Monday, September 26, 2011

One reason why Vandy's O-line is struggling

Wondering why Vandy’s offensive line has been struggling? One reason: the Commodores have lost a whopping seven players in the past year or so. Here’s the list, with their class if they’d stayed in school:

• James Williams, RSr (academic casualty in summer of 2010)
• Rob Ashabranner, RSr (left school in summer of 2010)
• Jabo Burrow, RJr (still on roster; career-ending injury in second game of 2011)
• Michael Bryant, RJr (transferred to Tennessee-Martin in 2009)
• Richard Cagle, RJr (transferred to Abilene Christian in summer of 2010)
• Justin Cabbagestalk, RSo (left team in 2010 due to career-ending injury)
• James Kittredge, So (suspended, transferred to Michigan State in spring of 2011)

Most Commodore fans will agree that Williams was a huge loss. We watched him blast huge holes for Zac Stacy against LSU before breaking his leg; he returned for spring practice and then left school, reportedly an academic casualty.

And nearly everybody will agree that we'd be better off right now with Jabo Burrow, whose career ended in the UConn game after a concussion, instead of Chase White, who was a weak link against South Carolina and game way to Logan Stewart.

While few fans are mourning the loss — or would even recognize — Ashabranner, Bryant or Cagle, we could definitely use more upperclassmen. Right now, we should have at least nine upperclassmen on our depth chart. But thanks to the loss of Williams, Ashabranner, Bryant, Cagle and now Burrow, we have four upperclassmen, and one of them, Josh Jelesky, converted a couple of weeks ago from defensive end.

So the bad news is we've got no experience.

The good news? We've got lots of young guys, who'll one day be veterans, if they can just stay in school and injury-free.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

South Carolina D finds its ideal opponent in Vandy

Here's cause for concern:


• East Carolina: 345 total yards, 85 rushing yards
• Georgia: 436 total yards, 188 rushing yards
• Navy: 335 total yards, 274 rushing yards
• Vanderbilt: 77 total yards, 4 rushing yards

Our next game is against Alabama.

Hey, our defense can compete in the SEC. Our offense, especially our line, cannot.

We need to get out of Tuscaloosa without losing any more players to injury, and then we need to compete in the games we're supposed to compete in.

Folks, SC has far more talent than UConn or Ole Miss. Remember how our problem has been that we choke in the games in which we're supposed to have a chance? We haven't done that yet this season. We didn't match up well with SC. We couldn't move the ball. It happens sometimes.

I expect James Franklin to respond with the same energy, fire and enthusiasm he's had over the past few months, and for the players to continue to believe. If not, then we've got a big problem.

Step back for a moment and look at our record. We're 3-1 and just lost to the defending SEC East champs. Sure, it would have been nice to have converted at least once on third down before the end of the game. But I expect the staff to make adjustments and I look forward to seeing what we do.

James Franklin's right: Vandy has a long way to go

We've got a long way to go. James Franklin's been saying this after every victory. Vandy fans don't want to believe it, but now that we're playing a team with premiere talent, we realize that having a good coach and a can-do attitude and even playing as a team isn't good enough when:

1. Your offensive line is still developing.

2. The other team's defensive line is quicker and faster than your running backs.

3. The other team has the best running back in college football.

4. The other team has the best wide receiver in college football.

5. And the other team, which has the above talent, isn't beating themselves, and is getting some favorable calls from the officials too.

There are no short cuts. All week, my friends from Auburn and Alabama and Georgia have been congratulating me for Vandy's great start. But if any other team in college football goes 3-0 by beating Elon and two unranked teams, people don't congratulate their fans. They say, "When are you going to play somebody?"

Right now, we're playing somebody.

Let's keep it in perspective and keep pulling for these Dores.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vanderbilt will get no help from Marcus Lattimore

I like Marcus Lattimore. We all know he's a spectacular running back and will be playing on Sundays in a couple of years. But he's also a good kid who works hard, plays hard, does what he's told and is more concerned with winning than looking good.

Oh, and he's taking Vanderbilt seriously.

“I saw they beat Ole Miss. It’s a new Vandy,” Lattimore told the Tennessean. “You can’t roll over them. It’s always tough when we play them.

“They’ve got a real good defense and we’ve got to step up to the challenge. I feel like they don’t care who you are. They don’t care where you’re ranked. They’re going to play hard and play hard the whole game.”

Remember after Vandy's 2007 win over the Gamecocks in Columbia, when the Gamecocks whined to reporters after the game that they were better than Vanderbilt and should never have lost to them?

Remember after Vandy's 2008 win over the Gamecocks in Nashville, when the Commodores were hanging on to a slim margin late in the game and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn lost his cool and racked up a couple of personal fouls in a row that helped seal a victory for us?

I wish Marcus Lattimore wasn't such a good kid. I wish he thought he could just show up on Saturday and whip Vandy all by himself. I wish he was laughing at Vandy right now and getting his swagger on.

I wish he was a punk like Captain Munnerlyn.

Oh well. Maybe some of the other Gamecocks can help us out.

You listening, Stephen Garcia?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Don't forget, Vandy already knows how to win

If all these national stories about The Little Vanderbilt That Could are sounding familiar, that’s because… THE SAME THING HAPPENED THREE YEARS AGO!

I found it unbelievable that a sportswriter from Tennessee, Roy Exum of Chattanooga, wrote after the Ole Miss victory that Vanderbilt was 3-0 for the first time since World War II.

Um, Roy, remember 2008? Vandy started 5-0? Hosted GameDay? Was ranked as high as No. 13 in the nation? Won its first bowl game since the Eisenhower administration?

It’s a shame that so many folks have already forgotten how remarkable it was that Bobby Johnson led Vandy to a winning record and a bowl victory in 2008. It was a huge step for this program. Clearly, Johnson and his staff weren’t the right people to take us to the next step, but they’re the ones who accomplished the thankless task of getting a group of kids to believe in themselves when the rest of the world believed they were cursed to be losers forever.

This current Vanderbilt team is nowhere near the band of losers that Bobby Johnson inherited in 2002. Now James Franklin and his merry band of coaches are picking up where Johnson and his staff left off.

Consider this:

Of our current players:
• Four started in the Music City Bowl as freshmen.
• Five played in the Music City Bowl as freshmen.
• Two played but had season-ending injuries during the winning 2008 season.
• 17 redshirted and watched the Music City Bowl from the sidelines.
• Six committed before the winning 2008 season.
• Two committed after the regular season but before the bowl victory.
• Five committed after the Music City Bowl victory, signing in 2009.
• 14 committed after the bowl victory, kept their commitment after the losing 2009 season and signed in 2010.

In other words, 55 of our 85 current scholarship players either played in the Music City Bowl, watched from the sidelines as official team members or committed to a defending bowl champion.

These guys considered themselves a part of that Music City championship team before the losing season of 2009. In other words, these guys were winners and thought they were joining a winner.

Here’s a complete breakdown of our current roster:

Current Vandy players who played in the Music City Bowl:
• LB Chris Marve: Redshirt freshman started every game at middle linebacker and was a freshman All-American; led the team in bowl with 10 tackles
• TE Brandon Barden: Redshirt freshman started last nine games of season and was a major offensive weapon, scoring winning TD against Auburn; one reception in bowl
• QB Larry Smith: Redshirt freshman got his first start in bowl, opened with two long passes to Sean Walker; 10-17 for 121 yards and no interceptions.
• OG/OT Kyle Fischer: Redshirt freshman started last half of season, playing guard against Boston College’s hulking front in bowl.
• WR Udom Umoh: Redshirt freshman played in every game in 2008, in bowl led team in receptions (3) and tackles in special teams coverage (4)
• DT T.J. Greenstone: One of only three defensive tackles to play in 2008; started two games as redshirt freshman, recorded four tackles in bowl game, one for loss.
• DE Tim Fugger: Worked himself into regular rotation as redshirt freshman, had a tackle in bowl.
• CB Casey Hayward: Special teams coverage ace as true freshman, and played shut-down coverage in bowl after D.J. Moore was injured.
• S Sean Richardson: True freshman played special teams and scored team’s only touchdown in bowl by recovering fumbled punt.

Current Vandy players who saw playing time in winning 2008 season before getting injured:
• TE Austin Monahan: Four-game starter as true sophomore before season-ending injury against Ole Miss.
• WR John Cole: Returned punts as true freshman in opener against Miami-Ohio, but suffered season-ending injury in that game.

