later this season, the Wildcats can ensure bowl eligibility with a victory over Miss State. It'll be a struggle, but the Cats are capable.

10. Auburn: 5-3 (2-3). The Tigers are slipping and meet an Ole Miss team that seems to be finally getting on track. With a game over Furman still on the schedule and bowl eligibility a slam dunk, Auburn is competing not to go to Shreveport.

11. Miss State: 3-5 (1-3). Any conference win is a big deal for Dan Mullen right now, but it'll be easier said than done this weekend in Lexington.

12. Vanderbilt: 2-6 (0-5): Vandy is playing for pride right now. The Commodores just wish they didn't have to play for pride against red-hot Georgia Tech.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The difference in the South Carolina game

It was wide receivers.

The Gamecocks have big, athletic wide receivers who made plays when their team needed them.

We don't.

That was the difference.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The sad truth about the Commodores

Five SEC games, one offensive touchdown.

Zero wins.

Newsflash: Vandy has the lead in an SEC game

It's Oct. 24, Vandy's playing its fifth SEC game of the season, and the Commodores have a lead for the first time this season in an SEC game.

No kidding.

It'll be interesting to see how we handle it. I think we'll play better than we've been playing from behind.

Seems like old times: Vandy tied with Gamecocks at halftime

Looks like a different Vanderbilt team tonight, and Gamecock players and fans seem to be having deja vu. We're hanging tough, despite a few negative circumstances:

1. Chris Marve strips the ball from a Gamecock ballcarrier on the game's opening drive, and deep in SC territory. Alas, the refs review the play and despite the opinions of the ESPNU broadcast crew, give the ball back to the Cocks.

2. When Vandy gets the ball, Larry Smith orchestrates a beautiful drive that ends when Brandon Barden drops a pass in the end zone, setting up a Ryan Fowler chip shot.

3. Um, Fowler misses and reacts like the kids on my son's coach-pitch team.

4. SC's Steven Garcia throws a 35-yard pass bobbled as the Gamecock receiver steps on the sideline in the end zone. It's reviewed and everybody seems to concede that it's not a TD. Replays clearly show the receiver stepped on the stripe. But the play stands and it's a TD.

But that set up the play of the night so far for the Dores: Warren Norman takes a kickoff 99 yards to the house to tie the game.

Which is where we stand at halftime — 7-7.

Other positives:

• We've got eight first downs.
• Larry is 10-16 passing.
• Ted Kiser or Jimmy Cain or whoever's calling the plays has actually been doing a good job, with Larry rolling out and hitting his running backs.
• Jared Hawkins is playing and has had some big carries on third down and a couple of receptions.
• Steven Stone is back and the defensive line — and the entire defense — is putting pressure on Garcia and looks good.
• We've converted 50 percent (4-8) on third downs, compared to 2-7 for SC.
• We're winning in penalties, with 2-15 compared to 6-57 for the Gamecocks.

Let's win this one, dang it.

Moral Victory! mid-season review: Defense

Now it's time to preview the Commodore defense, which was supposed to be way better than the offense, and is.

Preseason rating — Music City Bowl; Potential — Cotton Bowl
Midseason rating — Independence Bowl
Vandy's got tough, undersized tackles with good motors, and the coaches do a good job of moving them around and putting them in the position to make plays. But they don't do what Boston College's tackles did against us in last year's bowl or what four sets of SEC defensive tackles have done against us so far this year, which is win the battle of the line of scrimmage. These guys are playing well, but we'd rated them too high at the start of the season.

Preseason rating — Music City Bowl; Potential: Cotton Bowl
Midseason rating — Broderick Stewart still scares opposing teams with his speed, and Tim Fugger has filled in nicely. Also, redshirt frosh Johnell Thomas has been a very nice surprise. And Steven Stone hasn't even played a snap yet, but is expected to return in a week or so.

Preseason rating — Cotton Bowl; Potential: BCS Bowl
Midseason rating — Cotton Bowl
Our linebackers are rock solid. Marve is a beast and is poised to be an All-American candidate next season, and Benoist and Trice are all over the field making plays. And redshirt frosh Archibald Barnes has been a nice surprise. The only downside: Our backers are on the small side, which is noticeable when your defensive line doesn't dominate the line of scrimmage and your backers are making lots of open tackles on guys like Anthony Dixon.

Preseason rating: Independence Bowl; Potential: Cotton Bowl
Midseason rating: Music City Bowl
The secondary has improved, which is remarkable considering that Ryan Hamilton's gone for the season and Jamie Graham has moved back to offense. Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson have been outstanding, Myron Lewis has been his usual self, and Joel Caldwell has stepped up his game since replacing Hamilton. But the key: true freshmen Eddie Foster, Eric Samuels and Trey Wilson were ready for SEC play.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Moral Victory! mid-season review: Offense

OK, it's past mid-season for the Commies, but it is mid-season for all those real programs that actually take a bye week during the season.

Anyway, thought it might be interesting to look back at how we'd rated different parts of the offense during the preseason and see if we've made any progress:

Here's the rating system:
1. BCS Bowl
2. Cotton Bowl
3. Music City Bowl
4. Independence Bowl
5. Living Room

Pre-season: Rating — Living Room; Potential: Cotton Bowl
Mid-season: Living Room
We said that Larry's had to show poise and leadership. His line has fallen apart and his receivers can't get separation and when they do they can't catch. Has Larry showed poise and leadership in a nightmare situation? No. Will he hang in there and take the reins of this team by the end of the season? He's getting the chance, and we're going to find out.

Preseason: Rating — Living Room; Potential: Music City Bowl
Mid-season: Music City Bowl
With little help from the line, the Commodores have found true SEC-caliber running backs in true freshmen Zac Stacy and Warren Norman. Norman, you may remember, was given the lowest chance of the three freshmen tailbacks to avoid a redshirt and make an impact. In retrospect, Jared Hawkins' injury has not been a setback for this team, and will actually help the Dores next season.

Preseason: Rating — Living room; Potential — Music City Bowl
Mid-season: Living room
Terence Jeffers-Harris wasn't eligible, John Cole's been injured, and Alex Washington, Brady Brown, Akeem Dunham and Tray Herndon have been invisible. Collin Ashley has been the only bright spot in this group, but he's a supporting guy at best. Now there's a glimmer of hope with the return of Jamie Graham to the offense.

Preseason: Rating — Music City Bowl; Potential — BCS Bowl
Mid-season: Independence Bowl
What must happen: Barden's struggled to catch the ball, Monahan did the same and then had a season-ending injury, and Justin Green was so bad he got moved to receiver, where he's sitting on the bench. A disappointment so far.

Preseason: Rating — Independence Bowl; Potential: Music City Bowl
Mid-season: Living room
It's been all downhill since the season-ending injury to James Williams, and now things look really dire with the injury to Thomas Welch. Hey Wesley Johnson and Mylon Brown, keep on eating and lifting. We're gonna need you next year. Big time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Moral Victory! picks for this week's SEC games

While I'd like to believe that the Tennessee-Alabama, Vanderbilt-South Carolina, Auburn-LSU and Florida-Miss State contests will be exciting, back-and-forth affairs with surprising outcomes, I fear they will actually be forms of long, slow death for the underdogs.

Last week, we were 5-1, missing like everybody else on Kentucky's upset over Auburn and getting lucky like everybody else because a ref made a bad call in Gainesville. So now we're 46-9, or 83.6 percent. Notice I use the royal "we" so there will be blame to go around if my picks go south.

Here we go:

Arkansas at Ole Miss: This should be the best of the bunch, and a duel between quarterbacks. Right now, Ryan Mallett is more confident and on his game. Sure, it's in Oxford and the Rebels have a solid defense, but Gainesville's a tougher place to play and Florida has a much tougher D. Razorbacks 31-27.

Tennessee at Alabama: This could be a repeat of last week's game in Tuscaloosa. It'll be a defensive struggle for a while, and the Tide will slowly take control. Oh, and Mr. Crompton will not toy with the Tide D like he did against Georgia. Crimson Tide 24-10.

