Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chris Boyd ready to join Vandy receiving corps

Dang it. Five Vandy recruits played in the Georgia high school all-star game yesterday in my hometown. And I was at work.

Receivers Bradley Roby and Chris Boyd, linemen Grant Ramsay and Kyle Woestmann, and safety Sharrod Golightly were on the roster. All three-star guys, and Ted Cain personally recruited four of them.

The word from scouts was that Woestmann looks like a big-time player.

Oh, and about Chris Boyd, the 6-foot-5 receiver:

Got open in the end zone, quarterback threw him a nice pass...

And he dropped it. He'll fit right in.

I know, I know, it's only one drop. I'll look forward to seeing what he can do.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Vandy gets a receiver named Jordan to go with its new quarterback named Jordan

Days after signing JUCO quarterback Jordan Rodgers (did we mention he was Aaron Rodgers' little brother?), the Commodores got a verbal commitment from wide receiver Jordan Matthews of Madison, Ala.

So Jordan could be throwing passes to Jordan. Maybe.

A lot can happen. We've had hot-shot transfers before — there's Richard Kovalchek from Arizona, of course, but don't forget Tim Olmstead from Florida about 10 years ago. Olmstead was a 4-star or maybe even 5-star prospect lured to Florida by Steve Spurrier. But Spurrier was also in the process of developing or signing Doug Johnson, Rex Grossman, Jesse Palmer and Brock Berlin, and he happily let Olmstead transfer to Vandy, something that whipped the Commodore fan base into a frenzy and then left them scratching their heads when Olmstead couldn't beat out Greg Zolman.

Jordan Rodgers isn't nearly as hyped. He just has good bloodlines. Maybe he'll beat out Larry Smith and maybe he won't. And if he doesn't win the job, maybe he'll beat out Charlie Goro (who after all, was a Parade All-American) and maybe he won't. If he does, then maybe Larry Smith will get hurt and he'll get to play and maybe he won't.

As for Jordan Matthews, he's an unknown. Dore fans are chirping on chat boards about his size (6-3, 190), his speed (4.5 40), his basketball skills (20 points in the state championship game). Sounds kind of like Akeem Dunham, a former hoops star who couldn't catch a pass last season as a redshirt freshman.

Oh, except that the fellows over at VSL are saying that Matthews is kin to Jerry Rice. Cool.

He's certainly flying under the radar. Matthews is unrated by all the major recruiting services, and at least on paper is a much less-regarded prospect than the other four wide receivers from whom we've received commitments (Bradley Roby, Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd and Trent Pruitt). Matthews had offers from Jacksonville State and Tulane. He's also listed by as a safety.

We seemed to still have a chance to grab more three-star receiving prospects, including Julian Horton, a gifted athlete who's been holding out for Alabama. So Matthews' announcement on Christmas Eve comes as something of a surprise.

Five receivers are an awful lot for one signing class. Of course, Boyd could play H-back, Pruitt could be an all-purpose back and Roby is also highly rated as a cornerback. I expect that some of the receivers currently on the roster won't return. Turner Wimberly, for example, could go ahead and graduate like Justin Green has already chosen to do. After the football season ends, decisions like this often go unannounced until the spring roster is released and you can figure out who's no longer on it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Jordan Rodgers' letter of intent means for Vanderbilt

Maybe you've heard that Aaron Rodgers' little brother, junior college quarterback Jordan Rodgers, just signed a letter of intent with Vanderbilt. He told a California newspaper that Vandy coaches "definitely want me to come and compete with the quarterbacks they have right now." He'll start school in January and says he'll get a chance to win the starting job in the spring, though he adds that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of a redshirt year.

This is encouraging news on many levels:

1. RODGERS COULD BE FOLLOWING THE SAME ROAD TO SUCCESS AS HIS BROTHER: Jordan played last season for Butte College in his hometown of Chino, California. Before becoming an NFL star, Aaron got no scholarship offers from D1 schools, though Illinois invited him to walk on. Instead, he played a year at Butte College, where he impressed Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who offered him a scholarship. In his second start, he upset No. 3 USC. Jordan is the same size (6-foot-2, 210-220) and has wheels like his brother, who by far leads the NFL for rushing yards by a quarterback. He had scholarship offers from Kansas, Washington State and Western Kentucky.

2. BOBBY JOHNSON IS SERIOUS ABOUT IMPROVING HIS TALENT: Jordan Rodgers says that Vandy coaches only contacted him a couple of weeks ago. (His official recruiter was Rick Logo). Chat-room jockeys are speculating that one of Vandy's other quarterbacks must be leaving, but the real reason Vandy made a move was because Mark Mangino was forced out at Kansas. Rodgers was considered a lock for the Jayhawks, where he had a good shot at replacing departing quarterback Todd Reesing. So Johnson and his coaches are tracking talent and are looking to grab a player under the radar. Let's face it: Vandy will always have trouble competing for the handful of 5-star quarterbacks out there, and we've all seen what a crap shoot it is developing 3-star quarterbacks (Nickson, Adams, Funk, Smith). Why not get one with some experience under his belt? And hey, let's not fall in love with our own talent. Sure, Bradley Vierling was the best center we had, but he hardly looked all-conference last season. Sure, John Cole's a scrappy guy and our best receiver, but could he really play for another SEC team? I'm not dissing those guys, especially Vierling, who had a solid career for us. But let's continue to upgrade whenever we can. And let's start on offense.

3. VANDY IS LOOSENING ITS MID-YEAR ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS: The Commodores will never be a haven for Jucos like, say, Mississippi State. In fact, Johnson has signed only two of them in eight years. But Rodgers is a smart kid who didn't get attention as a high school player so, like his brother, he stayed at home and developed his skills at the junior college level. Remember how Vandy missed out on J.P. Prince, the Memphis native and Arizona transfer who wanted to play for the Dores but wasn't allowed to enroll second semester? Well, that appears to have changed. Rodgers is enrolling and will compete in the spring. And Kenneth Ladler, a stud safety prospect from Georgia who apparently resisted a late wooing from Steve Spurrier, has said all along that he wants to start college classes next month, and it looks like he'll be allowed to do so at Vanderbilt.

4. JOHNSON ISN'T GOING TO PUT ALL HIS EGGS IN LARRY SMITH'S BASKET: Chat-room cowboys say Johnson brings his quarterbacks along too slowly. Um, that's because none of ours are ready to play when they get here. True blue-chip quarterbacks are extremely hard to sign. If we had Matt Barkley, he'd be playing as a true freshman. But he's at USC, where he beat out two other five-star quarterbacks. Don't tell me our three-star recruits are the same thing. Lots of fans still want to give Jared Funk a shot. Are you kidding? He's been holding a clipboard for four years on one of the worst offenses in college football and he still hasn't thrown a pass. In fact, he was on the punt coverage team this season. We'd have played him if he could play. I wouldn't be surprised if he goes ahead and graduates. As for Smith, nobody has supported Larry like I have; he's the best thing we've got, but can we do better? Based on last season, we've got to start looking at a Plan B. And besides, we've lost our starting quarterback to injuries the past three seasons. During the Cutler years, Johnson had three scholarship quarterbacks after he moved Steven Bright to fullback. After Cutler left, and with the absence of a true heir apparent, Johnson picked up Arizona transfer Richard Kovalchek and has gone with at least four scholarship quarterbacks ever since:
• 2006: Four: Starter Chris Nickson (R-SO), backups Mackenzi Adams (R-FR) and Kovalchek (R-JR), true freshman Jared Funk
• 2007: Five: Starters Nickson (R-JR) and Adams (R-SO), backup Kovalchek (R-SR), understudies Funk (R-FR) and Smith (FR)
• 2008: Four: Starter Nickson (R-SR), middle reliever Adams (R-JR), closer Smith (R-FR) and bench Funk (R-SO)
• 2009: Four: Starter Smith (R-SO), backup Adams (R-SR), special teams contributor Funk (R-JR) and true freshman Charlie Goro
• 2010: Five: Smith (R-JR), Rodgers (T-JR), Funk (R-SR)?, Goro (R-FR), true freshman Nash Nance

• Auburn's still making a run at Bradley Roby, but it looks like he still would rather be Vandy's top receiver than a nickel back at Auburn. And fellow commitments Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause and Trent Pruitt all appear ready to line up for the Dores.
• Speaking of receivers, there's talk that Collin Ashley might be leaving school. That's OK. He was a tough little guy, but not an SEC caliber receiver. There's been some speculation, too, that Brady Brown might be getting restless because he never caught a pass. Who's fault was that? Vandy was dying for somebody, anybody to catch a pass last season. That said, I think Brown has the tools to be a solid receiver. Remember that Justin Wheeler didn't catch a pass his freshman year either (and he was a redshirt).
• Running back Myron Ross has reneged on his verbal commitment and will be matriculating at Temple. That's OK, too. We've got Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, and redshirt Wesley Tate may turn out to be a better player than both of them.
• Top recruits that we do need — tackles Jared Morse and Kyle Woestmann, athlete Jerrell Priester, and safety Ladler — appear to have gotten over their bouts with wanderlust. Priester's an exciting playmaker who'd flirted with Kentucky but maybe he's figured out that he's not touching the ball as long as a certain Randall Cobb's in Lexington.