Current Vandy players who redshirted in 2008 and were on sidelines at Music City Bowl:
• DT Rob Lohr (Listed as second team during 2008 but three-man rotation stayed healthy and he never played)
• DT Colt Nichter (Also traveled with team and was prepared to play but wasn’t needed)
• DE/OL Ryan Seymour
• DE Johnell Thomas
• LB Tristan Strong
• LB Archibald Barnes
• LB DeAndre Jones
• OL Caleb Welchans
• P Richard Kent (Walk-on who became starter after bowl MVP Brett Upson graduated)
• WR Akeem Dunham
• S/LB Al Owens
• S/LB/RB Micah Powell
• PK Ryan Fowler
• DE/OL Josh Jelesky
• LB/DE Dexter Daniels
• DT Taylor Loftley
• DE/OL Jabo Burrow (Suffered career-ending injury this season but still part of team)

Current Vandy players who verbally committed before the 2008 season, kept their commitment and signed about a month after the Music City Bowl victory:
• CB/RB/S Eric Samuels (Our first commitment in the recruiting class of 2009)
• RB Zac Stacy
• RB Warren Norman
• TE Mason Johnston
• DE Walker May
• WR Brady Brown

Current Vandy players who committed to Vanderbilt after the 2008 season and before the Music City Bowl:
• OT/OG Mylon Brown
• OT/C Wesley Johnson

Current Vandy players who committed to Vanderbilt after the Music City Bowl:
• CB Trey Wilson
• CB/S Javon Marshall
• CB Eddie Foster
• DE Thad McHaney
• RB/WR Wesley Tate

Current Vandy players who committed to Vandy’s 2010 signing class after the Music City Bowl and – unlike Davis Dudchock and Bradley Roby, who jumped ship to Stanford and Ohio State, respectively – kept their word and stayed with the Commodores after the miserable 2-10 season of 2009:

• DE Thomas Ryan (First verbal commitment)
• S Kenny Ladler
• S Karl Butler
• WR Jonathan Krause
• WR Chris Boyd
• OG/C Logan Stewart
• OT/OG Chase White
• OG Grant Ramsay
• DT Jared Morse
• DT Vince Taylor
• DE Kyle Woestmann
• CB Andre Hal
• WR Trent Pruitt
• S Andre Simmons (Committed after Vandy’s encouraging early-season loss to LSU in Death Valley)

Current Vandy players who committed to Vanderbilt after the miserable season of 2009 was over:
• QB Jordan Rodgers (JUCO transfer)
• WR Jordan Matthews
• TE/FB Fitz Lassing
• OT Andrew Bridges
• CB Steven Clarke
• PK Carey Spear
• LB Chase Garnham
• LB Blake Gowder
• LB/SN Andrew East (Signed late after death of commitment Rajaan Bennett)

Current Vandy players who committed before the miserable 2-10 season of 2010:
• OT James Lewis (First commitment)
• OG Jake Bernstein
• DE/DT Conor Hart

Current Vandy players who committed during the miserable 2-10 season of 2010:
• OG Spencer Pulley
• OT/C Jose Valedon
• CB Derek King

Current Vandy players who committed after the hiring of James Franklin:
• CB/WR Jacquese Kirk
• S Jahmel McIntosh (de-committed from Memphis)
• S Andrew Williamson
• S Larry Franklin
• TE Dillon van der Wal (de-committed from Arizona State)
• TE Steven Scheu
• DT Barron Dixon (de-committed from Mississippi State)
• QB Lafonte Thourogood (de-committed from Virginia Tech)
• RB Jerron Seymour
• TE/DE Darien Bryant
• LB/DE Jimmy Stewart
• QB Josh Grady
• QB Kris Kentera
• DT/C Joe Townsend (de-committed from MTSU)

Players who would still be on the roster if they hadn’t left the team early:
• OT James Williams (left school)
• DT/OG Rob Ashabranner (left school)
• OT Michael Bryant (left school)
• OT Richard Cagle (left school)
• DT/OG/C James Kittredge (suspended; transferred to Michigan State)
• OL Justin Cabbagestalk (career-ending injury)
• RB Jermaine Doster (left school)
• WR/CB/S Jamie Graham (graduated, transferred to UCLA for last year of eligibility)
• WR Collin Ashley (left school)
• S Jay Fullam (transferred to Air Force Academy)
• QB Charlie Goro (left school)
• LB/FB Blake Southerland (career-ending injury)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vandy starts 10 different pass-catchers in first 3 games

With the release of the latest depth chart, we thought this would be a good time to point out how many different pass-catchers have started games for Vanderbilt.

In three games, we've started one quarterback (Larry Smith), one running back (Zac Stacy) and six offensive linemen (center Wesley Johnson, tackles Ryan Seymour and Kyle Fischer and guards Mylon Brown Jabo Burrow and Chase White, who replaced Burrow after a career-ending injury.

Though nobody doubts that James Franklin would pull a guy who's under performing, it also appears that he and his staff are trying to build continuity. Larry's struggled at times and Rodgers has gotten reps, but Larry's undoubtedly the starter. Zac was being stuffed repeatedly for no gain in the first three quarters against UConn while true freshman Jerron Seymour looked quicker and more effective but we've continued to play both and started Stacy against Ole Miss, and that turned out pretty good, huh?

As for the O-line, the only opening day starter not starting now is Burrow, whose playing days are over. Chase White started in his place against UConn and struggled a bit, but Franklin said he was sticking with him. Logan Stewart, who started the last half of last season at center, is returning from injury and played in mop-up duty Saturday but is not listed on the latest two-deep.

So Franklin and his staff have stuck with all the starters except the guys in pass-catching roles, where 10 different guys have filled the remaining four positions in the starting lineup.

• WR: Jordan Matthews, 6-3, 202, So.
• WR: Udom Umoh, 6-0, 180, R-Sr.
• TE: Brandon Barden, 6-5, 246, R-Sr.
• TE: Austin Monahan, 6-6, 242, R-Jr.

• WR: Chris Boyd, 6-3, 208, R-Fr.
• WR: John Cole, 5-11, 184, R-Jr.
• FB: Fitz Lassing, 6-3, 240, So.
• TE: Brandon Barden, 6-5, 246, R-Sr.

• WR: Jordan Matthews, 6-3, 202, So.
• WR: Jonathan Krause, 5-11, 184, So.
• WR: Wesley Tate, 6-1, 224, R-So.
• TE: Mason Johnston, 6-4, 242, R-So.

Barden was replaced by Johnston in the starting lineup against Ole Miss because of injury, and is now listed as a co-starter on the South Carolina depth chart with Austin Monahan, who started with Barden in a two tight end set in the Elon game.

Fullback Fitz Lassing, who plays like an H-back and is also an effective tight end, started against UConn.

At wide receiver, Matthews, the rage of spring and preseason practice, started the first game and then was replaced by Chris Boyd, who was Elon's daddy. Meanwhile, Udom Umoh and John Cole, the veterans of many an offensive debacle, took turns starting in the first two games.

We waited until the Ole Miss game to start with a three wide receiver lineup, going with Matthews; Krause, who became a fixture last year as a starter and has already carried the ball seven times this season on reverses; and Wesley Tate, the converted running back with the Golden bloodlines who's shown flashes of brilliance while learning the ropes.

As far as substitutes go, Akeem Dunham is listed as a second team receiver, while Trent Pruitt has played in every game on special teams. Walk-on Jamison Sackey has played in two games. Cole is currently injured and is not listed on the depth chart. Other possibilities include true freshman Jacquese Kirk, who's listed as a DB/WR; third-string quarterback Josh Grady; and fourth- or fifth-string quarterback Lafonte Thourogood; as well as sophomore Brady Brown, who's now sporting a cool Jesus haircut but has been apparently injured since the summer. None of those guys has played yet.

True freshman tight end Dillon van der Wal and walk-on fullback Marc Panu have each played in two games, with van der Wal getting some significant playing time spelling Barden after he got injured against UConn. Two other possibilities who haven't played yet include two true freshmen, Steven Scheu, who hasn't played this season but is an exciting prospect and a clone of Barden, and Darien Bryant, a touted prospect at tight end who's been working mostly at defensive end.

This week's depth chart lists the following:

WR: Matthews or Boyd
WR: Krause (Umoh second team)
WR: Tate (Dunham second team)
TE: Barden or Monahan (Johnston second team)
FB: Lassing (Johnston second team)

Of course, we can't start all five of these guys, so it'll depend on what set we open with. Continue to see Matthews and Boyd sharing the featured X-receiver role, with Krause settling into the Y-position and Tate becoming a permanent fixture in the Z/slot. Now that we're in SEC play, we need a big strong receiver in the slot who can run after the catch. John Cole is a tough little guy but now that we're entering SEC play, it's likely he may never start again even if he does return from injury.

While we're talking starters, Vandy has started 12 guys on defense this year, swapping only Javon Marshall for Kenny Ladler against Ole Miss, but those guys have been listed as co-starters every game this season.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Red-hot Commodores soar to No. 37 in nation

Vandy received votes today for both the AP and USA Today polls, which means we’re in position to crack the Top 25 if we somehow beat South Carolina.

We’re the eighth highest ranked SEC team in the AP poll, if you place any stock on how many votes each team received, and we’re the seventh highest ranked SEC team in the USA Today poll, ahead of Miss State.