La-Monroe at Kentucky: Ah, yes. While Vanderbilt's next non-conference opponent is Georgia Tech, the Wildcats are playing one of those former Louisiana directional schools. And we're supposed to be smarter. This might be a little tougher than you think because UK won't need to dip into its bag of tricks like it did in Auburn, but expect the Cats to prevail. Wildcats 24-13.

Vanderbilt at South Carolina: The good news is that our offense finally hit double digits against Georgia. The bad news is that the SC defense is way, way better. And like UGA last week, the Gamecocks have finally realized they've got to show up ready to play against us. Gamecocks 17-3.

Auburn at LSU: Interesting to see if Gus — the offense coordinator, not the field-goal kicking mule — can get anything going in Death Valley. The LSU offense isn't actually firing on all cylinders either. Bayou Bengals 20-10.

Florida at Miss State: Think Dan Mullen will pull a Sarkisian and upset his old boss? Nope. Lately Urban Meyer has been fine with keeping the score low and letting his defense do the heavy lifting, a strategy that Ryan Mallett dang nearly foiled last Saturday. Tyson Lee is no Ryan Mallett. Gators 27-10.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At least Spurrier thinks Vandy's not bad on offense

I'm not one of these people who hates Steve Spurrier. I think he's very smart and very funny, and when you've been a winner as a player and coach like he has and you expect everybody around you to keep up, you can't help but be a little sarcastic when they don't.

After Vandy beat the Gamecocks in Columbia two years ago, a reporter asked Spurrier what he was going to do about his offensive line and he said, "Play ’em. This isn't the NFL, we can't trade ’em."

Last week before the Alabama game, everybody was asking him how he planned to beat the Tide and Spurrier said his team was closer in talent to Vanderbilt and that he was more worried about beating Vanderbilt.

May have been the first time in history anyone has looked past the No. 2 team in the nation to focus on Vandy — or at least said it.

Anyway, here's a few things Spurrier said about the Commodores in his recent press conference:

On playing Vanderbilt: It's a big game for us and we all know the importance of the game. Hopefully we'll be prepared to play our best one of the year. That's what it will take to beat Vandy Saturday night."

On facing Vandy the past two seasons: "They outplayed us the last two years. They were better than we were. Give them credit. We'll try to play better this year and coach better, and see if we can come out on top against Vanderbilt."

On Vanderbilt's offense: "Vandy is a team that has struggled a little on offense... They're not bad on offense. They've not thrown very well but they have run it. They run it better than we have.

On Vanderbilt's defense: "Their defensive end, No. 90 (Broderick Stewart), is a good player. He has given us some pressure. They're a zone blitz team. They do it very well. They make few mistakes. They're in position where they're supposed to be. You have to execute to beat them."

On Bobby Johnson: "Bobby has done an excellent job there. I know him a little bit. He's a South Carolina native from Columbia. They've been very competitive at Vandy. That's a difficult job. Their schedule is just as tough as ours every year. They're right there in the Eastern Division like us. They played Georgia Tech out of conference and we played NC State. Georgia Tech has proven to be better than NC State this year."

Some special, um, recognition for the Commodores's Pat Forde mentions Vanderbilt in his weekly feature called The Dash.

He calls Vandy "The Most Flagrant Big-Six Conference Fraud" of the half-year. In other words, the Commodores least deserve to be in the SEC, ACC, Big East, Pac-10, Big 10 or Big 12.

They "win out" over Washington State and Maryland.

"Commodores lost to Army and have scored 29 points in four SEC games," Forde writes. "So much for continuing the momentum from last year's breakthrough bowl bid and victory."

Moral Victory! Power ratings: Commies actually slide deeper into the cellar

Here we go with the weekly power ratings. Note Vanderbilt's ranking. At least it'll give us room for improvement as the season progresses.

1. ALABAMA: 7-0 (4-0)
• Last week: Beat South Carolina 20-6
• This week: At home against Tennessee
• Summary: After blowing out Arkansas and Kentucky, Bama tried something new and slowly squeezed the life out of Ole Miss and South Carolina. This will be a very tough team to beat, though this week’s UT game could be too close for comfort.

2. FLORIDA: 6-0 (4-0)
• Last week: Beat Arkansas 23-20
• This week: At Miss State
• Summary: Gators barely missed a repeat of last year’s Ole Miss game in which they struggled offensively and got beat by a transfer quarterback. Urban Meyer faces Dan Mullen this week on the road, which may remind you of Pete Carroll traveling to face Steve Sarkisian and losing. Nice thought, but won’t happen this week.

3. LSU: 5-1 (3-1)
• Last week: Bye
• This week: At home against Auburn
• Summary: Maybe the Tigers found an offense over their break. They’ve already got a decent defense, which should give Auburn fits in Baton Rouge.

4. GEORGIA: 4-3 (3-2)
• Last week: Beat Vanderbilt 34-10
• This week: Bye
• Summary: Georgia’s already beaten South Carolina, which gave Bama fits on Saturday, and Arkansas, which gave Florida fits. And that just makes the Dawgs blowout loss in Knoxville all the more puzzling.

5. SOUTH CAROLINA: 5-2 (2-2)
• Last week: Lost to Alabama 20-6
• This week: At home against Vanderbilt
• Summary: Victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky may or may not look impressive at the end of the season, but the Gamecocks could be undefeated in the league if they were just average in red zone scoring.

6. ARKANSAS: 3-3 (1-3)
• Last week: Lost to Florida 23-20
• This week: At Ole Miss
• Summary: Watch out, Ole Miss, you’re facing a clone of yourselves last season. Ryan Mallett is a big-time quarterback and the leader of a team just hitting its stride after drawing both Bama and Florida early in the season.

7. TENNESSEE: 3-3 (1-2)
• Last week: Bye
• This week: At Alabama
• Summary: The win over Georgia is still awfully impressive, but the loss to Auburn is especially disheartening after the Tigers’ recent home loss to Kentucky. But this is a tough league, and the Vols have a mighty tough defense.

8. KENTUCKY: 3-3 (1-3)
• Last week: Beat Auburn 21-14
• This week: At home against La-Monroe
• Summary: Like Arkansas, Kentucky had the misfortune of playing the nation’s top two teams early in the season. With that out of the way, the Wildcats found new hope on the Plains on Saturday.

9. AUBURN: 5-2 (2-2)
• Last week: Lost to Kentucky 21-14
• This week: At LSU
• Summary: The Tigers thought they’d found an offense. It won’t get any easier in Baton Rouge this weekend, but maybe they just got caught looking past Kentucky.

10. OLE MISS: 4-2 (1-2)
• Last week: Beat UAB 48-13
• This week: At home against Arkansas
• Summary: It’s put up or shut up time for the Rebels. They’ve gotten punched in the mouth in two games and now they face an Arkansas team that’s angry about its narrow loss in Gainesville.

11. MISS STATE: 3-4 (1-2)
• Last week: Beat MTSU 27-6
• This week: At home against Florida
• Summary: Well, at least the Bulldogs have beaten Vanderbilt.

13. VANDERBILT: 2-5 (0-4)
• Last week: Lost to Georgia 34-10
• This week: At South Carolina
• Summary: As injuries mount, the Commodores appear to be a fixture in this year’s SEC cellar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The SEC defensive lineman of the week: Whoever just played Vanderbilt

Here are the SEC defensive linemen of the week on weeks we've played an SEC game:

Week 2: Rahim Alem, LSU, because he dominated Vanderbilt's offensive line.

Week 3: Pernell McPhee, Miss State, because he dominated Vanderbilt's offensive line.

Week 7: Geno Atkins, Georgia, because he dominated Vanderbilt's offensive line.

What about week 5, when we played Ole Miss? Well, the Rebels' defensive line dominated Vandy too, but the Rebels' John Jerry was the offensive lineman of the week against us, and you can't have both the offensive and defensive linemen of the week when you're playing a lesser opponent.

OK, so we already knew that our offensive line is not a real SEC offensive line. You can do sneaky stuff with marginal skill guys, but if you're not solid up front you're in big trouble.

This season we're not solid up front and we're in big trouble. Losing right tackle James Williams in the LSU game killed us, and the injury to left tackle Thomas Welch certainly doesn't help.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lessons Commodores can learn from the Kentucky Wildcats

I love this Kentucky Wildcat team. They lose their starting quarterback and then go down to Auburn, a team they can never beat, and punched the Tigers in the mouth and won.