This is by far the best recruiting class Vandy's had in modern history and I think you'll see some surprise decisions from the coaching staff once these recruits put ink to paper in February.

More later. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Warren Norman makes the SEC All-Freshman team... twice

Despite a rough season, Vandy landed four players on the SEC All-Freshman team. Well, that's if you count Warren Norman, who won SEC Freshman of the Year from both the coaches and the AP, twice:

• Warren Norman, RB, true freshman: Norman the runner led all SEC freshman running backs with 783 yards. He also had three rushing touchdowns, two of them against Western Carolina.

• Warren Norman, RS, true freshman: Norman the return specialist gained more than 1,000 yards and scored three touchdowns. His kick returns are what propelled him past Herschel Walker to become the SEC's all-time leader for all-purpose yards gained by a freshman.

• Ryan Seymour, OL, redshirt freshman: The converted defensive end was likely named to the team on the strength of his start in the Florida game against the Gators' hulking defensive ends. Expect him to step in for the departed Thomas Welch at left tackle.

• Ryan Fowler, PK, redshirt freshman (unanimous selection): Repeats the accomplishment of his predecessor, Bryant Hahnfeldt, who in 2005 was named to the All-Freshman team. So I guess Fowler will start four seasons and end his career with a bowl-winning field goal.

Going into next season, Vanderbilt has seven players who've made All-Freshman in the SEC. In addition to this year's class of Norman, Seymour and Fowler, there's last year's class of tight end Brandon Barden, offensive lineman Kyle Fischer, defensive lineman T.J. Greenstone and linebacker Chris Marve, who like Fowler was a unanimous selection.

Of those seven guys, only Warren Norman was a true freshman.

In the previous two seasons, the Commodores had only one player make the freshman team — D.J. Moore in 2006.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Maplewood tackle James Stone lists Vanderbilt in his final four... but don't hold your breath

No, we haven't been in mourning over Vandy's two-win season. We've been grilling and getting in the holiday spirit and occasionally watching universities with low academic standards play each other in football.

Now until January, expect a post here and there, but nothing major — it's not like the Commodores are in a bowl or anything. We'll let you know if anything good or bad happens on the recruiting trail.


Speaking of which, massive offensive tackle James Stone of Maplewood has narrowed his choices down to Auburn, Alabama, Stanford and Vanderbilt. His high school coach Ralph Thompson tells an ESPN affiliate that it'll probably be either Auburn or Alabama, adding that Stone likes the academics at Stanford and Vandy, but Stanford's too far away, and nearby Vanderbilt is "not doing too well right now."

To ever get a big stud four-star lineman like Stone, who is 6-5, 300 pounds, Vandy will probably need to piece together back-to-back winning seasons. Meanwhile, the Dores are still wooing some good-looking three-star prospects with Stone's size if not his athleticism:

• Zac Tait (6-4, 315) from Knoxville
• Max Garcia (6-5, 280) from the Atlanta area
• Parker Mack (6-4, 305) from Arkansas
• Joe Burgess (6-6, 295) from Missouri

We've already got verbal commitments from two nice guard prospects, Grant Ramsay and Logan Stewart, and a project at tackle, Chase White. Bobby Johnson has never played a true freshman offensive lineman, though Stone would probably be the first if he signed with the Commodores.

Of the other guys, Garcia's the best athlete but will need to fill out, and Tait, Mack and Burgess are hulks in the mold of Mylon Brown, who redshirted last year and will get a long look at a starting position next season. Have you noticed that Vandy coaches really, really don't want to start Reilly Lauer but haven't had any other choice the last two seasons?


Yes, we absolutely need better offensive linemen. We also absolutely need better wide receivers, but we've got verbals from four — unfortunately, the best of the bunch, Bradley Roby, who would start for us right away, is flirting with Auburn.

Oh yeah, we also badly need a punter to replace Brett Upson. We've offered William Russ, a former teammate of Trey Wilson, and he can punt and kick.


Speaking of Upson, Brett made the coaches' second-team All-SEC team, and so did Chris Marve, Myron Lewis and, as a returner, Warren Norman.

Have you noticed we haven't had a single offensive player make even All-SEC honorable mention since Chris Williams and Earl Bennett were wearing black and gold?

Thanks for reading. Until next time...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Warren Norman runs away with SEC Freshman of Year

If I'd told you in August that a Vandy player would win SEC Freshman of the Year, who would you have picked?

Most of you thought wide receiver Brady Brown would have the most impact. He didn't catch a single pass.

As far as running backs go, Warren Norman was supposed to be our third-best true freshman, behind Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate, but Norman was off to the races in preseason camp and never looked back. Stacy was brilliant before injuring his foot against LSU, and Tate wowed coaches on the scout team and could be a force next season as a redshirt freshman.

But Norman was our one bright spot this season, and he represents the future. We're all trying to forget the Army game, but that was the game Norman became a star. He was the best player on the field, returning a kickoff for a touchdown and having two other long touchdown runs called back. He was also a true freshman, straining for the goal line in overtime but fumbling and watching the ball roll out of the end zone.

Norman amassed a whopping 1,941 total yards, breaking Herschel Walker's 28-year-old record for total all-purpose yards gained by a freshman. Here's a breakdown:
• Kickoff returns: 40 returns for 1,050 yards and three TDs
• Rushing: 145 carries for 783 yards and three TDs
• Receiving: 19 carries for 108 yards and one TD

Senior cornerback Myron Lewis was named to the second team, and Chris Marve was one of only three honorable mentions on defense.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quick predictions and power rankings

Here are our Moral Victory! predictions for this week's games:

• Alabama at Auburn: Sure, this game's at Auburn but look what Bama did to MSU in Starkville last week. The Tide is focused and ready, and just has too many weapons, especially on defense, for Auburn to handle. Crimson Tide, 27-14.

• Florida State at Florida: Which Seminole team will show up? Doesn't matter. Gators 34-18.

• Georgia at Georgia Tech: This might be closer than people think, but Tech should prevail. Yellow Jackets, 30-24.

• Arkansas at LSU: What the heck happened at the end of the game in Oxford? We picked the Rebels because we think LSU's in a season-ending collapse similar to last year's, and Ryan Mallett is red hot. Razorbacks, 28-25.

• Clemson at South Carolina: I really don't care. It'd be nice to think one of the teams in the bottom third of the SEC could beat a division champ in the ACC. Hey, we're gonna go ahead and pick it. Gamecocks, 22-20.

• Ole Miss at Miss State: The Rebels are finally rolling and appear headed to a berth in the Capital One Bowl or the Cotton Bowl. Rebels, 31-17.

• Tennessee at Kentucky: This could be a good one. The Wildcats are having a special season with milestone victories over Auburn and Georgia. Is Tennessee next? We're gonna say yes. Wildcats 19-17.

And now for the power rankings:

1. Alabama 11-0 (7-0)
2. Florida 11-0 (7-0)
3. LSU 8-3 (4-3)
4. Ole Miss 8-3 (4-3)
5. Arkansas 7-4 (3-4)
6. Tennessee 6-5 (3-4)
7. Georgia 6-5 (4-4)
8. Auburn 7-4 (3-4)
9. South Carolina 6-5 (3-5)
10. Kentucky 7-4 (3-4)
11. Miss State 4-7 (2-5)
13. Vanderbilt 2-10 (0-8)

Bobby Johnson answers questions about next season

I’m signing off for a while, but wanted to leave you with some Bobby Johnson quotes from last week’s call-in show. He did a good job explaining why the Commodores struggled this year. Some people scoff at this kind of thing, but I really do believe we’re on the right track and just had one of those years in which all the stars line up and, well, the world explodes and you’re screwed.