In both polls, we’re ahead of Ole Miss, who we just shellacked, and three upcoming opponents, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

LSU (3-0, 1-0): No. 2 AP/No. 3 USA Today; ESPN bowl projection: Sugar or BCS
Alabama (3-0, 0-0): 3/2; BCS or Sugar
South Carolina (3-0, 1-0): 12/10; Cotton, Outback or Capital One
Arkansas (3-0, 2-0): 14/12; Outback or Cotton
Florida (3-0, 1-0): 15/15; Capital One or Outback
Auburn (2-1, 1-0): 27/36; Gator, Chick-Fil-A or Compass
Miss State (1-2, 0-2): 34/40; Liberty or Music City
Vanderbilt (3-0, 1-0): 37/39; Compass or Liberty
Georgia (1-2, 0-1): 39/unranked; Chick-Fil-A or Gator
Tennessee (2-1, 0-1): 43/41; Music City, Liberty or Gator
Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1): Unranked; No bowl
Kentucky (2-1, 0-0): Unranked; No bowl

We think these are our toughest games remaining on the schedule:

1. At Alabama (3-0) on Oct. 8
2. At South Carolina (3-0) on Sept. 24
3. At Florida (3-0) on Nov. 5
4. Arkansas (3-0) on Oct. 29
5. Georgia (1-2) on Oct. 15
6. At Tennessee (2-1) on Nov. 19
7. At Wake Forest (2-1) on Nov. 26
8. Kentucky (2-1) on Nov. 12
9. Army (1-2) on Oct. 22

Vandy boots Houston Nutt out of frying pan, into fire

Want to see something funny but also kind of sad? Check out this video clip from of Houston Nutt trying to explain his team’s loss to Vanderbilt while the Commodores are whooping, hollering and banging on the walls of the locker room next door.

It had to have been his worst nightmare. For a coach in the SEC, and especially one with a lifetime 2-4 record against Vandy, it just doesn’t get any worse than this. That sound you hear is the moving van headed toward Nutt’s house.

In fact, the sign that Vandy's arrived as a team will be when an SEC coach doesn’t automatically get fired after losing to us.

During the postgame press conference, Nutt lamented that he always catches Vandy “right there at the top, very healthy and feeling good.” And this from the same guy who once lamented that, as head coach at Arkansas, he didn’t get to face the Commodores every year.

But does anybody really think that we have better athletes than Ole Miss?

The difference was coaching. As we commented during yesterday’s game, James Franklin took Nutt to school. And Nutt practically said as much in his press conference:

“I’ve never felt that way on the sideline. It was just not right. Just didn’t have the confidence we’re gonna make first downs and move the ball like I usually do. That was a first. That was a first.”

So he’d met his match. Then he said:

“It’s been one guy or the other,” meaning somebody always making a mistake on offense. “You’ve got to have 11 on offense to make one play go; we’re not getting that.”

So he didn’t have his guys ready to play. He said he faces a “gut check” “because of the world we’re in. It’ll be negative. My guys, I got to let them know we believe in them.”

A reporter asked Nutt if he thought it was hard for an Ole Miss fan to watch the Vandy game and not be negative. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it is. I understand.”

It’s huge for Vandy and James Franklin to start the season 3-0 – or, as Frankin would say, going 1-0 for three straight weeks. It’s huge to chalk up our biggest whipping of an SEC opponent in 40 years. As Franklin says, “There’s no way to build success like having success.”

But don’t forget that this Ole Miss team has won just one of its last 10 SEC games. South Carolina is a whole different ballgame.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Vandy, talk of making Top 25 is premature

Wondering if Vandy will crack the Top 25 this week? It’s not gonna happen.

Don’t forget that the Commodores didn’t crack the Top 25 in 2008 until they went 4-0. They played Auburn the following week, won, and jumped up to No. 13. Incidentally, that's when the bottom fell out.

There are 33 teams in college football that are currently undefeated. Five teams in the Top 25 lost today. Florida State will definitely stay ranked, but Michigan State, Ohio State, Auburn and Miss State may all drop out when the votes are tallied Sunday evening.

So who will take their places?

Here’s a look at the remaining undefeated teams:

• Already in the Top 25: Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Boise State, Stanford, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Arkansas, Florida, West Virginia, Baylor, South Florida and Texas

• Receiving votes: Michigan, Houston, Georgia Tech, USC, Clemson, North Carolina, Iowa State, San Diego State, California

• Not receiving votes: Kansas State, Texas Tech, Illinois, Ohio, Wyoming, Vanderbilt, Florida International

As you can see, voters will likely not reward us for beating Elon and two teams with losing records. If we really want to crack the Top 25, we could just beat South Carolina.

That should do it.

Franklin compliments Ole Miss... sort of

Well, Joe Fisher asked James Franklin all the right questions today, including a softball about Ole Miss' gigantic offensive line that Franklin knocked out of the park.

Here was his response:

"They’ve got a big, good-looking team. I was impressed looking at their bodies and length and those kinds of things but what you can’t measure is heart and our kids have got heart. They’ve got the right attitude, they’re well coached, they’re disciplined — that’s what really matters, all those things. The 40 times, the heights, the weights are good for combines but in the end you’ve got to get on the field, one man against another man, who wants it more. Our players are hungry right now, so are our coaches.

And you know what Houston Nutt was probably thinking? Those Vanderbilt players are even faster and tougher than they were last year.

Vanderbilt beats Ole Miss for biggest SEC win in 40 years

So when's the last time Vanderbilt beat an SEC team by 23 or more points?

It was 1971, when Vanderbilt beat Mississippi State 49-19.

That's right, James Franklin just led Vandy to its most decisive SEC victory in 40 years.

2011 Vanderbilt indeed.

In fact, before today's 30-7 victory over Ole Miss, Vandy has beaten an SEC opponent by 14 points or more only 10 times in the past 40 years. Here are those 10 times, in reverse chronological order:

2010 - Vanderbilt 28, Ole Miss 14
2007 - Vanderbilt 31, Ole Miss 17
2004 - Vanderbilt 31, Miss State 13
1994 - Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 6
1992 - Vanderbilt 31, Ole Miss 9
1988 - Vanderbilt 24, Florida 9
1984 - Vanderbilt 37, Ole Miss 20
1974 - Vanderbilt 24, Florida 10
1971 - Vanderbilt 49, Miss State 19

Just call Vanderbilt "The Pick-Six Factory"

Troy Wilson just picked off an Ole Miss pass and raced 52 yards for a touchdown. It's his second pick-six of the season.

So far, we've got SEVEN interceptions, 188 return yards, and three touchdowns off those interceptions in two and a half games.


And we just scored another touchdown to take a 21-0 lead late in the first half. We're seven for seven in the red zone for the season.

Go Dores.

Whoops, Wilson just got another pick and ripped off a 30-yard return. So you revise our interception stats for the season to:

• Eight interceptions
• 218 return yards
• Three touchdowns

We're dominating Ole Miss on both sides of the ball, and the rookie coach, James Franklin, is taking Mr. Nutt to school. Ole Miss has to do something to get back in the game fast, which could mean even more interceptions for us.

Looking good.

James Franklin knows how to make adjustments on offense

Ah, what a difference a year makes. Remember how, year after year, Vandy just keeps grinding out the same tired old plays with the same old coaches who lacked innovation. The year we went to a bowl, we ran the same tired old plays and waited for our defense or special teams to save the day.

Know how we said a few minutes ago that we looked forward to seeing James Franklin make some adjustments on offense after Ole Miss players were pinning back their ears and coming after Larry?

Well, my middle school sons were just saying that Vandy needed to take advantage of Ole Miss' overpursuit of Larry. Their entire defensive line and a couple of linebackers are getting into our backfield on every play, so why not take advantage of that. A couple of plays later, with the majority of Ole Miss defenders bearing down on Larry, he executes a perfect Statue of Liberty play to Zac Seymour, who rips off a huge run and then a couple of plays later Larry bolts for a 20-yard TD run.

In past years, we'd be setting up a punt so that we could go into the locker room tied 0-0.

And it sure doesn't hurt that our defense is playing smarter and faster and hitting harder than Ole Miss.

Thank you, Ole Miss

So we're struggling a bit early, but Ole Miss just keeps shooting themselves in the foot. Fitz Lassing drops a pass that would have picked up a first down, but Ole Miss has a penalty to give us the first down anyway.

On fourth and one, they just jumped offsides.

Meanwhile, Houston Nutt is sniping at the officials for not realizing that he has a bunch of undisciplined junior college kids.

Can we catch a pass?

And I realize Franklin likes to go for it on fourth down and all, but maybe we'd like Kent to kick Ole Miss into a hole. He just saved our bacon with a 60-something-yard punt. As evidenced by the BYU game, Ole Miss is the kind of team that'll hand you the game at the end if you hang with them. Franklin said he tried to strike fast and get a lead on UConn early last week because UConn wasn't that kind of team.

So what's Vandy's problem on offense?

Actually, after watching another play blow up in Larry's face, I think it has more to do with our blocking schemes than our lack of experience or talent on the line. I'm not much of an offensive line tactician, but Larry's been tackled twice for loss when right guard Mylon Brown pulled and nobody else picked up the guy lined up in front of him.

Just went for it on fourth and 10 and Larry has no time again and throws laterally to Tate, who maybe gets one yard.

We're really struggling on offense. Is that because:

A) Our line can't block.
B) Larry's not making the right reads or getting rid of the ball fast enough.
C) Our receivers aren't getting open so Larry has nobody to throw to.

Same old same old, huh? But I'm not saying same old Vandy. James Franklin would start running up and down the sidelines yelling, "This is the 2011 Vanderbilt! This is the 2011 Vanderbilt!"

I look forward to seeing what Franklin does here to get us rolling on offense.

Our running game seems to be working pretty well.

Early reaction on the Ole Miss game


OK, I feel better now.

Franklin said the Rebel Black Bears or whatever the hell they are would smell blood in the water after watching the UConn film and would send everybody after Larry.