Now they're in perfect position to go to their FOURTH straight bowl. They just need to beat La-Monroe and Eastern Kentucky and then beat either Miss State at home or Vanderbilt in Nashville.

How have they done it? Get ready to take notes, Commies:

1. An absolutely crappy non-conference schedule. Kentucky won half as many SEC games as Vanderbilt last season, yet finished with the same record. The trick? Kentucky schedules awful teams, and also benefits from the fact that their rival, Louisville, is down.

2. Win the games you're supposed to win. Kentucky needed two SEC victories last season and got them. How? By beating Arkansas by a point and Miss State by a point. In other words, they were two points from being winless in the conference.

3. Recruiting linemen. Kentucky can hang with big-name teams because it's been successful recruiting massive defensive linemen. And the Wildcats beat Auburn because of the strength of its offensive line.

4. Get the ball to the playmakers. Randall Cobb plays quarterback and the Wildcats win. Then he plays receiver. Then he plays quarterback. He does whatever it takes.

5. Keep plugging away. Before their current bowl run, the Wildcats had a 2-win season, and had averaged three wins a game for three years.

It's time again for the weekly Moral Victory! highlight breakdown

Is it possible to have highlights when you lose 34-10?

You betcha!

Here's the breakdown of this week's Vanderbilt video "highlights" from the Georgia game:

43 seconds: Three key plays on the drive when the offensive actually scored a real touchdown
28 seconds: Impressive touchdowns by Georgia's A.J. Green and Caleb King — whoops, wrong team!
26 seconds: Quarterback sacks by Broderick Stewart and Greg Billinger
19 seconds: Commodores running through the giant gold helmet onto the field
19 seconds: Opening and closing credits
14 seconds: Brett Upson's fake punt and run for a first down
10 seconds: A hard hit by the Commodores after a Georgia pass completion
14 seconds: Ryan Fowler's field goal

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jamie Graham returns to wide receiver

After moving to defensive back in the spring, Jamie Graham has returned to receiver, apparently in spot duty a la D.J. Moore. He started the game at receiver but I believe returned to defense in time to be involved in A.J. Green's 65-yard run after a catch.

Jamie on offense will make a lot of Vandy fans happy. Graham finished with one catch for 16 yards.

But did you notice our defense gave up 34 points? It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul, as they say.

Bobby Johnson said after the game that he plans to play Graham at receiver for the rest of the season because of the way the true freshmen Eddie Foster and Trey Wilson are playing. I assume he'll keep playing some DB too.

As for the Commodores' demoralizing 34-10 loss and current 2-5 record, there's no doubt that the offensive line has been the reason we're struggling so much.

Oh, and maybe you noticed that Mackenzi came into the game at the end and drove us into the red zone where we met our usual fate (no points). Johnson praised Mac's play, adding that the circumstances at the end of the game were different and that he's still sticking with Larry.

Bet Larry's sore this morning. The kid was running for his life.

One final thought: We're the only team in the SEC without a conference victory, thanks to Kentucky's gutsy win in Auburn.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two out of three IS bad

Vandy down 20-10 and backed up to their own goal line. Larry Smith throws a beautiful 20-yard pass to Brandon Barden. That's the good thing.

But Barden drops it.

No matter. Eric Hensley was holding.

We drive the length of the field and score!

Do you believe it? We just took the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown.

We rushed seven times for 47 yards — Warren 5-21, Larry 1-21, Zac 1-5.

Larry threw twice and completed both, including a beautiful 25-yarder to Collin Ashley, who made a great catch, and a 5-yard TD dart to Brandon Barden.

Larry looks great when he rolls out and passes. A 21-yard run and two passes for 30 yards. Big drive for him.

Maybe those weenies who were planning to chant Mackenzi's name during the game will at least wait a few minutes.

Our first penalty is a tough one

So when do we decide to really go great guns and block a field goal? When Georgia's attempting a 57-yard field goal.


So we jump up to block it and we do but we get a leaping penalty and then they line up and kick a 42 yarder.

The penalty was dubious but whatever.

So now we're down by two touchdowns. Might as well be 17 touchdowns.

What exactly are we doing?

I like a nice gutsy call every now and then to go for it on fourth down. But we're down 14-3 and in field goal position. What's the difference between losing 14-6 and 14-10? We'd still be a touchdown behind.

I think we should have taken the points. Of course, I wouldn't be saying this if we'd made it, which we didn't. (It was a quarterback draw. Surprised?)

The reason we can't compete with Georgia

Our offensive line is getting manhandled. I appreciate Reilly Lauer sticking it out as a 275-pound offensive tackle in the SEC. He'd be an average-sized lineman, say, back in 1957.

I've had to do jobs that didn't come naturally to me, and I stuck it out and learned a lot and maybe even got a pat on the back.

So I'm patting Reilly and his friends on the back. I notice Chris Aaron's playing. He's a transfer from Lehigh, where he played on the JV team as a true freshman.

We just don't have an SEC-caliber lineman outside of Thomas Welch, and he's hurt right now.

Here are four names for you:

1. James Stone
2. Parker Mack
3. Joe Burgess
4. Max Garcia

These guys are all 6-5 or taller and everybody but Garcia weighs more than 300 pounds. They're all high school seniors and they're all contemplating offers from Vanderbilt — and lots of other SEC teams. And they're ready to go. Maybe they're watching this game.

Hey guys, want to play right away?

Vandy down 14-3, feeling it slipping away

Well, we're looking better:

• We're moving the ball.
• We're winning time of possession.
• We don't have a single penalty.
• We're not losing the turnover battle.

But we're down 14-3. Cox is starting to heat up, and A.J. Green is quite simply one of the best players in the nation. Our defensive pressure on Cox has vanished.

We've got to move the ball and score points or this will be a very long day.

We score! We score! Holy crap, we score!

Fowler just boots a 41-yard field goal. He's a keeper. We're down 7-3 early in the first quarter.

Our offense is moving the ball better than usual. Maybe we can even score a touchdown today.

Austin Monahan's back in the game

Monahan just caught a pass and dove for the first down.

Zac Stacy's toughing it out, but he's not the same with that ankle injury.

And now Austin is down again. Trainers looking him over. He had returned to action after spraining his knee.

Hey, we're leading in time of possession after a quarter, and we don't have a single penalty.

First quarter and we're back in Bulldog territory

Larry just dumped a little pass to Warren, who took it 24 yards and now we're back in Georgia territory.

That's a play to remember: Larry to Warren.

It's 7-0 and the announcers talking about how great the defenses are playing, not how bad the offenses are playing.

Donkeys fly, hell freezes over...

and Alex Washington just picked up positive yardage on a punt return.

Same ole same old, Barden drops a pass

Third and long and Larry guns it in to Barden, who's covered by two or three Bulldogs. Great pass and great... whoops, ball bounced off his chest.

We've got zero margin for error.

Maybe NFL scouts didn't see that last play

A.J. Green just took a short pass and juked Myron Lewis and went 65 yards to the house. So we're down 7-0. That should be the ballgame. Expect Georgia to just grind it out now and keep us in poor field position.

Nevermind, the drive's over

Larry just throws a pick. The Bulldog safety appeared more eager to get the ball than Alex Washington who pulled up on his route.

Thomas Welch is holding his knee

Thomas Welch, by far our best offensive lineman, is clutching his left knee. We've already lost Austin Monahan to an apparent knee injury in this game.

We need Welch. The Dawgs are huge up front and starting to push us around.

We're playing to win!!!!!!!!

Brett Upson takes the snap on third and eight and bulls his way for the first down. Yes. We're playing to win.

Vandy D looking good

Commodores are eating up Dawg running backs and putting serious pressure on Cox. He was looking for A.J. Green on third and long, and apart from the fact that Myron had A.J. covered, Broderick Stewart beat his blocker and crushed Cox as he was throwing the ball.

The team seems to believe they can win, and if we can somehow score they'll believe even more.

We're hanging in there early against the Dawgs: Casey Hayward is a stud

We stop Georgia on the opening drive. The key was stopping the run on first down, which forced two poor Joe Cox passes. Casey Hayward's been everywhere.