IS HE GOING TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE COACHING STAFF? (TED CAIN! TED CAIN! TED CAIN!): Get a load of this answer: “Do you make a change because you weren’t very good or do you try to find out why you weren’t very good and correct it? If it’s uncorrectable then you want to make a change. And if you can correct it, let’s get back to work.” What do you want to bet that this entire staff will be getting back to work.

WHY DON’T WE SCRAP THE NO-HUDDLE OFFENSE AND RETURN TO LAST YEAR’S OFFENSE? Johnson asserts that outside of the no-huddle, which was employed to confuse defenses, the offense is basically the same, with one back, the same pass routes and zone reads.

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE OFFENSE? “The lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position,” Johnson says, citing the losses of Jeffers-Harris and Wheeler. “The young guys have not been able to make up that slack,” he says. He says that John Cole is “getting a lot better,” Udom Umoh is “gonna be a good player,” and Collin Ashley is “getting better.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO WESLEY TATE — YOU KNOW, GOLDEN'S LITTLE BROTHER? “Warren and Zac just got a quicker start,” Johnson says, adding that after it was clear Tate would redshirt he moved over to the scout team and did “a fantastic job.” “Four years of Wesley Tate after a year’s experience will be much better for the program and for Wesley.” Norman and Stacy are talented backs who can do lots of things, but Tate may end up being the better pure SEC tailback. He’s a big strong guy with all the tools.

WHO ARE OUR TOP PLAYERS GOING INTO NEXT SEASON? Two words: “Larry Smith,” Johnson says. “I’m telling y’all, he’s gonna be a really good quarterback for us.” Other players: Defensive backs Sean Richardson, Casey Richardson and Eddie Foster, linebacker Chris Marve, and defensive linemen T.J. Greenstone, Adam Smotherman, Tim Fugger and Theron Kadri. (We get it, the defense is our strength.) On offense, running backs Zac Stacy and Warren Norman, of course, and also redshirt freshman tailback Wesley Tate. He also throws in tackle James Williams, whose loss this season hurt us more than anybody seems to realize, and redshirt freshman lineman Wesley Johnson.

SPEAKING OF THE OFFENSIVE LINE, WHO’S KEY FOR US NEXT YEAR? In addition to Williams and Johnson, the coach mentions Ryan Seymour, who started against Florida at left tackle and played well, and Caleb Welchans. He also mentions redshirt freshman Mylon Brown. He doesn’t mention current starters Reilly Lauer and Kyle Fischer, or rising fifth-year senior Joey Bailey, who’s played in every game.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Isn't it nice...

...that we can create warm, special moments for deserving Tennessee seniors like Wes Brown?

What a way to end the season, huh?

It's still the fourth quarter but we're thinking about next season

Thinks we can't wait to see next season:

• Zac Stacy returning punts. He's already gained more yards on three punt returns than Alex Washington has this entire season.

• Jamie Graham playing defensive back. He's everywhere. I think he's a natural defensive back and he'll be playing there next season.

• Some different wide receivers.

• Warren Norman running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield.

• Brandon Barden showing why he's a talented tight end. He didn't show it this season.

Dear Bradley Roby...

The Commodore receivers are awful.

I'm thinking especially of our one guy who's supposed to be a deep threat, Udom Umoh. He just took a beautiful pass from Mac and... tried to tip it in the hands of a Vol.

Bradley, you've made a verbal commitment to Vandy, and we've told you can play wide receiver. Heck, we've probably guaranteed that you'll be a starter as a true freshman.

Now Auburn wants you too, but they want you to play cornerback. Sure, you'd be a fine cornerback.

But wouldn't you like to step on an SEC campus and be the best receiver on the team?

Sure you would.

Think we can score in the second half?

We scored on a long drive in the second quarter in Knoxville after Zac Stacy fielded a punt on the goal line.

I love the idea of Zac returning punts instead of Alex Washington, who's been awful in that role this season. Wonder if he's ever done it before?

Speaking of freshman running backs, Warren Norman broke Hershel Walker's record for all-purpose yards for a freshman.

Oh, and Ryan van Rensburg caught a touchdown pass.

Those geniuses at ESPNU just informed me that Vandy will NOT be going to a bowl this season.

Dang it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Moral Victory Predictions for this week's SEC games

No earth-shaking matchups this weekend, but an interesting game here and there. Auburn and SC taking the week off to gear up for Bama and Clemson, respectively.

Here we go with the picks:

Miss State (4-6) at Arkansas (6-4): The Bulldogs are still maintaining hopes of bowl eligibility. Dan Mullen's doing a fine job this year, but the difference in this game will be the quarterbacks — Arkansas has one and the Bulldogs don't. Razorbacks, 27-16.

UTC (who cares?) at Alabama (10-0): People in Alabama kill moccasins with shotguns. That's pretty much what'll happen in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Crimson Tide, 49-0.

Florida (10-0) at Florida International (who cares?): The Gators attack Roary the Panther. Roary? Gators, 38-3.

LSU (8-2) at Ole Miss (7-3): LSU's struggling and Ole Miss is playing well at home. Everybody's talking about Snead, but the Rebels' real hero is its awesome defensive line, which will make it a long day for whoever's playing quarterback for the Tigers. Rebels, 24-20.

Vanderbilt (who cares?) at Tennessee (5-5): The Commodores are starting a cheerleader at cornerback and the guy who pours the Gatorade at linebacker. And they're holding a contest in the parking lot to select one lucky tailgater to start at wide receiver. Nevertheless, expect this one as usual to be closer than the 18 point spread. Volunteers, 21-10.

Kentucky (6-4) at Georgia (6-4): The person who coordinates Vanderbilt's schedule needs to swap notes with the person who coordinates Kentucky's schedule. The Wildcats are the 11th best team in the SEC (by virtue of their loss to Miss State), but are headed to yet another bowl with only two conference victories. This is a tough, well-coached team, though, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Cats could win in Athens and then take care of the Vols in Lexington for an impressive (for them) four SEC wins. But the Dawgs are trying to forget about their matchup next week with Georgia Tech, and they should be ready. Bulldogs, 17-14.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2009 Vandy football slogan: Have fun, expect to get injured... but expect to be much better next season

Go to Vandy football message boards, and you'll read angry missives about how our lousy quarterbacks, lousy receivers, lousy offensive line, lousy head coach and especially lousy offensive coordinator led to the demise of this year's team.

Give me a break. And listen up, people: WE LOST TOO MANY KEY PLAYERS THIS SEASON.

Oklahoma was supposed to lose zero games this season and compete for the national championship. The Sooners lost quarterback Sam Bradford and have lost four games — four more than expected.

Vandy was supposed to lose, say, five or six games this season. We've lost an unbelievable number of players, and we're going to lose probably 10 games — four more than expected.

We've played almost the entire season without SEVEN starters (five of them on offense) and four key backups, and another EIGHT starters (six of them on offense) have missed at least one game. In fact, Bradley Vierling was the only preseason offensive starter not to miss a game this season. (That's if, like me, you'd projected Wheeler, Jeffers-Harris and Cole to start at receiver.)

Now we're facing Tennessee without NFL cornerback prospect Myron Lewis and probably linebacker Patrick Benoist.

Here's another thing: Even with our improved depth, we can't reload as quickly as other teams when we lose key players.