But the D looks great and is taken Ole Miss to the woodshed so we have the ball back, which is of course good and bad.

Go Dores.

Who'll fill the offensive skill positions today for Vandy?

It'll be interesting to see who starts for the Commodores today at offensive positions other than quarterback and offensive line.

The offensive line seems to be set. Coach James Franklin has said he plans to stick with the five guys who started against UConn — Johnson at center, Seymour and Fischer at tackle, and Brown and White at guard — and hopes they develop into a cohesive unit as the season progresses. Six guys have started there this season, but only because Jabo Burrow's career was shortened by concussion issues and he was replaced by White.

Larry Smith is, of course, our quarterback, Zac Stacy our running back, and Brandon Barden our tight end, if he's bounced back from injury.

Those positions — as well as every defensive position — have featured the same lineup every game.

But our receiving corps is another story, where seven different people have started in those remaining three positions. They are receivers Jordan Matthews, Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd, Udom Umoh and John Cole, fullback (which we employ more as an H-back) Fitz Lassing and second tight end Austin Monahan.

We could have one of the following starting lineups today:
• Three of the wide receivers, likely Boyd and Matthews and maybe Krause.
• Two receivers and fullback Lassing.
• Two receivers and second tight end of Lassing, Monahan or Mason Johnston.
• Two receivers and a second running back, Jerron Seymour or Warren Norman if he's ready to go, which is still uncertain.

Should be a good game. Go Dores!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vandy should prolong body bag games as long as possible

What did our last two schedules, both of which ended in 2-10 records, have in common?

We played LSU in the second game of the season.

I have a friend whose alma mater is Troy University and he calls games in which a team is overmatched physically “body bag games.” For us, LSU has always been a body bag game. We just don’t have the athletes, especially the waves of linemen on both sides of the ball, that the Bayou Bengals do.

Last year, we played LSU coming off a heartbreaking loss to Northwestern. We played them close enough for three quarters and then they just wore us down and won 27-3.

The year before, we played LSU coming off an easy opening victory to Western Carolina. It was a close game, but we lost tackle James Williams to injury, he never played for us again, and Larry Smith has been running for his life ever since.

As I’ve said earlier, our current schedule starts easy and gets progressively tougher. Elon was easy, UConn was tough but winnable, Ole Miss also tough but winnable, and then there’s South Carolina, a powerful team that values skilled players and finesse over hulking linemen and physical domination.

That doesn’t mean we won’t get hammered by the Gamecocks or that Larry won’t be running for his life with Jadaveon Clowney hot on his heels, but I wouldn’t call it a body bag game.

On the other hand, Alabama, our fifth opponent, is a body bag game. This is a deep, physically dominating team that could break us physically and psychologically, and we’re playing them in Tuscaloosa.

Remember how we put up a better fight against winnable teams early in the season, and we always seem to fall apart against the likes of Kentucky and Wake Forest — and even the worst Tennessee teams in decades — late in the year?

That’s because we lack depth – as Coach Franklin likes to say, “We’ve got players but just not enough of them – and that weakness is exposed in these body bag games and it just gets weaker and weaker as the season progresses.

Franklin’s already getting replacements ready. Josh Grady, for example, is taking snaps at wide receiver. We absolutely can’t afford to lose offensive linemen, where Franklin plans to play the same five guys (Fischer, Seymour, Johnson, Brown and White) and build some cohesion.

If it were a perfect world, we’d play our schedule in this order:

1. Elon: A team we should always beat.
2. Army: Another team we should beat, though we’d darn better take them seriously.
3. Wake Forest: Should be a winnable game, but our tank is always empty when we play these guys in November.
4. UConn: Another winnable game — as proven by last week’s victory — but also a physically tough game we should get out of the way in the first half of the season.
5. Kentucky: The SEC team closest to us in talent, but we always play them late in the year when we’re depleted.
6. Ole Miss: A team with good athletes but another winnable game for us.
7. Tennessee: The Vols now consider Kentucky a bigger rival, so why do we have to play them last? We’re the walking wounded by the time we play these guys in November.
8. Florida: A wildly talented team, but also a young team. We usually play them about this time anyway.
9. Georgia: It’s probably better for us to play Georgia earlier because they’re a physically superior team that takes a while to get on track, but we haven’t had much success against them lately anyway.
10. South Carolina: A freakishly talented team that’s far superior to the squads we beat in 2007 and 2008.
11. Arkansas: We’ve historically had some success against the Razorbacks, but this is an unusually powerful Arkansas team, and it’s not coached by Houston Nutt.
12. Alabama: I just don’t see what good can come from going to Tuscaloosa, and I wish we’d play this game dead last.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vandy stockpiles defensive ends and trades up on a WR

You've probably heard that we've traded wide receivers and added yet another defensive end.

By traded receivers, I mean that verbal commitment Jaydrick Declouet jumped ship to Houston but then we quickly got a verbal from Andre McDonald of Minnesota.

Declouet is 5-10, 175, a consensus three-star recruit with his best offer from Pittsburgh. McDonald is 6-3, 210, with four stars from Rivals and ESPN and his best offer from Ohio State.

Um, we'll take McDonald.

As for getting a verbal commitment from a sixth defensive end, we're not that disappointed. Sure, we really need another offensive lineman or two in this class, but I love the idea of getting Tommy Agee's son. Agee, you may remember, was the fullback in an Auburn wishbone attack that featured three future NFL running backs: Agee, who played for the Cowboys; Lionel "Little Train" James who had a long career with the Chargers and gained a bazillion all-purpose yards; and some guy named Bo Jackson.

Anyway, Agee's son Torey is 6-4, 250 pounds and could end up playing defensive tackle. And really, why should we not be stockpiling a bunch of long athletes who could end up playing everything from linebacker to defensive or even offensive tackle?

Here's how our six defensive ends stack up:

Hgt/Wgt: 6-4, 225
SEC offers: Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, Miss State
BCS offers: Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Michigan State, NC State, South Florida, Illinois, Purdue, Wake Forest, Virginia, Duke
Others: Central Florida
ESPN: Three stars (79 rating); No. 43 defensive end
Rivals: Three stars (5.7 rating); No. 33 defensive end
Scout: Four stars; No. 28 defensive end

Hgt/Wgt: 6-5, 240
SEC offers: Miss State, Kentucky
BCS offers: Miami, UCLA, Northwestern, Boston College, Louisville
Others: Memphis, Marshall, MTSU, Arkansas State
ESPN: Three stars (76 rating); No. 110 defensive end
Rivals: Four stars (5.8 rating); No. 18 defensive end
Scout: Three stars; No. 115 defensive end

Hgt/Wgt: 6-5, 197
SEC offers: Ole Miss, Kentucky
BCS offers: NC State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Illinois, Purdue
Others: Memphis, Western Kentucky
ESPN: Four stars (79 rating); No. 22 defensive end
Rivals: Three stars (5.6 rating); unranked linebacker
Scout: Two stars; No. 150 defensive end

Hgt/Wgt: 6-4, 250
SEC offers: None
BCS offers: Stanford, Louisville, Duke
Others: Southern Miss, Western Kentucky, South Alabama
ESPN: Three stars (77 rating); No. 95 defensive end
Rivals: Three stars (5.5 rating); unrated defensive end
Scout: Two stars; No. 134 defensive end

Hgt/Wgt: 6-2, 265
SEC offers: None
BCS offers: Illinois, Cincinnati
Others: Southern Miss, Troy, Florida International, UAB
ESPN: Three stars (75 rating); No. 140 defensive end
Rivals: Three stars (5.5 rating); unranked defensive tackle
Scout: Two stars; No. 163 defensive end

Hgt/Wgt: 6-2, 235
SEC offers: None (committed in April)
Other offers: None
ESPN: Three stars (77 rating); No. 87 defensive end
Rivals: Two stars (5.4 rating); unranked defensive end
Scout: Two stars; No. 156 defensive end

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Academically, Vanderbilt ranks No. 4 in the nation among BCS universities, no other SEC school even close

Just checking out the latest U.S. News & World Report ratings for the best universities in the nation. Folks, Vanderbilt is the fourth-best academic programs in the nation among FBS football teams. Here’s the Top 25:

1. Stanford (overall No. 5)
2. Duke (10)
3. Northwestern (12)
4. Vanderbilt (17)
4. Rice (17)
6. Notre Dame (19)
7. California (21)
8. USC (23)
9. UCLA (25)
9. Virginia (25)
9. Wake Forest (25)
12. Michigan (28)
13. North Carolina (29)
14. Boston College (31)
15. Georgia Tech (36)
16. Miami (38)
17. Washington (42)
17. Wisconsin (42)
19. Penn State (45)
19. Illinois (45)
19. Texas (45)
22. Tulane (50)
23. Ohio State (55)
23. Maryland (55)
25. Texas A&M (58)
25. Connecticut (58)
25. Florida (58)
25. Pittsburgh (58)

Now, just for kicks, let’s take a look at the SEC rankings:

1. Vanderbilt (17)
2. Florida (58)
3. Georgia (62)
4. Alabama (75)
5. Auburn (82)
6. Tennessee (101)
7. South Carolina (111)
8. Kentucky (124)
9. LSU (128)
10. Arkansas (132)
11. Ole Miss (143)
12. Miss State (157)

Vandy depth chart highlights troubles with offense

There are only a few changes to the depth chart for the Ole Miss game. You know how our main concerns going into this season were quarterback, receivers and offensive line? We felt good about all three of these after the opener against Elon, and now... not so good, huh? And these concerns are apparent from the latest depth chart.