Now Jamie Graham's in the game on offense. He and Larry couldn't hook up on a little swing pass, but hey, Jamie's playing some offense.

Now we have a first down after Alex Washington draws an interference call on third down.

Now Jamie just lost 5 yards on a reverse. At least we don't have to hear people say that the reason we're not 6-0 is because Jamie hasn't played on offense.

Now we're punting. Udom just dropped a nice pass on third and long. Larry's getting time in the pocket. Now his receivers have to catch the ball.

Nice punt but we can't tackle and now Georgia has the ball deep in our territory.

But Casey Hayward makes a beautiful pick in the end zone after the play was reviewed. Hairy Dawg was signaling out of bounds, which is probably why they reviewed the play.

Goal: Get Bulldog fans to start whining

Sure, Georgia fans are patronizing Vandy fans, saying the team is struggling and we could win. Do they believe it? No way.

Right now on the Georgia Bulldog tailgate show on the radio, the Bulldog commentators are saying that it would be detrimental for Georgia to just blow out Vanderbilt. Seems years ago that the Dawgs followed up a disappointing loss to the Vols by destroying William & Mary, which led UGA fans to wonder why their offense couldn't do that against Tennessee the previous week. So perhaps Georgia doesn't want to completely kill Vandy today.

Are you freaking kidding me? I have two thoughts:

1. Fans are pretty stupid not to understand that their offense can't do the same things against Tennessee that it can against William & Mary.
2. Fans are ignorant who compare this Vanderbilt team, especially the defense, to a I-AA team.

Yeah, keep on disrespecting us. All the pressure is on Georgia here. I'm not saying we'll win. But I think we're going to make Georgia's fans nervous and hear some whining from them.

I went to Athens last year, and my goal then was to hear some panic from the Georgia fans. And sure enough, the game was in question in the fourth quarter and those fans were doing some serious whining. They expect everything — especially a victory over Vandy — to be handed to them on a silver platter.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Analysis: How Vandy got to 2-4 and why we're still headed in the right direction

I think the majority of Vanderbilt fans support Bobby Johnson and even want to stick with Larry Smith at quarterback. But there's an awful lot of people on radio talk shows and fan message boards (OK, not a lot for most SEC teams, but a lot for Vandy) calling for Johnson to do something fast. This includes:

• Naming Mackenzi Adams the starting quarterback.
• Or playing Mac at wide receiver or safety or both.
• Keeping Larry the starter but inserting Mac on at least a couple of drives per game.
• Giving Jared Funk a chance to play at quarterback instead of just the punt coverage team.
• Burning the redshirt off Charlie Goro and starting him at quarterback.
• Burning the redshirt off Charlie Goro and playing him at wide receiver.
• Burning the redshirt off lineman Wesley Johnson and starting him.
• Passing more.
• Running more.
• Scrapping the Wildcat formation.
• Running the Wildcat formation exclusively.
• Running the option.
• Deploying all three tight ends (Barden, Monahan, Green) in the same formation.
• Playing Jamie Graham at wide receiver.
• Playing Eddie Foster at wide receiver.

In other words, do something and do it now.

Well, that's what we're doing. Our offense last season was a train wreck. The line was light, the backs slow but stout-hearted, the receivers serviceable, the quarterbacks wildly inconsistent.

But here's what everybody forgets about last year's offense: Chris Nickson and Jared Hawkins were money inside the red zone. Of course, they only got to the red zone because of our opportunistic defense and the coffin-corner punts of Brett Upson.

Everybody knew we couldn't keep winning like that. We needed to move the ball the length of the field, or at least get enough first downs to keep our defense from playing 75 percent of the game.

We've being saying for years that we need smoke and mirrors to win because we'll never have the offense to just ram the ball down people's throats like Bobby and probably most of us would like.

So what did Bobby do in the off-season? He did this:
• Installed the spread, to take advantage of our young quarterback and light, athletic offensive linemen.
• Named that young quarterback, Larry Smith, who ran the spread in high school and has a cannon for an arm, the starter and pledged to stick with him like he did Jay Cutler.
• Worked hard to develop James Williams to replace Reilly Lauer, who's too light to play tackle. Put Eric Hensley, one of our best run blockers, next to Williams on the right side.
• Immediately gave the ball to two of our three talented tailbacks, making plans to redshirt the third for the future.

Great, but look what's happened since the spring:
1. Jamie Graham was moved to defensive back to fill the void left by D.J. Moore.
2. Our top returning receiver, Justin Wheeler, saw his career end with a knee injury.
3. Preseason camp started and receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris, one of the stars of the spring, was declared ineligible. Meanwhile, Alan Strong, a key reserve at cornerback, quits the team, precluding a move back to offense for Graham.
4. Receiver John Cole suffered various injuries and missed the entire preseason camp.
5. Jared Hawkins didn't recover from a foot injury, which allowed the three freshmen tailbacks to get even more reps.
6. Zac Stacy and Warren Norman emerged as game-ready SEC tailbacks.
7. James Williams was a force at right tackle, moving Lauer to backup guard.
8. The new offense performed well against a weak Western Carolina team.
9. The receivers looked awful against LSU, but the running game looked strong until Williams was lost for the season in the second half.
10. Fans call for Jamie Graham to move back to wide receiver, but safety Ryan Hamilton is lost for the season, and Graham starts playing some safety to fill the void.
11. In the next game, against Miss State, the receivers can't get separation, the line can't open holes for the tailbacks or protect Larry, and Larry looks like he's trapped in a bad junior high science experiment.
12. The fans call for Jamie Graham to move back to wide receiver, but Graham has a concussion and can't play in the next game.
13. Now Hensley, who had teamed with Williams to form a solid right side of the line, is injured.

And it's been downhill from there. My question to everybody who wants us to make a quick change is this: What exactly do you suggest we do?

We're not a factory that feeds its system with ready-made SEC players. Johnson installed this offense to fit his players but it's like a house of cards built on certain key people. Take somebody like Williams away and the whole thing falls apart. And now the defensive secondary is a house of cards too. If you move Jamie to offense, the secondary will suffer.

The strength of our team is the defense, which has survived Steven Stone not playing, Hamilton being lost for the season and injuries to Graham, safety Sean Richardson, corner/nickel Eric Samuels and true freshman Jay Fullam, who was game-ready when he arrived on campus.

Why has the defensive survived? Because we had four brand new freshmen DBs who were ready to play SEC football right away (Fullam, Samuels, Eddie Foster and Trey Wilson), and four redshirt freshmen linebackers who've seized key backup and special teams roles. Meanwhile, hot prospects Walker May, Thad McHaney and Blake Southerland are lifting and eating and getting ready to play next year.

It's a system and it works. That's starting to happen on offense too. Freshmen Zac Stacy and Warren Norman could play for anybody. Larry's raw for sure, but he can run and he's got Cutleresque arm strength. The problem? Our receivers and most of our offensive linemen couldn't play for any other team in the SEC. That's a big problem, and it's a problem that firing Ted Cain or changing the offense isn't going to fix. Maybe we do those things in the off-season, but it's not going to save our season.

The solution is talent. And help is on the way:

• Offensive line: Wesley Johnson is too light to play right now, but he's packing on the pounds and could start next year as a redshirt frosh. Maybe he could play center. Mylon Brown, Jerome Brown's nephew, is huge and mobile and will compete to start at tackle or guard. James Williams will be back. And commitments Logan Stewart and Grant Ramsay could compete right away.

• Receiver: Commitments include speedsters Bradley Roby and Jonathan Krause and 6-foot-5 target Chris Boyd. These are all 3-star guys with the combination of speed, size and strength that we lack at receiver.

• Other offensive talent: Jerrell Priester looks like a clone of Zac Stacy, but faster. He's one of those guys who could play anywhere in the spread, including receiver, running back and Wildcat QB. That is, if he doesn't play cornerback and follow in D.J.'s footsteps. Then there's Myron Ross, a big strong tailback who could also be a Chris Marve type if he moves to defense. Davis Dudchock is a 4-star tight end.