Consider this partial list of losses:


• Terrance Jeffers-Harris, starting receiver: Academically ineligible
• Justin Wheeler, starting receiver: Career-ending knee injury
• James Williams, starting offensive tackle: Broken leg
• Jared Hawkins, starting running back: Foot injury
• Austin Monahan, starting tight end: Knee injury
• Steven Stone, starting defensive end: Broken foot
• Ryan Hamilton, starting safety: Torn pectoral muscle
• Nate Campbell, backup linebacker: Dismissed from team
• Tristan Strong, backup linebacker: Knee injury
• Alan Strong, backup cornerback: Transferred to TSU
• Jay Fullam, backup safety: Injured hand

• Thomas Welch, starting offensive tackle: Injury
• John Cole, starting wide receiver: Broken hand
• Ryan Custer, starting guard: Injury
• Jamie Graham, starting defensive back/receiver: Concussion
• Larry Smith, starting quarterback: Torn hamstring
• Zac Stacy, starting running back: Ankle injury
• Sean Richardson, starting safety: Injured hand
• Myron Lewis, starting cornerback: Knee injury
• Eric Samuels, backup defensive back: Injury and a possible team issue

For the love of Dan McGugin, let's stop talking about who should replace Bobby Johnson. This is not "Same Old Vandy." If Johnson had experienced this kind of attrition his first season, he'd have been losing games 70-0 by the end of the season.

Sure, this has been a nightmarish season because of all the players we've lost. But the fact that we can still hang tough with bowl-bound teams like South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky is a testament to our depth, especially our defensive depth.

And consider this: Because of this one bad season, we'll be deeper and more experienced than ever next season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More Vandy commits contemplating switching dance partners

How big would it be if Vandy upset Tennessee in Knoxville this weekend?

Considering the Dores are an 18-point dog, it would be a shocking, satisfying upset.

And it might help keep some of our verbal commitments from breaking up with us. As Vandy's season has fallen apart, the high school seniors who've committed to the Commodores are acting like, well, high school seniors. They're starting to notice prettier looking prospects, and a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

This week, tight end Davis Dudchock did what he had to do and snubbed us for everybody's current sweetheart, Stanford.

Meanwhile, Bradley Roby, a receiver who could start immediately for us, is being wooed heavily by Auburn and now considers Vandy and the Tigers dead even.

Jerrell Priester, a fast little guy who's being compared to fellow South Carolinian D.J. Moore, now considers his commitment to Vandy to be "soft." He's got offers from Notre Dame and Kentucky, and you've got to believe Spurrier's not going to make the same mistake twice with a recruit in his backyard. (Why did we beat SC twice in a row? D.J. Moore.)

Speaking of soft commitments, defensive lineman Jared Morse has offers from Auburn, Arkansas, Florida State and Kentucky.

Oh yeah, and Georgia native Kenneth Ladler's also being wooed by South Carolina.

Here's another problem: You know who landed a ton of our top recruits, including Roby? Ted Cain, the guy every Vandy fan is bashing right now. You don't think the coaches at Auburn are telling Roby that Cain's going to be gone next season?

Even if all those guys jumped ship, this would still be Johnson's best class ever. But it would be mighty tough to watch all these guys play against us on Saturday, especially if we're losing like we usually do.

Moral Victory! SEC Power Ratings: Ole Miss makes a move, Vandy stuck at bottom

Alabama and Florida remain the top two teams in the nation, and will battle for the right to play Texas, barring any crazy upsets. Vandy sealed its position in the cellar last weekend, while Ole Miss made the biggest jump. Here we go:

1. ALABAMA: 10-0 (7-0)
Stock: Holding steady
Remaining games: UTC, at Auburn, vs. Florida (SEC Championship)
Best case: 13-0 (9-0); BCS National Championship Game
Worst case: 11-2 (7-2); Sugar Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 12-1 (8-1); Sugar Bowl

2. FLORIDA: 10-0 (8-0)
Stock: Holding steady
Remaining games: Florida International, Florida State, vs. Alabama
Best case: 13-0 (9-0); BCS National Championship Game
Worst case: 11-2 (11-2); Sugar Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 13-0 (9-0); BCS National Championship Game

3. LSU: 7-2 (4-2)
Stock: Holding steady, but poised for a collapse
Remaining games: at Ole Miss, Arkansas
Best case: 10-2 (6-2); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 8-4 (4-4); Independence Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 9-4 (4-4); Chick-Fil-A Bowl

4. GEORGIA: 6-4 (4-3)
Stock: Rising from No. 5
Remaining games: Kentucky, at Ga Tech
Best case: 8-4 (5-3); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (4-4); Independence Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (5-3); Outback Bowl

5. OLE MISS: 7-3 (3-3)
Stock: Way up, rising from No. 8
Remaining games: LSU, at Miss State
Best case: 9-3 (5-3); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 7-5 (3-5); Independence Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 9-3 (5-3); Capital One Bowl

6. TENNESSEE: 5-5 (2-4)
Stock: Dropping from No. 6
Remaining games: Vanderbilt, at Kentucky
Best case: 7-5 (4-4); Outback or Cotton Bowl
Worst case: 5-7 (2-6); No bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (4-4); Music City Bowl

7. ARKANSAS: 6-4 (2-4)
Stock: Holding steady (though dropping from No. 6)
Remaining games: Miss State, at LSU
Best case: 8-4 (4-4); Cotton Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (2-6); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 8-4 (4-4); Cotton Bowl

8. AUBURN: 7-4 (3-4)
Stock: Dropping from No. 7
Remaining games: Alabama (after bye week)
Best case: 8-4 (4-4); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 7-5 (3-5); Independence Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (3-5); Liberty Bowl

9. S CAROLINA: 6-5 (3-5)
Remaining games: Clemson (after bye week)
Best case: 7-5 (3-5); Chick-Fil-A Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (3-5); Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 6-6 (3-5); Independence Bowl

10. MISS STATE: 4-6 (2-4)
Stock: Holding steady
Remaining games: at Arkansas, Ole Miss
Best case: 6-6 (4-4); Liberty Bowl
Worst case: 4-8 (2-6); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 4-8 (2-6); no bowl

11. KENTUCKY: 6-4 (2-4)
Stock: Holding steady
Remaining games: at Georgia, Tennessee
Best case: 8-4 (4-4); Outback Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (2-6); Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 6-6 (2-6); Bowl

12. VANDERBILT: 2-9 (0-7)
Stock: Stuck at the bottom
Remaining games: at Tennessee
Best case: 3-9 (1-7)
Worst case: 2-10 (0-8)
Moral Victory! Prediction: 2-10 (0-8)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Top Vandy recruit Dudchock jumps ship to Stanford

Lots of people have worried about the effect Vandy's lousy season would have on all those outstanding verbal commitments.

Well, is reporting that Davis Dudchock, a four-star tight end from Alabama, has switched his commitment from Vanderbilt to Stanford, a top academic school whose gridiron success is making Commodore fans even more restless these days.

No worry, though. The Commodores quickly replaced him with... Blake Gowder, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound FULLBACK who had offers from Air Force, Samford, Georgia State and Murray State.

And we don't even use a fullback in our system. And we've already got a former three-star fullback, redshirt sophomore Ryan van Rensburg, who's been playing some at blocking tight end since the injury to Austin Monahan, but whose playing days appeared numbered by the eminent arrival of... Davis Dudchock.

We don't need to expand our collection of scrappy little players who are playing in the SEC only because Vandy will take them and who can play six different positions, none of them well enough to start. We need big, fast athletes who can play now.

But here's hope for Gowder: He did have 1,453 yards and eight touchdowns receiving and he's listed by some services as a wide receiver. But he's way too short to be playing tight end in the SEC and he's way too slow (4.7 40) to be a receiver in the SEC. Maybe he'll play linebacker for us.

Some other verbal commitments have been talking about jumping ship too, including DT Jared Morse, ATH Jerrell Priester and DB Kenneth Ladler, who's now saying he wants to enroll early (except Vanderbilt doesn't allow recruits to enroll in the spring).

Here are some guys we absolutely need on the team next year:
• Wide receiver Bradley Roby, a fast, sure-handed burner who can actually separate from defensive backs and close on a long ball. He could start right away.
• Wide receiver Jonathan Krause, a quick receiver who can get open and get tough yards after the catch.

And here are some guys who, long-term, we can't afford to lose:
• Defensive tackles Kyle Woestmann and Vince Taylor.
• Offensive linemen Grant Ramsay and Logan Stewart.
• Defensive ends Thomas Ryan and James Kittredge
• Defensive backs Andre Hal, Karl Butler and Andre Simmons.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Analysis of Vandy-Kentucky highlights

Ah yes, it's time once again to break down our weekly highlights, which this year have contained a curious number of touchdowns scored by our opponents.