Of course, not many concerns about the defense, where the same guys have started every game, and we've got former starters like Greenstone and Ladler providing depth. The biggest weakness on the D was supposedly outside linebacker (i.e. anybody not named Marve) but Chase Garnham and Tristan Strong are really flying around and looking sharp, and so is Archibald Barnes.

In our regular rotation, we're playing 10 defensive linemen (starters Lohr, Nichter, Greenstone, Fugger and Thomas, and reserves Morse, Taylor, Woestmann, May, McHaney), five linebackers (Marve, Garnham, Strong, Barnes and Jones) and 11 defensive backs (starters Hayward, Wilson, Richardson and Marshall, and reserves Ladler (listed as a co-starter), Butler, Clarke, Foster, Hal, Samuels and Simmons).

Not quite as set in stone on offense, where five wide receivers (Boyd, Cole, Krause, Matthews and Umoh) have started so far this season. Matthews, supposedly one of our best overall players, has struggled a bit. Maybe that's because he's been the target of opposing defenses or Larry can't get him the ball because he doesn't have protection from his offensive line or he just can't hit the broad side of a barn or he doesn't have the mental fortitude to perform under pressure or see any Vanderbilt chat board for more reasons. (By the way, you may notice that we at MV! don't spend a lot of time whining about Larry Smith and calling for his ouster. We like Larry, right now he's the best quarterback we've got, we've been pulling for him since he committed out of Prattville, Ala., and we'll continue to pull for him.)

But any way you look at it, the offense is a huge concern. Larry's still the starter and Rodgers the backup, so no changes to the QB depth chart at this time, but Franklin's got to be concerned about (1) the line's ability to protect the quarterback and (2) the quarterback's ability to make plays when everything breaks down and especially (3) the quarterback's ability to stay alive after taking such a beating game after game. I think we're gonna see Josh Grady before the SEC season is very old.

We've had six starters so far on the offensive line, with redshirt freshman Chase White replacing redshirt junior Jabo Burrow, whose career ended with an injury sustained in the Elon game. Franklin said in yesterday's press conference that he was pleased with Chase as a human being for accepting the challenge and playing his best, but that he's not satisfied with the way he played. In other words, Chase is going to continue to get better — and fast — or somebody else is going to be playing in his place. Other candidates include:

• Redshirt junior Caleb Welchans, who's been playing and starting occasionally for three years now
• Redshirt freshman Andrew Bridges, who's being groomed to play tackle
• Redshirt junior Josh Jelesky, a recent convert from the defensive line who hasn't played yet this season but is the newest addition to the depth chart at backup right guard
• True freshmen Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend, who both played against Elon. Other possibilities include redshirt freshman Grant Ramsay and true freshmen Jake Bernstein, James Lewis and Jose Valedon.

In other depth chart news, Akeem Dunham remains listed at second team though he didn't play against UConn; Warren Norman continues to be listed at second team and Franklin insists he's ready to play when we need him; Mason Johnston is now listed at both fullback and tight end as a backup.

Speaking of tight end, we'll be seeing more of Dillon van der Wal, who got his first action on Saturday against UConn, especially if Barden can't return right away from injury. Also, Vince Taylor was the other player who saw his first action against UConn; I think Vince will be a real standout by the end of the season.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

James Franklin shows Voice of Commodores who's boss

Coach Franklin is quick to correct somebody he thinks is wrong, especially somebody involved in his football program. One example is how he lit up Josh Grady last week about his "Hey, I'm redshirting" Twitter. Another example is when he sprinted down the field and lit up players who were celebrating Vandy's second touchdown.

And then there's Joe Fisher, the Voice of the Commodores.

Last week after the game, Fisher asked Franklin about "the Larry Smith situation."

"I don't know what you're talking about, 'the Larry Smith situation,'" Franklin snapped. "I don't know what that means."

Joe said he was only referring to the injury Larry suffered toward the end of the game. Franklin said Larry was going to play in the next game.

It gets better. On Saturday, in his interview with Franklin after Vandy's big win, Fisher asked this question:

"What happened in the second half, coach? You’ve got the lead 14-3 and then UConn sort of begins to assert itself a little bit more and takes control of the game and they scored to come back and take the lead?"

I was wondering if Fisher saw the same game I did when Franklin replied in the same exasperated tone he used when referring to "the Larry Smith situation":

"They didn’t 'assert themselves' and they didn’t 'take control of the game. We just made some mistakes and didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing. The blocked punt obviously was a big play and we gotta get that cleaned up. But they didn't 'assert themselves,' and I want to make sure we’re clear on that... We just gotta play smarter. We didn’t protect the ball this week, but this will be a great opportunity for growth for us."

About a minute later, Fisher, giving it the old college try, asked this: "When you get into conference play, that puts another edge on a game, doesn’t it?"

To which Franklin replied, "No. It’s the same old deal, it’s the most important game on our schedule is the next one. They’re all important, every single one of them. We’re going to take them one game at a time. Not one game we play is any more important than the next one."

Franklin doesn't answer reporters with that same tone of voice. Fisher's not a journalist, he's employed by Vanderbilt University. And Franklin's message in every interview with Fisher seems to be "you work for me."

Can't wait to hear Joe ask one of those questions after a loss.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jabo Burrow's career over; Vandy loses another lineman

James Franklin just said in the postgame press conference that redshirt junior Jabo Burrow, a returning starter at guard, has had a career-ending injury.

Burrow collapsed during preseason practice and returned in time to start last week's game, which he left with injury. He did not play tonight, though our friends who keep the game participation chart listed him as playing.

Redshirt freshman Chase White started in place of Burrow and played most if not all of the game after seeing his first ever college action last week in mop-up duty against Elon.

We wish Jabo the best.

Franklin's Commodores hit the wall and then knock it down

We were talking this morning about hitting the wall. Well, after leading 14-3 at halftime, we sure hit the wall, didn't we?

Our defense held tough and didn't surrender a touchdown all night. But a blocked punt made it 14-13 and then a Husky picks up a Larry Smith fumble and runs 64 yards for a touchdown for a 21-14 lead. At that point, midway through the fourth quarter, our offense had zero first downs in the second half.

Talk about hitting the wall. There was no way we could move the ball. No way we could win.

But then Casey Hayward, one of the playmakers that James Franklin is always talking about, breaks on the ball, gets the pick and darts and weaves 50 yards for the touchdown to tie the game. Wow.

And then when we get the ball back, Zac Stacy, who'd been held in check all night, rips off a 48-yard run to set up the game-winning field goal. We win 24-21.

Our defense was fantastic, with five sacks and more than a dozen tackles for losses. Only 193 total yards of offense, four turnovers including three interceptions, and converting three of 15 times on third down. Chris Marve had "only" seven tackles, because running backs weren't getting past the defensive line. Big Rob Lohr played a great game.

Sure, we've got some things to clean up. The offense broke down in the second half. The line wasn't giving Larry time and Larry was struggling back there. He had three turnovers. Franklin talks about making explosive plays, which he defines as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards or more. We had four explosive runs (Seymour 40-yard TD and 18-yards, Krause 24 yards on a reverse and Stacy with the big 48-yarder late) and three explosive pass plays (Larry to Boyd for 42-yard TD, to Cole for 31 and to Krause for 16). Larry hit eight different receivers but our supposedly best receiver, Jordan Matthews, had zero catches.

So we have some things to work on for sure. But it was a big victory, and it feels good to win two in a row.

Vanderbilt winning 14-3 at halftime

The play of the game so far was when Coach Franklin sprinted down the field to grab Jerron Seymour, who was celebrating his 40-yard touchdown run, escort him off the field and then give him an earful.

That gave us a 14-3 lead that stands at halftime. After giving up a bunch of long runs and a field goal to UConn on the opening drive, we started swarming on defense. Good to see Vince Taylor flying around out there in his first game, and good to see Javon Marshall grab a big drive-killing pick at the end of the half. Other highlights:

• Chris Boyd grabbed a 42-yard touchdown pass on the first drive, his third in two games.
• Seymour looked great with 65 yards on four carries.
• We outgained UConn 162-137 yards.
• Chris Marve is a stud, of course.
• Tristan Strong also excelled in the first half.
• We played a bunch of defensive linemen, who all played well and look interchangeable.
• We're winning the turnover battle, two to one.

Some things to be concerned about:
• Our offense had the ball for only 11:55 of the first half, so our defense, as usual, was on the field for a long time.
• Larry Smith is running for his life out there.
• Richard Kent has had a couple of band punts.

But hey, we're winning 14-3.

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.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vandy’s odds getting smaller on paper, but still steep

It’s been about three years since Vandy has won back-to-back games. The last time was in 2008 when we beat Ole Miss in Oxford and then Auburn at home on GameDay.

Our last back-to-back home wins came earlier that same season when we beat South Carolina and then Rice.