• Defense: We've gotten commitments from a whopping five D-linemen, though Jared Morse's commitment is getting softer by the minute. But Kyle Woestmann is a stud DT who turned down an offer from Georgia, James Kittredge can play end or tackle, Vince Taylor is 270 pounds and runs a 4.7 40, and Thomas Ryan is a natural at end. All of them are 3-star guys. As usual, we'll have a bunch of DBs who can play right away, including Andre Simmons, Andre Hal, Sharrod Golightly, Karl Butler and Kenneth Ladler.

Sure, things are tough now. The loss to Army stinks. But I believe we're headed in the right direction. Our talent is getting better. All those guys who aren't SEC caliber and didn't pan out as projects are graduating; expect a bunch of them who redshirted (like, say, Gaston Miller) to give up their fifth year of eligibility.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Here's another week of hot Moral Victory! SEC picks

OK, so we whiffed big on Georgia-Tennessee. That would have been our only loss this week if not for the horrible picking call against Vanderbilt and the horrible illegal forward pass call against Miss State.

Still, we're 41-8, or 83.7 percent. That's one game better than Chris Low, who says he gets a limo ride to Georgia-Florida if he's over 80 percent that week. What do we get? A pat on the back. Maybe.

Anyway, this week I'm itching to pick some upsets, namely Vandy over Georgia and MTSU over Miss State, and if Bama were playing in Columbia I'd be tempted to pick the Gamecocks.

Alas, I don't believe any of that will happen. In fact, I think MTSU has a better chance of beating Miss State than Vandy does of beating Georgia. Sorry. If Vandy can score a pair of offensive touchdowns in a loss I'll be thrilled. Don't tell me I don't love my team; just call me realistic.

Anyway, here are our picks for this week:

South Carolina at Alabama: This could be a real slobberknocker. Call it Crimson Tide 17-9.

Arkansas at Florida: The Razorback offense is better than LSU's but its D is full of holes. And the Gator D will be frying up some bacon. Gators 28-14.

Georgia at Vanderbilt: Right now, Bulldog fans are patronizing us Peach State Vandy fans. To which we say, "Shut up, you're going to win." The Dawgs defense is porous, but very athletic. For them, the Commodore offense will be just what the doctor ordered. Bulldogs 19-7.

Kentucky at Auburn: Let's see, very good offense against injury-wracked defense, and injury-wracked offense against pretty bad defense. Very good offense will prevail. Tigers 27-17.

UAB at Ole Miss: OK, Jevan, you can stop blogging about how all those mean Rebel fans need to cut you some slack. At least until next week. Rebels 34-13.

Miss State at MTSU: Murfreesboro — not a place where an SEC coach wants to travel. Or anybody. But the Bulldogs should prevail. Bulldogs 24-17.

Mark Richt says Vanderbilt's a tough team the Bulldogs look forward to beating

Here's Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt's assessment of Vanderbilt, and he makes some good points:

1. BOBBY JOHNSON HAS IMPROVED VANDERBILT'S SPEED, DEPTH AND ATHLETICISM: "Coach Johnson has done a really fine job there. Since we've been playing them for so many years, we'll go back years on the video and it seems like every year you progress, they are getting faster and more athletic."

2. VANDERBILT'S DEFENSE IS STRONG, AND ITS OFFENSE IS TERRIBLE: "The one thing as you watch those games, you'll watch the defense play, and the next series you'll see the scoreboard and a lot of times there wasn't a lot of offensive production from Vanderbilt. It helped the teams that were struggling against them. It helped Ole Miss, it helped LSU as they were trying to get some points on the board that their defenses were playing extremely well that day."

3. NO MATTER HOW BAD A SEASON GEORGIA'S HAVING, BULLDOGS ALWAYS TAKE A VICTORY OVER VANDERBILT FOR GRANTED: "We are looking forward to getting over there and getting back on the winning track."

4. BUT THERE ARE SOME SIMILARITIES TO 2006, WHEN VANDY LAST BEAT THE DAWGS: "Stafford was a true freshman that year and I redshirted Moreno that year. We were scrambling, fighting, scratching, clawing back then and dealing with some of the things we are dealing with now in regards to trying to keep a positive focus on the future. We've been there before. We don't like being there, but that's where we are at..."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nine reasons Vanderbilt has a shot to upset Georgia

I'll never forget watching Vanderbilt play Georgia in Athens in 1994. It was the Bulldogs' homecoming, and the Dawgs team was loaded with future NFL players like QB Eric Zeir, RB Terrell Davis, OT Jon Stinchcomb, WR Hines Ward and LB Randall Godfrey.

But Vandy had Ronnie Gordon and Jermaine Johnson and a bunch of other Georgia boys who grew up wanting to play for the Bulldogs but never got scholarship offers. The final score: Vanderbilt 43, Georgia 30.

Here are nine reasons that Vandy could stun Georgia on Saturday:

• Warren Norman, RB, Stone Mountain, Ga.
• Brandon Barden, TE, Lincolnton, Ga.
• Udom Umoh, WR, Fort Valley, Ga.
• Alex Washington, WR, Stone Mountain, Ga.
• Greg Billinger, DT, Lilburn, Ga.
• T.J. Greenstone, DT, Lawrenceville, Ga.
• Casey Hayward, DB, Elko, Ga.
• Broderick Stewart, DE, Newnan, Ga.
• Brett Upson, P, Griffin, Ga.

All those guys are starters or part-time starters. Need more reasons? OK, here are 12 more:

• Austin Newton, LB, McDonough
• Kennard Reeves, RB, Duluth
• Ryan Seymour, OT, Kingsland
• Tristan Strong, LB, Loganville
• Bo Baggarley, LB, Forsyth
• Richard Kent, P, Marietta
• Taylor Loftley, DL, Chamblee
• Mark Panu, DE, Mableton
• Conrad Quiros, SN, Atlanta
• Jameson Sackey, WR, Smyrna
• Blake Southerland, LB, Lawrenceville
• Dan Sutton, LB, Tucker

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Vandy freshman cracks the depth chart

When Archibald Barnes came to Vanderbilt two years ago, he was listed as an athlete, which means nobody knew where he was going to play.

Barnes was 6-foot-4, a shade under 200 pounds, and he could run. He played quarterback in high school, but so did Warren Norman, Casey Hayward and even offensive lineman Rob Ashabranner. So he redshirted and got shopped around at receiver and defensive back and linebacker.

Looks like he's a good fit at linebacker. Barnes, whose full name is "Archibald Cornelius Barnes and who's the son of an Air Force colonel, has been a fixture this season on special teams and has been getting more and more time at linebacker and even safety. Looks like a clone of Brent Trice. And how could a kid named Archibald Cornelius not play at Vanderbilt?

Anyway, with fellow redshirt frosh Tristan Strong out for the rest of the season with an ACL, Barnes is now listed as a second-team linebacker. That's a pretty big deal because Strong, DeAndre Jones and Dexter Daniels have always been grouped together as our top young linebackers, but now it's Barnes who's listed on the depth chart.

Here are the other freshmen who've seen some time on the depth chart this year:

• Zac Stacy: Started three games at tailback; currently listed as a co-starter with Warren Norman.
• Warren Norman: Got first start at tailback Saturday at Army; now listed as co-starter with Stacy.
• Collin Ashley: Second-team receiver for most of this season.
• John Cole (redshirt): Started five games at receiver, missing one to injury.
• Brady Brown: Cracked the depth chart at receiver last week after the Ole Miss game.
• Ryan Seymour (redshirt): Second-team left tackle.
• Caleb Welchans (redshirt): Second-team right tackle.
• Ryan Fowler (redshirt): Starting placekicker.
• Rob Lohr (redshirt): Second-team defensive tackle.
• Johnell Thomas (redshirt): Co-second-team defensive end.
• Eddie Foster: Second-team cornerback.
• Trey Wilson: Second-team cornerback.
• Eric Samuels: Second-team defensive back, moving from corner to nickel to safety.