Here's this week's breakdown:

1. Assorted Commodore interceptions, Lewis and Foster (37 seconds)
2. Assorted Mackenzi Adams passes to John Cole, including the TD (36 seconds)
3. Assorted Ryan Fowler field goals (27 seconds)
4. Assorted Randall Cobb touchdowns (24 seconds)
5. Team rushing out onto field at the start of the game (20 seconds)

Hey, where's the footage of the black-and-gold-clad crowd going crazy when the Commodores took the lead?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Forget Saturday's game in Knoxville...we're looking to the future (and the future may or may not mean Brady Brown)

Sure, I'll watch Vandy give it the old college try on Saturday night in Knoxville. But I'm not going to spend much time worrying about the game (6 p.m. on ESPNU).

Not much to analyze: The Volunteers don't have much finesse on offense, but they're big and strong athletic and they're going to try to wear us down just like they did last year and just like Kentucky and everybody else in the SEC did to us this year. And if they give us the ball, well, they can just wait three downs until we punt it back to them.

Team Moral Victory is not quitting on the Dores, but we do plan to spend this week looking at our prospects for next season and then give it a rest for a while until something happens with recruiting or coaching changes or something like that. You'll forgive us if we don't recap the Top 10 plays of the season or name a team MVP or any of that crap that's fun to do if, say, your team goes to a bowl for the first time in 53 years.

Anyway, today we're going to look at our true freshmen in the order of votes received in our "Who'll play as a true freshman?" fan poll:

• Brady Brown (56%): LIMITED ACTION. Everybody, including us, was sure that the 6-foot-5 Texan would make an immediate impact as a possession receiver and be starting by the end of the season. He did play as a true freshman, but he turned out to be only 6-3, and he's only seen time in four games and hasn't caught a pass. Still, he's a raw prospect who should improve and compete for playing time next season — but his biggest competitors, huge targets Chris Boyd and David Dudchock, graduate from high school next spring.

• Zac Stacy (44%): PART-TIME STARTER. Had the best chance of the freshmen tailbacks to play right away, and thanks to Jared Hawkins' injury, he started the season opener and broke 100 yards, then looked impressive against LSU in Baton Rouge. Hampered by ankle injuries most of the season, but has shown flashes of brilliance and his future is bright, especially with plans to repair that ankle in the offseason.

• Eric Samuels (44%): LIMITED ACTION. The prep running back/defensive back was moved immediately into the secondary, where he had a sensational opening game, intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble. But he was injured on the interception return and was never the same, seeing spot duty in the middle of the season and then vanishing altogether with the emergence of fellow freshman Eddie Foster. Will get a close look in the spring at corner, safety or nickel, where he should get a jump on all those true freshmen DBs who'll show up for preseason camp.

• Wesley Tate (39%): REDSHIRT. Despite a solid preseason camp, he was overshadowed by Warren Norman and has been a sure redshirt. But he has all the tools to be a big-time SEC tailback — even more so than Stacy and Norman, who are change-of-pace guys — and will get every opportunity in the spring to be a powerful go-to back who'll wear down opposing defenses. He'll certainly benefit from an extra year of weight lifting and drills.

• Trey Wilson (36%): SECOND-TEAM CORNERBACK. Missed all of preseason camp after dropping a bed on his toe while moving into his dorm, but was too good to keep off the field. He's played in every game, is a fixture on the depth chart as a backup corner and special teams contributor, and could grab a starting job next year as a true sophomore like Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson did this year.

• Javon Marshall (27%): REDSHIRT. Even with the team desperate for secondary help, Marshall didn't make waves in the preseason and has been headed for a redshirt since the opener. And with a bunch of corners and safeties committed to join the team next year, he may be in an uphill climb for playing time during his Commodore career.

• Warren Norman (21%): STARTER. Expected to redshirt and put on weight, Norman instead burst on the scene in the preseason, rushed for more than 100 yards in the opener, and has been a revelation as a kick returner, taking three to the house and closing in on Herschel Walker's record for most all-purpose yards by a freshman. Though nobody's excited about the Commodore offense, everybody's excited about this kid's future.

• Eddie Foster (10%): PART-TIME STARTER. Considered too light to play as a true frosh, Foster wowed coaches in the preseason with his speed, savvy and toughness. By the end of the season, he was starting at nickelback. The fastest player on the field, Foster's future is bright. Hey, can he line up at wide receiver?

• Mason Johnston (7%): REDSHIRT. With Barden and Monahan anchoring the tight end position, Johnston was a lock to redshirt, and after Monahan was lost for the year the coaches kept him on the bench and turned instead to fullback Ryan van Rensburg and wide receiver Justin Green. He'll compete next season with Barden, Monahan and four-star commitment Davis Dudchock.

• Justin Cabbagestalk (5%): REDSHIRT. Offensive linemen always redshirt at Vandy, but Cabbagestalk had the added burden of facing a criminal trial. (Nothing as serious as holding up somebody at a Knoxville service station and making a getaway in a Prius.) He's suspended this season and has been on campus practicing with the team. We'll see if he's here next year.

• Jay Fullam (4%): INJURED/REDSHIRT. Overshadowed by the other freshmen DBs on signing day, Fullam impressed coaches in the preseason and was a lock to play right away until he broke his hand and needed surgery. Expect the Chattanooga native to challenge for Ryan Hamilton's old starting position in the spring.

• Charlie Goro (4%): REDSHIRT. A redshirt from Day One, Goro's been traveling to all the games and calling in signals while junior Jared Funk's been playing special teams. He'll get his shot in the spring. By all accounts, he's a winner and a leader who's got good wheels and a quick but not particularly strong arm. Expect him to see some spot action and assume the backup quarterback role next season, and to be ready to go if Larry Smith is injured or falters.

• Thad McHaney (4%): REDSHIRT. A big, fast kid who was lost in the mix at defensive end but will get a shot in the spring. He's been on the get-bigger-get-stronger plan.

• Blake Southerland (4%): REDSHIRT. With Brent Trice and Patrick Benoist graduating, we're looking for some new blood at linebacker, and Southerland will challenge the four-headed Strong-Jones-Barnes-Daniels monster of current redshirt freshmen.

• Wesley Johnson (2%): REDSHIRT. A terrific offensive line prospect who right now is packing on the pounds and hoisting the weights, the Nashville native will get every chance to crack the lineup at guard or even possibly center in the spring.

• Mylon Brown (1%): REDSHIRT. The rare true freshman lineman at Vandy who tips the scales past 300, Brown is a raw, powerful guy who'll get a chance to play at tackle or guard. Jamie Bryant would love for a couple of redshirt freshmen to nail down starting jobs for the next four years.

• Walker May (1%): REDSHIRT. A bit light in the pants, May nevertheless wowed coaches in the preseason and dang near got a shot to play defensive end after Steven Stone broke his foot. Now he's packing on the pounds. He's a long, fast, disruptive player who'll make a splash in the spring.

• Collin Ashley (N/A): SECOND-TEAM RECEIVER. How bad was the Commodores' receiving corps? Well, after signing day, Justin Wheeler blew out his knee ending his career and Terrance Jeffers wasn't wowing anybody in the classroom, and so Bobby Johnson saw the writing on the wall and went out and got Ashley, an undersized but game-ready receiver from a big Texas high school who was planning to walk on at Arkansas. Ashley's played in every game and is fearless over the middle. Ideally, he's a role player who lacks the strength and ability to separate from SEC corners that we're hoping verbal commitments Bradley Roby and Jonathan Krause will bring next year. But he's stepped up when nobody else has, and our hat's off to him.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Vandy-Kentucky recap: Second half typical for Commodores

What a horrible performance by our offense in the second half: 31 total yards, with a single completion by Mackenzi Adams, and it was a short sideline pass on third and long. Four out of our five drives were three-and-outs, and the one that wasn't was a five-and-out.

Sorry, Mac, but I was having flashbacks to last year's Duke game. And I couldn't help but wonder if Jared Funk could have done any better.

Overall, we got dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

In the days to come, we'll take a look at our offense:

• What kind of players does our team need?
• Or what kind of offense do we need to run to maximize the talent we do have?
• Have we been sending all our athletes to the defensive side of the ball?

Have a good Saturday afternoon. And look on the bright side: You can do anything you want to on New Year's Eve this year.

That sound you hear is Vandy fans booing Ted Cain

So the Dores are deep in their own territory late in the third quarter and trailing 17-13. Third and six. So what do we do? We run the ball, something we haven't been able to do all day.