Lots of folks think we’ll get it done. We opened as 5.5-point underdogs to Connecticut and have now dropped — or climbed, I guess — to 1-point underdogs, with an over/under of 44 points.

This is going to be a tough, tough game, folks. We can win, but don’t expect us to crush the Huskies. Up front, they’re huge on both sides of the ball. It will be a particularly big challenge for our O-line. They return nine starters on defense and have some big cornerbacks.

It’ll be a big, big test for our offense.

UConn is the kind of team that, historically, we as fans expect to beat because it’s not a big-name team, and it’s the kind of team that, historically, cleans our clock. They beat us when they’d been in Division I for just a year, and now they’re a BCS team (albeit in the worst of all the conferences with an automatic bid.

Oh, and if we do end up being favored in Saturday’s game, don’t forget that historically we seem to perform better as underdogs.

I’m saying this so that (1) we’ll appreciate what we’ve done if we do win and (2) we want all go jump off a bridge if we don’t.

But clearly, this is a team we need to beat if we have hopes of going to a bowl. Should we even have our hopes set so high? I say sure, as long as we don’t go hatin’ on the players and staff if we don’t win this game and our bowl hopes are dashed around midseason.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vandy gets verbal commitment from 6-foot-8 lineman

Over the weekend, Vandy landed a verbal commitment from Blake Fromang, a 6-foot-8, 280-pound offensive tackle from Orlando. Fromang was also considering South Florida – are the Bulls sorry they lost Josh Grady or what?

Anyway, James Franklin says that recruiting offensive tackles is a priority for him, as opposed to just stockpiling big multi-purpose linemen. Fromang is a real offensive tackle with the long arms, flexible hips, nimble feet and all-around athleticism you look for in a tackle. He’ll join Barrett Gouger, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound tackle from Chattanooga.

I’m reluctant to even mention how many stars Fromang got, considering that we’re currently playing a couple of two-star true freshmen (Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend) over a bunch of three-star guys (Grant Ramsay, Jake Bernstein, James Lewis).

But what the heck. Both Fromang and Gouger are consensus three-star recruits, according to Rivals, Scout and ESPN.

Here’s how our recruiting class is shaking out:

• One consensus four-star player: RB Brian Kimbrow

• Five more players with at least one 4-star rating: LBs Darreon Herring and Jacob Sealand and Des Stephen Weatherly, Josh Dawson and Caleb Azubike.

• Five consensus three-star players: WR Jaydrick Declouet, DB Paris Head, ATH Brandon Banks and OLs Fromang and Gouger.

• Four more players who received at least one 3-star rating: DL Ladarius Banks, ATH Jaborian McKenzie, DE Tre Griffin and WR Cory Batey.

• A two-star player: K Colby Cooke

Sure, it won’t mean anything when they hit the field, but at least we’re getting better raw talent than we’ve gotten in the past.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Josh Grady's Twitter post draws the wrath of Franklin

Coach James Franklin was not pleased with the Tweet that freshman quarterback Josh Grady sent out last week saying he was going to redshirt.

"Thirty seconds after that Tweet, Josh was in my office," he said during today's press conference. "We don't put information out like that. I know he has a big following on his Twitter page, but there's no way he can say that. I don't understand why he'd do that. That was an opportunity for growth and learning for him and for the entire team."

Franklin said Grady could still be called upon to play, especially in the event of injury, and needed to be ready to go.

Grady's by all accounts a smart kid and a good kid, and also a leader who never shies away from the spotlight. But come on dude, let's wait till you actually play to start making headlines.

Speaking of talking with players about redshirting, Franklin said he had a similar conversation with freshman tight end Dillon van der Wal about whether he could contribute to the team now or should sit out a year.

A lot of people on chat boards think van der Wal played on Saturday. He did not. Some people, starting with the folks who keep our own stats, need to learn our roster.

I tell you, I think van der Wal redshirts and I think he's going to be an offensive lineman before he leaves Nashville.

Freshmen compose 80 percent of Vandy's second-team offensive line

NOTE: This is a work in progress, because no one keeping statistics for Vanderbilt could accurately report who played and who didn't. We're piecing it together using Twitter and lots of eye-witness accounts from you guys. Let us know if this report needs to be updated further. We're getting CSS this week and will be able to watch the game. Many thanks.

So Joe Townsend played in Saturday's game. Know how I know? Because I went on this blog and asked you guys, and AJ replied that Townsend had posted on Twitter that he'd played, so I went to JTownislegend (offensive lineman, vanderbilt mommas boy), where Joe wrote, "Good game! Got some PT! Ready to get better!!"

Ah, so the code has been cracked. Joe did play. Way to go, Joe.

Of course, this would have been easier if the folks who compile the player participation list had noticed Townsend entering the game.

Also, some astute MV! readers noticed that Andrew Bridges also played in the game. The player participation list in the box score listed Bridges and Pulley as the only linemen to play in their first college game. Meanwhile, the game notes released with the box score listed Pulley and Townsend as the only linemen to play in their first game.

Other folks thought they saw Chase White enter the game, but he's not listed on the updated participation chart released today with the rest of the UConn Game Day package. He is still lasted at second team guard.

Good grief. Couldn't somebody get some Vandy math majors to handle this? The folks at Dudley Field have been screwing this stuff up for years, and the only guys who ever get shafted are the offensive linemen.

Vanderbilt has recruited five offensive linemen in each of the past two years. Of those 10 linemen, it appears that only three of them — two true freshmen and one redshirt freshmen — played on Saturday. Logan Stewart, who started half of last season as a true freshman, was injured and did not play.

Townsend, by the way, was by far the lowest rated of any of the 16 linemen on the Vanderbilt roster coming out of high school. In fact, he was headed to MTSU and was offered a scholarship at the last minute when massive lineman Larry Mazyck wasn't able to sign with the Commodores.

Further proof that recruiting ratings aren't everything, and that you can't measure heart. Remember who got a last-minute scholarship in 2010? Fitz Lassing, whose only other offer was I think from Harvard. And he scored the first touchdown of this season.

Anyway, here's a look at all 10 of the linemen from our last two classes, in order of their recruiting rankings based on a compilation of ratings from ESPN, Rivals and Scout:

1. James Lewis, FR: Did not play.

2. Jake Bernstein, FR: Did not play.

3. Grant Ramsay, R-FR: Did not play.

4. James Kittredge, SO: Did not play. Played as true freshman; transferred to Michigan State.

5. Logan Stewart, SO: Did not play. Played as true freshman; currently injured.


7. Jose Valedon, FR: Did not play.


9. Chase White, R-FR: Did not play. Second team guard.

10. JOE TOWNSEND, FR: PLAYED AGAINST ELON. Second team center.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How Vandy's future opponents fared this weekend

Which of Vandy’s future opponents would we least like to face next week? Probably Alabama, which dispatched Kent State with frightening efficiency. But we’d also have trouble matching up with the freakish collection of athletes from South Carolina, not to mention a bunch of angry Bulldogs from Georgia, a talented team that was taken to school by a supposedly weaker Boise State team that also happened to be No. 5 in the nation.

Teams we wouldn’t mind facing next week? How about Ole Miss, which choked against BYU, lost its top two running backs and has hit rock-bottom? We face the Rebels week after next. Or you could also go with Army, which got throttled by Northern Illinois, or a Kentucky team that looked inept for most of its snoozefest with Western Kentucky.

Here’s how all of Vandy’s future opponents fared:

Sept. 10 — CONNECTICUT (Unranked; 1-0): Won at home 35-3 over Fordham.
Sept. 17 — OLE MISS (Unranked; 0-1): Lost 14-13 at home to BYU.
Sept. 24 — at SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 12; 1-0): Defeated East Carolina 56-37 in Charlotte.
Oct. 8 — at ALABAMA (No. 2, 1-0): Won at home 48-7 over Kent State.
Oct. 15 — GEORGIA (No. 19; 0-1): Lost 35-21 to No. 5 Boise State in Atlanta.
Oct. 22 — ARMY (Unranked; 0-1): Lost 49-26 at Northern Illinois.
Oct. 29 — ARKANSAS (1-0): Won at home 51-7 over Missouri State.
Nov. 5 — at FLORIDA (No. 22; 1-0): Won at home 41-3 over Florida Atlantic.
Nov. 12 — KENTUCKY (Unranked; 1-0): Defeated Western Kentucky 14-3 in Nashville.
Nov. 19 — at TENNESSEE (Unranked; 1-0): Won at home 42-16 over Montana.
Nov. 26 — at WAKE FOREST (Unranked; 0-1): Lost 36-29 in overtime at Syracuse.

Jerron Seymour and Spencer Pulley burn redshirts — Did Joe Townsend? Did Andrew Bridges play?

Last year, Robbie Caldwell apparently decided to burn everybody’s redshirt trying to land the full-time head coaching job. In all, he played 12 true freshmen, including guys like Fitz Lassing and Chase Garnham who saw little action other than special teams. Before Caldwell, Bobby Johnson redshirted nearly everybody. That’s why this year’s roster has seven redshirt seniors, all of whom are starters or who’ve started in the past.

Though he talked on signing day about not believing in redshirting, James Franklin apparently meant he didn’t believe in telling hotshot new recruits that he believed in redshirting.