These freshmen haven't made the depth chart but have played regularly:
• Josh Jelesky: defensive end
• DeAndre Jones: linebacker
• Tristan Strong: linebacker
• Dexter Daniels: linebacker
• Micah Powell: defensive back
• Al Owens: defensive back

These redshirt freshmen have seen limited or no playing time this season:
• Akeem Dunhan: Receiver; preseason second team but only played in two games
• Richard Cagle: offensive line
• Colt Nichter: defensive line
• Taylor Loftley: defensive line
• John Burrow: defensive line

These true freshmen appear headed for a redshirt season:
• Charlie Goro: quarterback
• Wesley Tate: tailback
• Mason Johnston: tight end
• Wesley Johnson: offensive line
• Mylon Brown: offensive line
• Justin Cabbagestalk: offensive line
• Walker May: defensive end
• Thad McHaney: defensive end
• Javon Marshall: defensive back
• Jay Fullam: safety (injured)

Mark Richt and Georgia have everything to lose; Bobby Johnson and Vanderbilt have nothing to lose

Brandon Barca, who works in the Vandy athletic department and keeps an excellent blog, is comparing the Commodores' current plight to that of their next opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs.

I live in Georgia, and Dawg fans are indeed poor-mouthing themselves these days and wondering if Mark Richt is too nice a guy to be a football coach and even telling Vandy fans like me that the Commodores are going to beat them.

To which I say, "We lost to Army last week."

To which they say, "Oh, yeah." And they start to smile in anticipation of a victory.

But Vanderbilt's situation is very different from Georgia's:

• Georgia is a perennial powerhouse and this is the first time Richt has ever started 3-3. Bobby Johnson has only had two seasons in which he started better than 3-3.

• Georgia is loaded with athletes who were recruited by every Top 10 school in the nation. Vandy DT Greg Billinger allegedly had a scholarship offer from the Dawgs and John Stokes had an offer from Bama... and that's about it. Georgia's got a stadium that seats about 90,000 fans. Richt makes more than $2 million a year. So when he doesn't contend for a national championship, everybody goes nuts.

• Georgia never has to play a home-and-home series with a team from a second-tier conference or an independent — like Vandy did against Miami-Ohio last year and Rice and Army this year — and so they don't do it.

Bobby Johnson should not be on the hot seat, even if he does finish this season 2-10. When Georgia has a young quarterback, and a secondary and offensive line beset with injuries, and a couple of receivers with the dropsies, and some coordinators who are struggling to call the right plays, the Bulldogs tend to win only seven or eight games and get a bid to a lesser bowl game. And Richt is on the hot seat.

But when Vanderbilt has one of its best and most opportunistic teams since the Eisenhower administration, the Commodores win six games (barely) and get a bid to a lesser bowl game. And Bobby Johnson is named SEC coach of the year.

Sure, some fans think Johnson should win seven games this year and return to a bowl or be shown the door. Not me. Johnson is slowly building talent and depth with undersized and/or underrated recruits flying under the radar, and then getting those underrated recruits on the field right away (D.J. Moore, Casey Hayward, Warren Norman, Eddie Foster) and sending the undersized guys to the weight room and the training table (Broderick Stewart, Wesley Johnson).

Yes, we've got to get this new offense installed and shore up our offensive line and break in a young quarterback and a new fleet of receivers. But we knew going into this season that the offense was a problem.

Anyway, Vandy fans need to be realistic. Georgia is loaded. Remember what happened the last time the Dawgs got blown out in Knoxville? That was two years ago. They struggled against us in Nashville, won on a last-second field goal, and were so relieved that they stomped on our star, which angered Richt, who essentially told his team to pick on somebody their own size. In their next game, they punched Florida in the mouth and didn't lose another game for the rest of the season. And I believe if Vandy or Kentucky had beaten Tennessee that season — and both teams came mighty close — then Georgia would have beaten LSU in the SEC championship game and then beaten Ohio State to win the national championship instead of LSU. Instead, Tennessee backed into the SEC championship game.

That's what happened the last time Georgia was blown out in Knoxville. So don't buy into the fact that Richt is a lame-duck coach and his team is on a slide. Vandy beating Georgia in Nashville would be a much bigger upset than Army beating Vandy at West Point.

If Vandy loses to Georgia, nobody on either side is surprised. If Georgia loses to Vandy, Richt is in big trouble. He's got everything to lose, and his teams generally step up when that's the case.

As for the Commodores, we've got nothing to lose.

And we tend to play better when that's the case.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our most valuable player: James Williams

We've lost some key guys this season. Jared Hawkins went down, and Zac Stacy and Warren Norman jumped right in and have even been an improvement. Steven Stone hurt his foot in preseason camp and a bunch of guys — Tim Fugger and Theron Kadri and Teriall Brannon and Johnell Thomas — have filled in admirably. Ryan Hamilton was lost for the season and Joel Caldwell stepped in and has been doing just fine.

But we have not replaced James Williams, the right tackle who dislocated his ankle in the second half of the LSU game. Since then, right tackle has been manned by Reilly Lauer, who's about 50 pounds lighter than Williams.

Before Williams was injured, our running game was vastly improved, and Stacy was running through huge holes and tearing off chunks of yards against LSU in Baton Rouge. We had a legitimate shot to win that game, until Williams was injured for the season.

We tried to run the same kind of plays against Miss State and Ole Miss, and without Williams couldn't do it.

And now, against the likes of Army, we've got Stacy lining up at quarterback in the Cornelius or whatever we call the Wildcat, and Norman and Smith lining up at receiver and then Norman going in motion and getting the pitch from Stacy.

You resort to tricks like that when your offensive line can't block the men in front of them.

We miss you, James.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Commodores about to turn this ship around

Look at the above picture. Warren Norman's diving into the end zone in overtime to give the Commodores their first lead of the game — seven precious points, which the cadets would have had a tough time matching against the Vandy defense.

Wait! Look more closely. It's the ghost of Doc Blanchard, whose number had been retired about 90 minutes earlier. See him? No. 35? He's standing at attention. And he's creating an intergalactic force field around the end zone. And yes, the ball has popped into the air and in two seconds it will have rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback to set up Army's victory field goal.

I'm not going to analyze this game anymore. It was freaking Armed Forces Day at West Point. You take away any one of about 15 wacky plays and judgment calls and the Commodores win by a couple of touchdowns.

Sure, we had questionable playcalling and woeful offensive line play and 12 penalties for 99 yards and were minus 2 in turnover margin. We also had superior talent.

You play that game 10 more times and we win at least nine of them.

Which brings me to last year's Ole Miss game. The Rebels had far superior talent, including eventual first-round draft picks at left tackle and defensive tackle and way better offensive skill players and one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. They moved the ball up and down the field but lost the turnover battle and the red zone scoring battle and the battle for fewest penalties.

And so the Rebels lost. The fans were livid. Houston Nutt was a chump, etc. And look what happened the next week. Ole Miss beat Florida and went on to have a fantastic season.

I'm not suggesting you buy Cotton Bowl tickets, or make any bowl plans. But I think we're going to turn this around. We're going to be competitive here on out. How, I have no idea. But I believe it will happen.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Well, at least it was a beautiful fall day in West Point

Wow, what a beautiful day on the Hudson. Leaves red and gold, sunshine and cool breezes.

And the underdog played tough defense and won with hard clean play, no penalties, fewer turnovers than the other team and plenty of breaks. Reminiscent of last year's Vanderbilt team. Except they did it against this year's Vanderbilt team.

I'm not going to say we didn't want to win this one. Yes, Vandy had more talent. Yes, Zac Stacy and Warren Norman were by far the best running backs on the field, and our DBs were way better than theirs.

But we started way too many drives with a motion penalty and a 1st and 15. Our offensive line couldn't protect Larry Smith. Remember how we wanted him to stay in the pocket? He did, and his offensive line couldn't hold up. Bradley Vierling had another movement penalty. A hold killed a long TD run by Warren Norman who scored our only touchdown of the game with a 76-yard kickoff return. In overtime, he tried to do too much and twisted and dove for the goal line but fumbled into the end zone for a touchback and effectively a loss for the Dores.

Larry looked great running the two-minute offense, including two passes for 44 yards to Brandon Barden and a nice touchdown pass to Alex Washington that would have won the game if Alex hadn't pushed off. I didn't see if he actually committed the penalty but he's never gotten that much separation on a cornerback so he must have done something.