So we punt. And now the third quarter's ending and we've had the ball for three plays on offense.

No kidding.

Vandy-Kentucky halftime report: Scoreboard straining to handle the activity

Up till now, the home team portion of the scoreboard at Dudley Field hasn't seen this kind of action in an SEC game this year: 13 points.

Holy smoke!

Yes, in three SEC home games this year, Vandy has scored a total of 6 points (3 against MSU and UGA and zero against Miss).

Our one touchdown came off a beautiful juggling grab by John Cole, a Bluegrass son who you've probably heard was snubbed by the Wildcats. It was set up by Myron Lewis' pick of a Newton pass tipped by T.J. Greenstone.

Here are the highs and lows from the 13-10 halftime score:

• Nice picks by Lewis and Eddie Foster.
• We're getting Warren Norman and Zac Stacy involved in the passing game.
• Outside of a Locke pass for 41 yards, the Cats' three other passers are 3-11 for 13 yards.
• We've outgained the Cats, 178-174.
• Ryan Fowler has booted field goals of 42 and 47 yards.

• We're losing defenders left and right. Casey Hayward and Patrick Benoist are in the locker room with concussions.
• Horrible opening drive with two of our three penalties and a sack that pinned us deep in our own territory.

Vandy-Kentucky preview: Our wish list for today's game

Sure, it would be nice to get a win. I've kind of forgotten what it feels like. And if you don't think beating Kentucky would be a quality win, consider that our two wins have come against the worst team in college football (Rice) and a bad lower-division team (Western Carolina).

I won't take any pleasure from bouncing anybody out of a bowl. Hopefully, we'll beat Kentucky and Tennessee and both of those teams can still go to bowls. I'm not concerned about other teams or hoping that other teams screw up so we can look better. We look bad and all we can do is worry about ourselves and try to get better.

That said, here's my wish list for today's game:

• The seniors celebrate their wonderful careers AFTER the game's over, not before it begins.

• The front seven has a big game and stops the run and assorted Cobb craziness the Cats will throw at us.

• Steven Stone has a big game. We're so deep at end that nobody really worried about his departure, but against Florida he showed how important he is to the success of our team and why his injury hurt us so much.

• Warren Norman takes a kickoff to the house.

• A receiver or two emerges as a legitimate threat, without making Mackenzi Adams look too great, which would have everybody spending all winter and spring and summer second-guessing Johnson's decision to start Smith. (It was the right call, people!)

• Oh yeah, we win.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vanderbilt battles Kentucky for recruits

Sure, Vandy's battling Kentucky at Dudley Field on Saturday. But off the field, the Commodores have been slugging it out with the Wildcats for recruits.

The two schools are vying for the following high school seniors:
• Rajaan Bennett, RB, Georgia
• Tim Jackson, DE, Florida
• Kenarious Gates, OT, Georgia
• Austin Collinsworth, S, Kentucky
• Dale Trimble, CB, Alabama
• Avery Willimason, LB, Tennessee

So far, Vanderbilt's winning 3-2, having received verbal commitments from these players who had UK offers:

• Jared Morse, DT, Alabama
• Jerrell Priester, RB/CB, South Carolina
• Thomas Ryan, DE, Florida

But losing these players to the Wildcats:

• Ryan Smith, S, Alabama
• Justin Henderson, DE, South Carolina

Of course, the battle's never over. Morse has said recently that his verbal commitment to the Dores was "soft," and that he's considering other schools, including Kentucky and (ahem) Alabama.

It's prediction time again here at Moral Victory!

So last week we went 7-1, to bring our overall record to 61-15, or 80.3 percent.

Here are our picks for this week:

• Tennessee at Ole Miss: Vols didn't need Nu'keese anyway. Volunteers 23-21.

• Kentucky at Vanderbilt: Commodores always struggle on senior day. But we're predicting the Dores finally break 10 points in an SEC game. Wildcats 20-14.

• Florida at South Carolina: Gators look better this week. Gators 38-14.

• Auburn at Georgia: Dawgs have the home field disadvantage in this one. But Richt wants to get a win before facing a swarm of Yellow Jackets. Bulldogs 24-17.

• La Tech at LSU: Tigers playing for a berth in the Capital One Bowl. Tigers 34-14.

• Alabama at Miss State: Dan Mullen will have a few tricks up his sleeve and put a scare into the Tide. Crimson Tide 26-20.

• Troy at Arkansas: This time last year, Troy put a big-time scare into LSU. But the Razorback offense is just too good. Razorbacks 31-17.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Quick! Name this Commodore!

No senior being honored on Saturday in Nashville played more games than the guy pictured above. Who is he?

It's Brent Trice, who didn't start until this season but has been a stalwart at safety and linebacker since he avoided a redshirt and played right away as a true freshman.

Here are the guys calling it quits at the end of this season, in order of total games played:

• Brett Upson (47 starts)
• Bradley Vierling (23)
• Brent Trice (9)

• Greg Billinger (22)
• Ryan Custer (19)
• Chris Johnson

• Myron Lewis (35)
• Broderick Stewart (21)
• Joel Caldwell (17)

• Thomas Welch (22)

• Alex Washington (8)

• Mackenzi Adams (10)

• Steven Stone (29)
• Patrick Benoist (28)

• Ryan Hamilton (36)

• Jared Hawkins (13)

• Justin Wheeler (10)

• Justin Green (0) (redshirt junior)

• Chris Reinert (0)

• Gaston Miller (0) (redshirt junior)

• Chris DeGeorge (0)

• John Laughrey (0)

• Bo Baggarley (0)
• Eric Hensley (16)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Justin Green and Gaston Miller to forgo their final year of eligibility...who's next?

Redshirt juniors Justin Green and Gaston Miller will be honored Saturday on senior day, which means they are calling it quits after this season.

Green caught a TD pass as a wide receiver against Western Carolina, but hasn't made a catch since and is back at backup tight end, where he'll likely see even less playing time next year.

Miller, a tailback and return specialist, has been made obsolete by the presence of true freshmen Zac Stacy and especially Warren Norman. He hasn't even been traveling to away games.

Both guys are moving on with their lives, and we wish them the best.

Leaving a year of eligibility on the table is not unusual. Last year before the Tennessee game, the university said goodbye to a whopping 12 redshirt juniors, about half of whom were walk-ons.

Two of those, Chris Johnson and Bo Baggerley, will be honored on their second straight senior day. This time last year, both decided to end their football careers but then got accepted to graduate school at Vandy and opted to play another year.

Also, two other redshirt juniors, Derrius Dowell and Darlron Spead, decided in the spring to forgo their final years of eligibility.

Which raises the question of who else might skip his fifth year.

Good candidates would be:
• QB Jared Funk, who still hasn't thrown a pass and would likely begin next season in the familiar position of third-team quarterback, behind Larry Smith and Charlie Goro. But his presence would keep us from burning the redshirt off true frosh Nash Nance if somebody gets injured next season.
• LB Michael Garcia, a walk-on who hasn't played this season after being injured in the preseason.

Other possibilities include:
• LB Austin Newton, a reserve who's missed the last couple of games and will likely begin next season behind a glut of redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart.
• OL Chris Aaron, who's seen limited action this season and may or may not get a shot to play more next season.
• RB Kennard Reeves, a solid backup at running back, whose playing time has decreased with the emergence of Stacy and Norman — and will continue to slip with redshirt freshman Wesley Tate and true freshmen Myron Ross and Jerrell Priester in the mix next season.
• WR Turner Wimberly, who started one game at receiver but would likely play much less next season as youngsters Collin Ashley and Brady Brown continue to develop and true frosh Chris Boyd, Bradley Roby, Jonathon Krause and Trent Pruitt arrive on campus.

The following guys play a big part in the team's plans for next season and will almost certainly return:
• DT Adam Smotherman will return as a starter to anchor the D-Line.
• C Joey Bailey will get the first shot to replace Bradley Vierling next season and will be counted on to lead an offensive line that loses four fifth-year seniors.
• DE Teriall Brannon will compete to replace Broderick Stewart or Steven Stone as starters.
• OL Reilly Lauer continues to be considered too light to be an SEC lineman but for the second straight year is finishing the season as a starter, and he'll get a serious shot to start again next year.