The only true freshman to see any significant playing time on Saturday was Jerron Seymour, who spelled a gimpy Zac Stacy and touched the ball six times for a total of 42 yards, with his longest plays being a 21-yard reception and a 14-yard run.

Spencer Pulley also jumped into some action at guard, when starter Jabo Burrow missed a play, and I think saw some mop-up duty later.

I confess to not seeing the game. I’m changing cable providers and getting CSS before the Vandy-UConn, so I’ll have both of the unofficial Vandy networks, CSS and ESPNU. It ticks me off how unreliable the final report is on the official Vanderbilt athletic site. The say that true freshman Joe Townsend also played in the game but redshirt freshman Andrew Bridges did not, but the list of game participants in the box score lists Bridges but not Townsend.

Let me know if you saw Townsend and/or Bridges in the game, and if you saw any other true freshmen playing.

We know Seymour and Pulley played – two true freshmen at the least – and maybe Townsend too for a total of three. If Townsend played and Bridges didn’t then none of the offensive linemen in the 2010 signing class – Bridges, Chase White, Grant Ramsay and the injured Logan Stewart – played against Elon while we burned the redshirts off Pulley and Townsend. That’s disappointing.

The other guys who saw their very first NCAA action on Saturday were:
• Redshirt junior quarterback Jordan Rodgers
• Three walk-ons: cornerback Reggie Ford and linebackers Kellen Williams and Robby Barbieri
• Five redshirt freshmen: receivers Trent Pruitt and Chris Boyd, defensive ends Kyle Woestmann and Thomas Ryan and linebacker/snapper Andrew East – or six if Andrew Bridges actually played.

Other scholarship players, not counting true freshmen, who haven’t played yet are
White, Ramsay, DT Vince Taylor and LB Blake Gowder.

Guys with playing experience who aren’t listed as playing last night include sophomores Logan Stewart, who’s injured, and safety Andre Simmons. Not sure what’s up with him.

James Franklin says the Vanderbilt-Elon game was closer than it looked — that's just the way we like it

You know what I liked best about Coach James Franklin's post-game comments? One of the first things he said was this: "The game was a lot closer than the score indicated."

The purpose of a game like Elon should be to get better and to prepare yourself for the rest of the season, not to enjoy whipping another team and to strut around like you're a big deal.

While some of our fans wanted to win 100-0, Franklin wanted to win the game and be in a position to win more games. After the game he said we need to work on these things:

• Getting more three-and-outs on defense.
• Having less three-and-outs on offense.
• Making more big plays on special teams.
• Improving our third-down conversion rate.
• Maintaining the level of aggressiveness in play-calling.

This last one will be tough when we start playing the Alabamas and Floridas of the world. It's one thing to go for it on fourth down against Elon; it's entirely another to run Micah Powell off tackle on fourth down against an SEC defense.

The other thing Franklin said that I liked was that "we've got a lot of work to do."

Really, last night's victory was no different than 2008's win over Western Carolina or 2009's win over Eastern Michigan, both of which constituted half our victories for an entire season.

I do like that we got the ball to young guys like Boyd, Tate, Lassing and Jerron Seymour, but we did that in the 2008 opener too. I like that we took some risks, but we did that in the 2009 opener too. I liked that we didn't burn the redshirts off a bunch of kids, but Bobby Johnson had the same strategy in every opener he coached.

As Vandy fans, we've counted a lot of chickens before they've hatched. We sorely wanted to do that when the Malzahn rumors were flying around, and Franklin's hiring prevented us from doing that and left us trying to figure out who this guy was. We had no choice but to wait and see what happens with Franklin and our team. In the past nine months, we've seen a lot of stuff to get excited about, but the chickens haven't hatched yet.

All we can do is sit back and watch it happen. I feel good about it, but I'm not going to say we've arrived yet, and Franklin certainly isn't either.

One final note: I really like how our schedule is set up this year:

1. It started with an FCS team that has never beaten an FBS team.
2. Next up is a solid bowl team that, like last year's Northwestern team, we're capable of beating.
3. Then an SEC team, Ole Miss, that poses a serious challenge for both our offensive and defensive lines, but is also a team that we've beaten before and can beat again.
4. Then SEC East champion South Carolina.
5. Then an open date followed by a date with the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide.

It gets progressively tougher, and we'd be wise not to gloat over any victories before we face South Carolina in Columbia on Sept. 24. You think we had trouble stopping Aaron Mellette? Um, ever heard of Alshon Jeffery?

Let's play ’em one game at a time and see what happens.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Vandy leading by only a TD early in third quarter

Not exactly what we'd hoped.

Early in the third quarter, we're leading Elon 21-14 and have given up about 270 yards to the Phoenix while gaining much less than that.

Zac Stacy appears to have multiple injuries. Micah Powell and Jerron Seymour appeared in the backfield a few minutes ago, but no Warren Norman yet. Seymour looks sharp.

Larry looks confident and had two big fourth down plays including a 16-yard touchdown.

It is distressing how many yards we've allowed through the air considering our secondary is supposedly the strength of our team.

True freshman Spencer Pulley replaced Jabo Burrow for a play.

Just some random thoughts. I think we'll win this one, but it's not pretty. Thanks goodness we're not playing Utah State right now.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jerron Seymour will play as a true freshman — but who'll join him?

Why, on the eve of the season opener, does Josh Grady know he’s redshirting? Because we’re playing our weakest opponent first.

Last year, Vandy opened with Northwestern, a polished FBS team coming off an overtime bowl loss to Auburn. We figured that game would go down to the wire, which meant we were only going to play our starters, top backups, and the guys we planned to use all season on special teams.

Tomorrow, though, a good number of players will likely see their only playing time of the year. This will include little-used upperclassmen and a merry band of walk-ons.

It won’t include true freshmen. That’s because the coaching staff is not about to deploy a promising young talent like Josh Grady whom they don’t plan to play against the remaining teams on our schedule. That would just waste a year of eligibility.

It’ll be interesting to see which true freshmen play against Elon, because those will be the guys who fit into our plans for the season. And the freshmen who don’t play? They’ll likely see the field only in the event of injuries to players ahead of them on the depth chart.

We think the guys with the best bet to play this season are skill players who can help immediately on special teams and be playmakers for us on either side of the ball. Franklin has said from the beginning of camp that he hopes to redshirt all the offensive linemen, and he’s talked about our defensive ends “growing into the position” and our tight ends gaining weight and becoming dominating blockers. That takes time.

Anyway, here’s our best guess as to which true freshmen will definitely burn their redshirts this season:

1. Jerron Seymour, RB: We need this guy on the field, regardless of whether Warren Norman is healthy or not. Hopefully he’s healed from whatever kept him out of practice last week. Remember how Auburn put a fresh Michael Dyer into games late to wear down opponents? Seymour’s short, sure, but he’s a real weapon.

2. Derek King, CB: We haven’t had a cornerback redshirt since, well, forever. King’s got the body and the skills to play right away. The depth chart is filled for the time being with Hayward, Wilson, Hal, Foster and Clarke, but we think King starts the season knocking heads on special teams and works up from there.

3. Lafonte Thourogood, ATH: Sure, he’s our fourth or fifth string quarterback. But he’s also one of our best athletes, and he came to Vandy so he could get on the field and play. What message does it send to recruits to park a flashy young signee like Thourogood on the bench (unless the kid is really serious about investing a couple of years into becoming an SEC quarterback)? He’s missed a lot of practice time in camp, but I have a hunch that by the time we reach the heart of the SEC schedule we will have figured out a way to get him on the field and get him the ball.

4. Mitchell Hester, RB: Remember that by the end of last season Stacy and Norman were injured and DB Eric Samuels was carrying the ball. Franklin knows he needs a stable of running backs in the SEC, and Hester would be an asset on special teams too.

5. Andrew Williamson, S: Just a hunch, but Williamson set himself apart from the other two freshmen safeties. He’s a hard hitter who can start out on special teams and help out at linebacker in a pinch.

6. Jacquese Kirk, CB/WR: Another hunch. He’s been quiet in camp, but he’s way more athletic than receivers Umoh and Cole. His best position is probably corner, and he’d be an asset on special team coverage units.

7. Jimmy Franklin, S: We’ve got a whopping six safeties jammed into our two-deep depth chart, but Franklin’s a fast, strong kid who could help immediately on special teams.

Here’s what it would take for these other guys to get on the field:

1. Spencer Pulley, OL: If Logan Stewart can’t return from injury, Josh Jelesky can’t adapt to his new position, or at least one of the redshirt freshmen (White, Bridges, Ramsay) struggle.
2. Joe Townsend, OL: If Logan Stewart can’t return from injury and then Wesley Johnson is injured. Townsend is currently listed as second team center, but Stewart would replace him there if he can return from his mystery injury.
3. Barron Dixon, DT: If a couple of the five tackles ahead of him get injured or struggle, or if he proves to already be significantly better than one of the other guys in the rotation.
4. Josh Grady, QB: If both quarterbacks ahead of him are injured.
5. Darien Bryant, DE: If Walker May can’t return from injury and if he proves to be significantly better than sophomore Thad McHaney.
6. Steven Scheu, TE: If either Barden and Monahan are injured, or maybe both. We could go with van der Wal, but Scheu seems to be more game-ready as a pass-catching tight end.