Anyway, no offensive touchdowns against Army. Got to do something about the offense. Something more than lining Zac up at quarterback for a third of our snaps.

What summed up the game was when the quarterback didn't stop running even after being pushed for an apparent loss near the goal line, but he didn't stop and kept pushing and stayed on his feet and his linemen kept pushing and so he scored. Yeah, the whistle should have blown and it looked a little squirrely but we should have never been in a situation where a couple of calls would sway the game.

Bottom line, I thought I was watching Vanderbilt play today but it was the team playing Vanderbilt. Now I know how fans at South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss and Boston College felt last season.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Moral Victory! predictions for this week's SEC games

Time for another week of picks. We lost a couple of games last week because of (1) the ridiculous celebration penalty after Georgia scored what should have been the winning TD and (2) my abandoning our strategy of always picking the SEC to win intraconference games not involving USC. So now we're 37-5, or 88 percent.

So here we go:

Auburn at Arkansas: This'll be a shootout. Auburn gave up a ton of yards to a hapless Vol offense so wait and see what Ryan Mallett does to the Tigers. Razorbacks 37-35.

Vanderbilt at Army: The Commodores have superior talent, though this should be closer than the Rice game. Commodores 24-14.

Georgia at Tennessee: The Vol defense is as good as LSU's and Georgia had an awful time moving the ball for most of the game. But I think Georgia's defense made some progress in the game and should do just enough to seal a victory. Bulldogs 28-20.

Houston at Miss State: I'd have loved to have seen Miss State beat an undefeated Cougar team. But the Coogs have one loss now and should have another one after a visit to Starkvegas. Bulldogs 31-26.

Kentucky at South Carolina: Wildcats will have a tough time moving the ball, of course. This might be a different story if the game was in Lexington, but it's not. Gamecocks 19-7.

Alabama at Ole Miss: I think the Tide punches Jevan Snead and his buddies in the mouth and ends this one fast. Crimson Tide 35-17.

Florida at LSU: I'm tempted to make a "with Tebow" prediction and a "with Brantley" prediction, but I'll refrain. The Tigers seem to be getting some of the same magic they got two years ago, and this should be a good one. Gators 26-21.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Somewhere over North Carolina

Just enjoying my complimentary Delta beverage, Coke products of course. Will be brief because typing on iPod keypad.

Looks like Zac Stacy could join Hawkins and Norman on the roster Saturday. Hope to see Kennard play too. This game probably too close for comfort but would like to see an easy victory and the following:

- Jared Funk play a series at QB.

- Brady Brown catch a pass.

- While we're at, how bout Warren taking a kickoff to the house?

- Oh, and a shutout.

-Oh, and A.J. Ogilvy making the trip and lining up at cornerback against Army's 6-10 wide receiver named Ali?

Looks like a good place to watch a football game

It was a no-brainer. The Commodores are playing in one of the best gameday atmospheres in all of college football. And in the fall. And my brother lives in the Bronx. And when I realized this, it was summertime and the airlines were in a price war. Oh, and everybody will be wearing black and gold.

So I'm headed to New York City/West Point for a short family vacation. Pretty nice, huh?

I hear lots of Vandy alumni took advantage of some cool travel packages involving New York City hotels and a tour on a cruise boat up the Hudson to the game — which because of the early kickoff was changed to a cruise down the Hudson back to the hotel so the tour people could sell more alcohol on the boat. And the Vandy fans can celebrate, of course. Or drown their sorrows.

But anyway, lots of Vandy fans are headed to the game, and it's rapidly approaching a sellout.

I'm looking forward to it. We'll head to West Point around 8 a.m., check out some of the campus or base or whatever you call it, then see the review of cadets at 9 a.m., then walk around some more and then head up to Michie Stadium where they have something called Black Knights Alley where there's music and tailgating and giant inflatables. Sort of like Vandyville, except it's on the Hudson River and all the students are wearing uniforms — oh, and they've been doing it since before the Civil War.

Kickoff's at noon, but I hear you've got to get in the stadium early because of all the security checks, and you don't want to miss the parachute team and all the other stuff they do before kickoff.

Anybody out there making the West Point trip too?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vanderbilt football: Like Iowa State but with a defense

Well, Vandy got this ringing endorsement yesterday from Army Coach Rich Ellerson:

"Now we play Vanderbilt. I would liken them to Iowa State with a better defense."

Wow, thanks, Coach.

Of course, Army did lose 31-10 to the Cyclones, in Ames.

In addition to complimenting the defense, he also praised the ability of Vandy's "bevy of running backs." Does it feel like we've got a bevy of running backs?

Anyway, I like Ellerson and his approach to coaching a team that's frequently outmanned. Listen to some of these quotes from Tuesday's press conference. He might as well be talking about Vanderbilt:

On mistakes in last week's game: "It’s a little bit like a car wreck. If you’ve been having trouble remembering to wear your seatbelt, get into a car wreck, and suddenly that’s not a hard habit to come by."

On losing last week and being an underdog this week: “The good news is that nobody died. We were a free country, and we are still a free country, and we get a chance to play on Saturday... We are an underdog and we love it. If we can just clear, take the lesson forward, and grasp this opportunity, we can put one on somebody. It’s going to be hard, but that’s OK.”

On the importance of magic: “We don’t have a lot of magic in terms of somebody where we can be close and give the ball to Billy Bob and he’ll make everything right. He isn’t here. We have some guys who can play, but we all have to play together and we all have to be on-point. We can’t have eight or nine guys doing it exactly right but then have two or three guys that (make mistakes). When you play against good, athletic people, without magic it’s going to be hard."

On offensive penalties: “We are having a hard time surviving a penalty. Once we get behind the count we have a hard time making those five or ten yards back up, and that’s a concern.”

On recruiting: "We do not paint ourselves into a corner in terms of what a guy has to look like. You don’t have to be 6-4, you don’t have to weigh 290 pounds, what you have to do is be explosive and be athletic. We’ll look anywhere for those guys. We think Texas is obviously a place where academies traditionally have done very well."

Hmmm. The Commodores are recovering from a car wreck, too, and cheering themselves up by reminding themselves they live in a free country, and trying to embrace the underdog role, and trying to conjur up last season's Music City Bowl magic, and coping with 1st and 15, and searching for tough little players in Texas (Patrick Benoist, Jared Hawkins, Collin Ashley, Al Owens, et. al.)

Oh yeah, and both teams wear black and gold. Freaky, huh?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Brady Brown listed on depth chart at wide receiver

Here's a prediction: Brady Brown will be one of our best receivers by the end of the season.

No, Brown hasn't caught a pass yet, and he's only played in three games.

But the true freshman has moved onto the depth chart, behind Alex Washington and ahead of Justin Green. Green has gone AWOL since tipping a 46-yard touchdown to himself against Western Carolina — his only catch.

And another receiver who looks good in the airport, redshirt freshman Akeem Dunham, has only played in two games and has dropped off the depth chart. Everybody's been saying Dunham has a lot of potential. Maybe Bear Bryant was right: Potential means you don't have any.

Anyway, back to young Master Brown. Expect Larry to keep slinging it against Army in an attempt to find his rhythm, and expect Brady Brown to catch — yes, actually grab a ball with his hands and hold onto it for an official reception — a pass and then catch another one against the Black Knights.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Breaking down video 'highlights' from the Vandy-Ole Miss game

Ah yes, it's time again to break down our weekly video highlights, if you wish to call them that.

Here's how the brave Vanderbilt video technicians filled up 4 minutes and 40 seconds, or 280 seconds:

• 79 seconds: Bobby Johnson explaining how bad the team played
• 39 seconds: Interceptions by Casey Hayward and Myron Lewis
• 32 seconds: Two missed Vandy field goals
• 31 seconds: Three Ole Miss TD passes
• 22 seconds: Long kick return by Warren Norman
• 21 seconds: Two tough runs by Warren Norman
• 19 seconds: Larry Smith TD pass to Udom Umoh
• 19 seconds: Opening and closing credits
• 14 seconds: Great run by Jared Hawkins
• 7 seconds: Postgame handshake

On the bright side, the video features a peppy score that sounds like the Dragnet theme being played on kettle drums.

