Saturday, September 10, 2011
What will James Franklin do when Vandy hits the wall?
The test of this Vandy team and especially Franklin and his staff will come when the Commodores hit the wall.
It will happen. I promise. Franklin knows it will happen.
Remember in 2008 when we were 5-0 and on a roll? I went to the next game, in Starkville, with the Bulldogs having already hit rock-bottom with a loss to Louisiana Tech. Miss State was a bad team, Croom was an idiot, etc. But the Bulldogs had better athletes, especially on defense, and we couldn't move the ball. We lost and had to listen to cowbells.
Then we started losing again: Georgia and Florida could be expected, but Duke was a bummer. We looked terrible, our offense looked terrible.
Meanwhile, Bobby Johnson and Ted Cain and friends just kept doing the same thing on offense and expecting our luck to change. Johnson, if you recall, kept talking about execution. (Which brings to mind what the old Tampa Bay Coach John McKay said when somebody asked him about the execution of his players and he said, "I'm in favor of it.")
I would submit that we won a bowl that season because fate intervened and Johnson was forced to make decisions that he should have been making anyway.
Remember what got us over the hump? Beating Kentucky in Lexington to become bowl eligible. Why did we beat Kentucky? Because D.J. Moore made two spectacular touchdown catches in the first half. Why was D.J. Moore playing wide receiver? Because Jamie Graham was hurt and didn't make the trip. Sure, D.J. had played offense before but in spot duty.
Remember how we couldn't move the ball against Boston College in the Music City Bowl because of B.J. Raji and that other gigantic defensive tackle? But we won because of special teams magic and a whole lot of luck, right? But why were we in the position to win in the first place? Because we caught the Eagles off guard with two long passes in the first quarter to set up two field goals and post a 6-0 lead. Why were we able to throw those two long passes, which were both right on the money? Because Johnson took the wraps off redshirt freshman Larry Smith, playing him in the last game of the season and then in the bowl game. Why did he take the wraps off Larry? Because Nickson and Adams were hurt and he had no choice.
So Johnson led us to the promised land in 2008 because he made some key personnel and strategic decisions — he thought outside the box, if you will — when we hit the wall and had no hope.
But he was forced to make those decisions, because he was loyal to his players and he valued the ability to execute the game plan over the ability to make plays.
I don't think James Franklin will make key changes or shake things up only after being forced by injuries or acts of God to do so.
Franklin wants to score now. He's an offensive-minded guy. If we hit the wall and can't generate points, he's going to do something about it, and sooner rather than later.
Why is he continuously defending Larry? Because Larry hasn't failed him yet. If he does, then Franklin will try something else, if it's for one play or the rest of the game or the rest of the season.
Franklin talks all the time about playmakers. He's starting the season with his most experienced guys, but don't think he won't burn the redshirt off a kid in a heartbeat who can make plays. Sure, conventional wisdom and Twitter say Josh Grady will redshirt. James Franklin won't hesitate to use Josh if he thinks he can play better than Larry or Aaron Rodgers.
This is about much more than playing freshmen, of course. This is about taking a chance before it's too late. It's not about being content with three-and-outs and hoping your defense and special teams can put you in a position to win at the end. It's about trying to figure out right now how to score on the other guy, even when he's shutting you down.
You know, even when we've hit the wall. Which could happen to the Commodores at any time. Like around 6:40 tonight.
And I'll be interested to see what Franklin does when we hit the wall. To me, at this point, it's more important for this team to move the ball consistently and handle adversity with confidence, creativity and aggression than it is for us to get lucky and win.
You know how Vandy's luck always seems to run out, especially toward the end of the season? Well, Franklin's working toward building a team that isn't so dependent on blind luck. For starters, he's recruiting more playmakers, which takes confidence, creativity and aggression. Whether we win or lose tonight, and this echoes what VandyGal said in a recent comment, I think we're headed in the right direction.