Will definitely redshirt:
• Jahmel McIntosh, S: Could land a spot on special teams, but there are two true freshman safeties ahead of him.
• Jake Bernstein, OL: If we have a spate of injuries, he could be ready to go at guard, but Pulley and Townsend are ahead of him right now.
• James Lewis, OL: This guy will be special at tackle, but already has gotten off to a slow start by being injured.
• Dillon van der Wal, TE: An enormous athlete who needs some time to develop and find the right position.
• Jose Valedon, OL: Seems to be at the bottom of the freshman linemen for the time being.
• Jimmy Stewart, DE: Needs to put on some weight. Similar to Walker May a couple of years ago.
• Kris Kentera, QB: A project who’s going to need some time.
• Conor Hart, DT: A fast, good-looking lineman who just needs to put on weight.

Is Josh Grady really redshirting? And what does this mean for Lafonte Thourogood?

Our pals over at Anchor of Gold noticed that Josh Grady told his legion of Twitter followers today that he's redshirting — or 'redshirtin" — but don't mock this kid's grammar because he'll probably be a brain surgeon one day.

Anyway, does this mean Grady is really redshirting? What it means, I think, is that Grady won't play against Elon — in hopes that he'll be able to redshirt and become a four-year starter — but he'll also travel with the team as the No. 3 quarterback and will be available if Smith and Rodgers go down.

Vandy does this every year. In the Music City Bowl season, true freshmen Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter were the fourth and fifth defensive tackles on the team. That's not fourth and fifth string, that's second team for Lohr and third team for Nichter. In other words, if just one person in the three man rotation — of Greg Billinger, Adam Smotherman and T.J. Greenstone — had gone down with injury, then Lohr would have burned his redshirt. And if another guy had been injured or unavailable to play, then Nichter would have burned his.

Remarkably, we won our first bowl game in 53 years with a team that played only three defensive tackles all year, and Lohr and Nichter were redshirted after all.

But last season, we planned to redshirt Logan Stewart and James Kittredge. Then Joey Bailey was injured and Kittredge took his place and burned his redshirt, but we needed another option at center so Logan Stewart burned his redshirt too and held down the position for the second half of the season.

No, Josh Grady won't be taking meaningless snaps in mop-up duty tomorrow night. If we're taking Elon to the woodshed late in the fourth quarter and Jordan Rodgers has already seen a good bit of action, you may see walk-on John Townsley get some snaps.

But you never know. Remember Tennessee's No. 3 quarterback in the Vols' season opener with UCLA in 1994? The starter was fifth-year senior Jerry Colquitt, the backup was a junior by the name of Todd Helton, and the third stringer was a true freshman named...

...Yes, Peyton Manning. And the No. 4 QB was another blue-chip true freshman named Branndon Stewart.

In that game, Colquitt went down early with a career-ending injury and was replaced by Helton, who quickly demonstrated why he was wise to concentrate on baseball. Then Coach Phil Fulmer burned the redshirt off Manning, which was no huge surprise, but then he also burned the redshirt off Stewart.

So by halftime of the season opener, Fulmer had played four quarterbacks and burned the redshirts off two of them.

Off course, Manning quickly emerged as the starter, Helton quit to hone his skills for the MLB draft, and Stewart transferred to Texas A&M, where he quarterbacked the Aggies to an upset over undefeated Kansas State in the 1998 Big 12 Championship Game, which paved the way for Tee Martin and the Vols (Peyton had graduated and was playing for the Colts) to face a lame-duck Florida State team in the national championship game.

But we digress. Grady will redshirt for now. He's the most game-ready of our three freshmen quarterbacks. Kris Kentera, a project who needs at least another year learning to be a passing quarterback, will almost certainly redshirt.

But what about Lafonte Thourogood? I noticed a Tweet from a Virginia Tech fan saying he wanted the Hokies to join the SEC just so they could make Vandy pay for stealing Thourogood from them on signing day.

To become an SEC quarterback, Thourogood needs a redshirt year more than Grady does. But by most accounts Thourogood would have a bigger impact as a true freshman playing wide receiver or running the wildcat than Grady would.

Franklin has made it clear that the ball's in Thourogood's court when it comes to playing other positions. He gave him his word that Lafonte would have a legitimate shot at quarterback, which is going to take longer than a preseason camp and will require his total concentration. But Franklin's also said that Lafonte's too good an athlete to keep off the field.

Which leaves us these options:

1. Thourogood redshirts. He's missed most of preseason camp and hasn't had time to learn the ropes at quarterback. You let him and Grady redshirt and compete against each other in practice, Grady getting some reps with the second and third teams and Thourogood running the scout team. Then in spring practice you have a showdown to determine who sticks at QB and who moves to another position.

2. Thourogood multi-tasks. He's getting healthy and getting adjusted to college life, but you go ahead and start working him into the game plan and figuring out how to get him some touches. If Rodgers and Smith are both injured, you preserve Grady's redshirt and play Thourogood, especially if it's late in the season and nothing's on the line.

3. Thourogood moves. Is there any doubt that Thourogood, a four-star receiver, would be playing against Elon if he weren't a quarterback? Everybody's fallen in love with the idea of Josh Grady as the future leader of the team, and he's surprised everybody with his arm strength, so who's to say Thourogood hasn't seen the writing on the wall and has already pulled the plug on his little experiment at quarterback?

I don't think we'll know for a while which option will be employed. Even if we see Thourogood enter the game at receiver tomorrow, we still won't know his future plans. Unfortunately, Thourogood isn't quite as transparent as Grady — or as chatty on the Internet.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

UPDATE: MV! prediction: Vandy wins five games in 2011

***UPDATE: So you wanted scores to go along with our game predictions. Not a problem. We can make ups some scores. DKH***

I’ve picked us to win six regular season games in each of the last three years. This looked brilliant in 2008, and utterly stupid in 2009 and 2010. Not gonna do it again this year.

I think we win four or five games this season. The best we could do is seven, the worst is the all-too-familiar two victories.

Let’s go with five. Here's how:

• Elon: WIN 31-10. A workman-like victory over the Phoenix.
• UConn: WIN 24-23. A hard-hitting game similar to last year’s Northwestern opener except we win.
• Ole Miss: LOSE 21-17. Most Vandy fans have already chalked this one up as a victory, but the Rebels still have more overall talent, especially on the lines, and we may drop this one.
• At South Carolina: LOSE 31-21. Pretty close, but the Gamecocks have too many playmakers.
• At Alabama: LOSE 31-3. We have trouble moving the ball as can be expected against the Tide D.
• Georgia: LOSE 24-10. We usually play the Dawgs close at home and this year’s no exception, but they have too many athletes in the end, especially on the defensive line.
• Army: WIN 27-17. A fun game and a solid win, especially after a string of demoralizing conference losses.
• Arkansas: LOSE 34-17. The Razorbacks are too loaded.
• At Florida: LOSE 26-10. We had our chance last season and got smoked. Expect the Gators to be much improved this season.
• Kentucky: WIN 28-24. A rare and encouraging late-season victory.
• At Tennessee: LOSE 17-14. As much as we like to think the Vols have slipped to our level, they still have lots of talent and will be tough to beat in Knoxville.
• At Wake Forest: WIN 31-25. This will be tougher than you think. Let’s say we squeak this one out.

Calm down, people: Let's just beat Elon and move on

Apparently, Elon coach Jason Swepson told a North Carolina television station that "the good thing is that Elon knows how win games and Vanderbilt is still trying to figure that out."

I've read some online comments from Vanderbilt fans who've responded with incredulity ("How dare they say we don't know how to win!"), insults ("Have you seen how unathletic the Elon players look on film?") and plans of vengeance ("No score is too high, let's make them pay!").

Good grief. If our team needs a little bulletin board material, so be it. But our experience as perennial underdogs should teach our fans to be gracious to other underdogs, before and after we whip them. True, Vandy has struggled to win, and yes, Elon has a nice FCS program. We are an SEC team and SEC teams are always expected to beat FCS programs. I applaud the Phoenix or the Fighting Christians or whatever they are these days for believing they can win.

We prove absolutely nothing by beating Elon by 10 touchdowns. Hammering those guys won't make games with Ole Miss or UConn or any of our remaining opponents any easier.

Two years ago, we destroyed Western Carolina in our season opener. Remember that? We had two true freshmen, Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, who rushed for more than 100 yards and another true freshman, Eric Samuels, looked like a superstar. We won 1 of our next 11 games.

Oh, and last year, remember the Eastern Michigan game? We destroyed another FBS team. John Cole looked like Jerry Rice. We didn't win another game for the rest of the year, and finished with yet another 2-win season.

Yes, I want our starters to play well, put the game away early in the second half, and get our young guys some experience. Franklin has said himself that he hopes he can play a lot of freshmen in this game because he believes it'll help them next season when they're full-time players.

That's why I want to jump on Elon early. Not so I can gloat about a victory over somebody we should beat handily.

What does it say about a team that beats a team with considerably less talent and then jumps around like they've just won the Super Bowl? I don't want to root for a team like that.

We're an SEC team. SEC teams take care of business against FCS teams, and then they move on to the really challenging opponents on their schedule.

Do we really need motivation to play Elon?