Moral Victory! SEC Power Rankings + Predictions + Bowl Projections

Today we look at the new Moral Victory! power rankings, as well as the best and worst scenarios for each team. (At least we don’t have to travel to a bowl and freeze our butts off this year.) And we predict where each team will finish. Outside of Vanderbilt, every SEC team still has bowl hopes, and almost every team except Miss State and Kentucky could end up playing on New Year’s Day.

1. ALABAMA: 9-0 (6-0)
Remaining games: at Miss State, UTC, at Auburn, vs. Florida
Best case: 13-0 (9-0); BCS National Championship Game
Worst case: 11-2 (7-2); Sugar Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 12-1 (8-1); Sugar Bowl

2. FLORIDA: 9-0 (7-0)
Remaining games: at South Carolina, Florida International, Florida State, vs. Alabama
Best case: 13-0 (9-0); BCS National Championship Game
Worst case: 11-2 (11-2); Sugar Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 13-0 (9-0); BCS National Championship Game

3. LSU: 7-2 (4-2)
Remaining games: La Tech, at Ole Miss, Arkansas
Best case: 10-2 (6-2); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 8-4 (4-4); Independence Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 10-2 (6-2); Capital One Bowl

4. TENNESSEE: 5-4 (2-3)
Remaining games: at Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, at Kentucky
Best case: 8-4 (5-3); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (3-5); Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 8-4 (5-3); Cotton Bowl

5. GEORGIA: 5-4 (3-3)
Remaining games: Auburn, Kentucky, at Ga Tech
Best case: 8-4 (5-3); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 5-7 (3-5); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (5-3); Outback Bowl

6. ARKANSAS: 5-4 (2-4)
Remaining games: Troy, Miss State, at LSU
Best case: 8-4 (4-4); Cotton Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (2-6); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (3-5); Independence Bowl

7. AUBURN: 7-3 (3-3)
Remaining games: at Georgia, Alabama
Best case: 9-3 (5-3); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 7-5 (3-5); Independence Bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

8. OLE MISS: 6-3 (2-3)
Remaining games: Tennessee, LSU, at Miss State
Best case: 9-3 (5-3); Capital One Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (2-6); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (3-5); Liberty Bowl

9. S CAROLINA: 6-4 (3-4)
Remaining games: Florida, Clemson
Best case: 8-4 (4-4); Outback Bowl
Worst case: 6-6 (3-5); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 7-5 (3-5); Music City Bowl

10. MISS STATE: 4-5 (2-3)
Remaining games: Alabama, at Arkansas, Ole Miss
Best case: 6-6 (4-4); Liberty Bowl
Worst case: 4-8 (2-6); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 4-8 (2-6); no bowl

11. KENTUCKY: 5-4 (1-4)
Remaining games: at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, Tennessee
Best case: 8-4 (4-4); Chick-Fil-A Bowl
Worst case: 5-7 (1-7); no bowl
Moral Victory! Prediction: 6-6 (2-6); Bowl

12. VANDERBILT: 2-8 (0-6)
Remaining games: Kentucky, at Tennessee
Best case: 4-8 (2-6)
Worst case: 2-10 (0-8)
Moral Victory! Prediction: 2-10 (0-8)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Senior day not kind to Commodores

Saturday's last home game, against Kentucky, is senior day at Vanderbilt.

I hate senior day. You know, when seniors walk out onto the field BEFORE the game and hug their mamas and receive a round of warm applause from the fans.

And then they play the game and lose. At least that's how it is at Vanderbilt.

Know how many times Bobby Johnson has won on senior day in Nashville?

Once — Kentucky in 2003.

Know how many times Woody won on senior day? Zero.

OK, maybe we would have lost all those games anyway. But I don't like it.

Why not celebrate outgoing seniors AFTER they play, like the basketball team does. Every year at this time I like to remember that Shane Foster had one of the greatest games in Vanderbilt history, against Miss State on senior night. He rained down three-pointers to bring the Dores back against a stout Bulldog defense and then to put the game into overtime and then to win it. And THEN he hugged his mama and then the crowd went crazy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

November not kind to Commodores

In his eight seasons, Bobby Johnson has won three games in November. It's by far the worst month to be a football Commodore (not so bad for basketball and women's bowling). Here's the current breakdown during the Johnson years:

• August: 1-2 (33%)
• September: 16-15 (52%)
• October: 8-25 (24%)
• November: 3-22 (12%)

Why is November so unkind To Vanderbilt? For one thing, the Commies lack the depth of other SEC teams and can't survive the injuries that mount in September and October. Also, the Commodores always end with a brutal stretch of games. Here are the teams Johnson has faced in the eleventh month:

• Alabama: 0-1
• Florida: 0-8
• Kentucky: 2-5
• Tennessee: 1-6
• Wake Forest: 0-2

Johnson's predecessor, Woody Widenhofer, was 1-15 in five Novembers. His only win? Kentucky.

Thank God for the Wildcats.

Tomorrow, we'll examine another thorn in Johnson's side: senior day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Vanderbilt-Florida recap: The good, the bad, the ugly

If I'd told you before Saturday's game in the Swamp that one of the teams would have seven tackles for loss including four sacks and the other team would have one tackle for loss and no sacks, is there any question who would have what?

No. But Vanderbilt's defense came to play. That's the good, and let's recap most of it.


• The VU defense: Let's say it again: seven tackles for loss and four sacks (Benoist, Stone, Foster/Fugger, Brannon).
• And we held the Gators to 4-13 on third down conversions.
• And surrendering only one touchdown drive of more than 35 yards.
• The VU offensive line: This unit is missing both of the tackles who started the season (and our two best O-linemen). Still, no sacks allowed and we consistently started drives with runs of three and four yards. Ryan Seymour played a great game because we never noticed him out there, which means he had no penalties and wasn't getting burned by the likes of Dunlap and Cunningham.
• The front seven: We put pressure on Tebow and we hold them to 148 yards rushing on 37 carries, about 100 yards below their average.
• Warren Norman: True freshman had 170 total yards on 19 touches.
• Eddie Foster: True freshman started at cornerback; he's supposedly our fastest player and he looked the part on Saturday night.
• Few penalties: We had two for 15 yards, while Florida had nine for 68 yards, but zero eye gougings.

• Turnovers: Two of Florida's three touchdowns resulted from Vandy gaffes, including a Mac Adams pick.
• Our passing game: Yes, Florida probably has the nation's best secondary. But playmakers make plays, and our receivers are not playmakers. Our O-line gave Mac enough protection and he did a good job of getting his passes off quickly and hitting Brandon Barden. But we lack big, fast, physical receivers. You know, like the ones Florida has. Just like in the South Carolina game, the obvious difference between the two teams was that our opponent had playmakers at receiver and tight ends that ran and caught like NFL receivers.
• We lost. Let's face it: Florida is a winner and all they these days is win. I don't think Urban Meyer gives a rip about stats or points as long as he wins and feels like he's improving to the point where he can beat Alabama and Texas when he finally faces them in the inevitable big pressure games. He did not want to crush Vanderbilt. He ran a vanilla game plan because he knew he would win, and so he did. He has a great defense and he knew we couldn't score on it, so he didn't need to score a million points on us like Georgia Tech did.

• Upson's inadvertent kneeling on the punt was an absolute killer. It gift-wrapped a touchdown for a Gators offense that was having trouble scoring against us. And, if stats mean anything to you, it meant we finished with 27 carries for 99 yards instead of 26 carries for 113 yards.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Vanderbilt-Florida update: Commodores kick field goal to make it 13-3

Vanderbilt continues to play well:

• Steven Stone appears to have fully returned from injury and sacked Tebow on the opening drive of the second half. Which has to make Vandy fans wonder how much we've missed him. You know, when people talks about the Commodores' miserable season, nobody mentions the injuries to Stone and Ryan Hamilton.

• Ryan Fowler just booted a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 10 points. TV cameras showed Jared Hawkins celebrating on the sidelines in street clothes. And we do mean street clothes. These days he's dressing like he thinks he's a rapper.

• Warren Norman now has 130 yards on 13 touches, including 59 yards rushing on nine carries, including a sweet 30 yard run that put the Dores in the red zone.

• T.J. Greenstone just sacked Tebow. Six minutes left in the third quarter and the score still 13-3.