Moral Victory! Power Ratings for Week 5

Now teams are starting to play somebody.

1. Alabama, 5-0 (2-0)
The Tide is counting the days until the SEC championship game. At least that's the conventional wisdom, and talk like that around T-Town is Nick Saban's toughest opponent.
Last week: No. 1
Next week: At Ole Miss

2. LSU, 5-0 (3-0)
The Tigers picked up their biggest win by far to date and now face a game that could propel them to No. 1 if they win.
Last week: No. 5
Next week: At home against Florida

3. South Carolina, 4-1 (1-1)
Don't the Gamecocks wish Garcia had kept the ball and run it into the end zone for the victory over Georgia? Spurrier has a top-flight defense, and the Gamecocks don't lose at home unless they're playing Florida...or Vanderbilt.
Last week: No. 3
Next week: At home against Kentucky

4. Georgia, 3-2 (2-1)
Richt has to be steaming over (1) the horrible celebration penalty that enabled LSU to get such great field position at the end of the game and (2) the poor tackling his defenders displayed after performing so brilliantly for almost the entire game.
Last week: No. 2
Next week: At Tennessee

5. Auburn, 5-0 (2-0)
What a difference a year makes. But the Razorbacks present a real test. And to think the Tigers won't have faced a ranked team in the first six games of the season.
Last week: No. 4
Next week: At Arkansas

6. Florida, 4-0 (1-0)
The game of the year so far in the SEC. The key will be if Tebow plays.
Last week: No. 6
Next week: At LSU

7. Ole Miss, 3-1 (1-1)
The Rebels defense is tough, and Jevan Snead sure handled Vandy in the first half. But he still looks a bit shaky, and maybe you've heard the Tide is slightly better than the Commodores. But Nutt and friends have had this game circled for almost a year, so you never know.
Last week: No. 8
Next week: At home against Alabama

8. Miss State, 2-3 (1-2)
Like Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs have to be kicking themselves for scheduling Georgia Tech. Still, the Dogs have represented themselves well this season and have a shot at a quality win at home against Houston, which has been in the Top 25 this season but has a suspect defense.
Last week: No. 7
Next week: At home against Houston

9. Arkansas, 2-2 (0-2)
Texas A&M was a quality win, though the Aggies were probably a bit overrated. The Razorbacks have a good shot to give Auburn its first loss on Saturday in Fayetteville.
Last week: No. 7
Next week: At home against Auburn

10. Tennessee, 2-3 (0-2)
With only one more non-conference game (Memphis) this season, the Volunteers will need three conference victories to become bowl-eligible. Amassing nearly 400 yards total offense against Auburn was a step in the right direction.
Last week: No. 8
Next week: At home against Georgia

11. Kentucky, 2-2 (0-2)
Considering their exceptionally weak non-conference schedule, the Wildcats need two conference wins to become bowl eligible again. Likely won't get one this weekend in Columbia.
Last week: No. 9
Next week: At South Carolina

12. Vanderbilt, 2-3 (0-3)
Commodores haven't recorded what could even remotely be called a quality win, and beating Army on Saturday won't give them one either. But they'll get plenty of chances in the second half of the season.
Last week: No. 10
Next week: At Army

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vanderbilt's going to turn the offensive ship around... one way or another

There's just not much more you can say about the Vandy offense.

It's just pointless. Listen to the kinds of stupid questions reporters were asking our guys after last night's game:

• Where's the frustration level of this team?
• Do you guys feel like you need to start getting into the end zone?
• You've been struggling on offense for several weeks now — why haven't you been able to make the necessary changes?

You're going to hear lots of angry stuff from Vandy fans this week about how we're choking and how we always seem to perform poorly after winning a big game or having a big season, and how suddenly we've got all this great talent but poor coaches.

Let's face it: It's a rarity when we beat another SEC team; Bobby Johnson's slowly turning the ship around but for Vandy fans to all of a sudden talk about how losing is unacceptable and we can't tolerate it from our players or coaches... well, I suggest those fans maybe trade teams. Alabama or Florida would be nice choices right now. Auburn's playing well at the moment.

Nobody's more frustrated than our players and coaches. Just listen to these quotes after last night's game:

Johnson: "I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that had that many penalties, that many mental errors in a game; it was just disheartening… we’ve got a lot of work to do."

Johnson: "It’s hard when they know you’re going to throw all the time because it’s 3rd and 15. Larry’s the guy right now for us… it was a group effort. We were very poor, the whole group."

Warren Norman: "We were stopping ourselves. I don’t feel like they were stopping us."

Bradley Vierling: "The first half we weren’t very good at all and in the second half we weren’t very good either."

Vierling: "We were atrocious in the red zone and that trend needs to stop."

Vierling: "We’re gonna start winning some games around here."

Larry Smith: "We can’t keep relying on defense to keep bailing us out."

Even Myron Lewis was taking the blame: "On defense, we didn’t convert on third and long."

I believe we're going to work through this, and I believe we beat Army next week and we win at least two more games after that. How are we going to do it? I have no idea. I'm not a football coach. But Bobby Johnson and his staff are.

So I'm going to sit back and watch them make adjustments and figure out a way to win. And when we look back on this season, I believe we'll remember how we much we progressed on offense and built a foundation for future seasons. Remember how much Auburn struggled last season implementing a new offense? Just look at them now. Of course, they also have a new offensive coordinator. Hmmmm.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vanderbilt offense actually scores a touchdown

With Ole Miss up 23-0 and driving again, Casey Hayward picks off a Snead pass. Then on fourth and 3, Udom Umoh takes a reverse and picks up a bunch of yards, and then Larry throws a nice pass in the corner of the end zone to UU, who makes a nice catch.

Now it's 23-7.

Clearly, Bobby is fed up. He pulled favorite son Bradley Vierling after yet another sloppy snap and Joey Bailey replaced him.

Turner Wimberly stepped up and grabbed a few catches on the scoring drive.

Larry Smith completes a pass!

Yes, Larry Smith has indeed completed a pass, on the opening drive of the second half.

It's to Austin Monahan.

For no gain.

Then Larry gets sacked on the next play and we punt it away.

Another three and out.

Bring on the Army Black Knights.

5 reasons I plan to watch the second half of the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game

Yes, I'm going to watch the second half. Because I'm curious.

I'm curious to see...

1. If Larry Smith can complete at least one pass during the game.

2. If any VU receiver can get open.

3. If the Vandy offense can hit double digits... for total possession minutes in the game.

4. If Ryan Fowler can make a kick.

5. If Mackenzi Adams throws down his headphones and puts himself into the game.

Vandy offense is rolling... oh, nevermind

So Jared picks up 12 and gets a first down. Then Warren picks up 9 and a Rebel takes a shot at Larry on the play and gets hit with a personal foul. Which means a whopping 36 yards on two plays for our offense, and 1st and 10 on the 16.

Nevermind. Our line jumps. Then Larry gets sacked twice. Fowler misses a very long field goal. Snead and Hodge back on the field. So is McCluster, who picks up 24 yards.

This is a blowout in the making, folks.

I'm not really bothered by it. Bothered by the Miss State loss, yes. But this Rebel team is freaking loaded, and I don't mean loaded like frat boys in the Grove.

Hopefully our offense can learn a thing or two in this game and keep our defense off the field for a few minutes and keep this from being a body bag game for our good players — you know, the ones on the defensive side of the ball.

Whoops. It's 17-0. That's one way to get the defense off the field.

Vanderbilt trailing 10-0 to Ole Miss in first half

Ole Miss has a good offense, got a wake-up call last Thursday, and has had extra time to practice.

All that considered, our defense is doing an admirable job, though giving up a bit too much on third and long, and Casey's getting an education from Shay Hodge.

The problem here, of course, is our offense. We've been on the field 3:30, compared to a whopping 16:12 for Ole Miss. Unbelievable.

Oh, and we have 25 yards to the Rebels' 174. Shay Hodge has 117 yards receiving.

Can Larry complete a pass? Will we see Mackenzi? Or maybe Jared Funk.

Wait, Larry just picked up a first down on the keeper. Keep on keeping on, Larry.

Whoops, another incomplete pass. That's 0-7.