Vanderbilt-Florida update: Commodores down 13-0 at halftime

OK, so this time last year we were 5-3 instead of 2-7. We were also down 35-0 to Florida at halftime in Nashville because we couldn't tackle Tebow.

Right now it's halftime in the Swamp. And we're down 13-0. And the touchdown came after a Mackenzi Adams interception. And we've actually sacked Tebow and put him on the run.

The Dores are playing great, as evidenced by:

• Holding Gators to 163 yards and one touchdown at halftime.
• Picking up seven first downs, which has helped keep the defense off the field.
• Warren Norman with 94 total yards on 10 touches. Urban Meyer told the ESPN2 crew that he'd vote for Norman for SEC freshman of the year if he had to vote now.
• Norman and Stacy averaging about 4 ypc against the legendary Gator D.
• Brett Upson, who seems to have acquired a bit of a belly, lost the handle on a high snap deep in VU territory at the end of the first half, grabbed the ball, juked the Gators' Chris Rainey, booted a rugby kick, got knocked down legally because he was out of the pocket while the ball rolled down the field and was downed by the Dores while time expired.

Go ahead and say we don't have moral victories. But I'm proud of the Commodores right now. As I told the Gator First blogger earlier this week, I really didn't think there was any way we'd score a touchdown in the first half. And we didn't. But our defense has played well and our offense is at least moving the ball from time to time.

Or maybe not

With 12 minutes left in the half, it's now 10-0 Gators. We're probably looking at 34-0 at halftime. I just don't know how we can score against these guys.

Vanderbilt-Florida update: Commodores look like they want to beat the spread

My 9-year-old son just asked me if it would be a big deal if Vanderbilt beat Florida.

"Well," I said, "it would be our biggest win ever."

And probably Florida's worst loss ever. After all, the Gators are a 35-point favorite.

It's 3-0 Gators at the end of the first half. We all know this thing could get out of hand fast.

But right now it's only 3-0 Gators.

As far as Mackenzi Adams goes, he's already got a pick and doesn't look like he's capable of making the strong-armed tough throws needed to penetrate the SEC's best offense. But we already knew that. And Stacy and Norman look like they could be playing for Florida. But we already knew that too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Picks for this weekend's SEC games

Last week, we got bored and then we got crazy and picked a bunch of improbable upsets.

But alas, Georgia did not upset Florida (dumb) and Vandy did not upset Tech (dumber).

I knew better to pick those upsets. I didn't know better when I picked SC over UT and UM over AU.

Anyway, last week's 3-4 showing dropped me to 54-14 on the year, or 77.8 percent. Ouch. I'd like to crack 80 percent.

Enough analysis. Here are this week's picks:

SOUTH CAROLINA AT ARKANSAS: I really thought Spurrier and the Gamecocks would get it done last week on the road in Knoxville. Now even less sure about this week's trip to Arkansas. The question is, which Razorback defense will show up? Frankly, picking any games not involving Florida, Alabama, LSU or Vanderbilt has been extremely tricky this year. I'm going with Spurrier one more time this year. Gamecocks 23-21.

TENNESSEE TECH AT GEORGIA: Ah, back to those red helmets. And lousy opponents. Bulldogs 41-3.

EASTERN KENTUCKY AT KENTUCKY: Man, I'm jealous of the Wildcats' schedule. Wildcats 31-10.

FURMAN AT AUBURN: Man, I'm jealous of the Tigers' schedule. At least for this week. Tigers 48-10.

LSU AT ALABAMA: Should be a low-scoring struggle. Which means it may not be. Saban does a great job when he's got extra time to prepare for a team — well, as long as it's not Utah. Crimson Tide 31-17.

MEMPHIS AT TENNESSEE: When I'm feeling down, I like to think about the time when a Memphis Tiger fell down on a kickoff return but nobody noticed and he just lifted his knee off the grass and kept on running for a touchdown and Tennessee lost. Won't happen this year. Volunteers 24-10.

VANDERBILT AT FLORIDA: A couple of weeks ago, Vandy was just what the doctor ordered for an ailing Georgia team. Now Vandy is just what the doctor ordered for a Florida team that... well, that doesn't really need a doctor. Gators 38-10.

NORTHERN ARIZONA AT OLE MISS: At least the Rebels have some nice scrapbooks filled with all the cool news clippings they collected last summer. Rebels 40-13.

Now we answer the Florida fan and blogger's questions

Yesterday we gave you our questions for James Brown of Gators First, a Florida fan Web site. And now here are his questions, as well as our answers.

Gators First: A good place to start is the name of your blog, Moral Victory. What would constitute a “moral victory” for the Commodores this weekend? Do you think this happens?
Moral Victory!: While fans from other schools find the name hilarious, some Vandy fans hate it because (1) they don’t realize how incredibly far behind the rest of the SEC we are in terms of recruiting, overall, talent, stadium size, tradition and overall record since the 1930s, when we were really good; and (2) they didn’t major in English and don’t appreciate irony. These fans will tell you we don’t have moral victories. Not true.

Last year’s Florida game was decidedly not a moral victory. We couldn’t tackle Tebow, couldn’t get a first down, and gave up 28 points in the first 18 minutes of the game.

This weekend, any of the following would constitute a moral victory:
• Another kickoff return touchdown for true freshman Warren Norman, who has three this season. (Won’t happen.)
• Down by only seven at halftime and down by only 14 going into the fourth quarter. (Won’t happen.)
• Scoring a touchdown in the first half. (Won’t happen.)

Gators First: Urban Meyer has stated that he expects the Vanderbilt offense to remain the same with Mackenzie Adams taking snaps instead of the injured Larry Smith. Is this a correct assumption? What differences would you expect?

Moral Victory!: If by “stay the same” he means “continue to suck” he’s probably right, and that’s probably what he’s thinking even though he knows better than to kick a nerd when he’s down. Larry Smith’s first year as a starter had been a tough one and lots of fans have been screaming for Mackenzi since the Miss State game, but Larry was the right call. He’s fast and strong, and he can throw on the run. He’s got the arm to fire the long bomb or hit the quick outside stuff. The problem is, he’s had no time to throw, and our receivers have dropped about half his passes.

Mac reads defenses better and is what you’d call scrappy but he has a pedestrian arm. Against Florida, I expect him to complete more passes than Larry would but for fewer yards and fewer first downs. We’ve got some nice freshmen running backs in Norman and Zac Stacy, but our offensive line is woeful and we won’t be able to set up the pass. It’ll be a long day for Mac. Larry’s a better athlete and would have been able to occasionally create something out of nothing, but don’t expect that from Mac.

Gators First: Vanderbilt made its first bowl appearance since 1982 last season (and won for the first time since 1955). You projected them for 7-5 this season, when our site polled a variety of SEC bloggers. To put it simply: what happened? Really, Army?
Moral Victory!: Bobby Johnson says all the time that Vandy has zero margin for error, and he’s right. No other SEC team should lose to Vanderbilt. Ever. Which makes it so much fun to hear, in recent years, fans from Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee go insane when we beat them. It doesn’t happen much, and a real Vanderbilt fan realizes this and savors the moment.

Did you see how we won last season? We were way overmatched, struggled horribly on offense and gave up a ton of yards, but somehow we dominated in turnover margin and time of possession and field position and red zone offense and red zone defense. It was a magical season. I took my family to the Music City Bowl and will never forget the elation we all felt when we won. We wanted to believe it meant that Vanderbilt football would never be the same again, but in retrospect I think we knew we were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

How could I not pick us to have a winning season after that? But I’m not surprised with how the season’s gone. Our offensive line fell apart after sophomore tackle James Williams was lost for the season against LSU. Our three new starting receivers dropped just about every pass on third and long, and we kept going three and out (and quickly, thanks to the new no-huddle offense). Our defense is tough but our front seven is not big enough to move the line of scrimmage or take the continual hammering from huge offensive lines. And our defensive backs, while fairly talented, are very young, and our gambling defense depends on them handling elite receivers like A.J. Green one-on-one, with varying degrees of success.

Oh, and we stopped getting the breaks and the calls stopped going our way.

Against Army? It was Armed Forces Day. I was there, and it was unbelievable. Warren Norman had two 50+ yard touchdown runs called back, the winning touchdown in regulation was wiped off the board after a bogus picking call on one of our wide receivers, and in overtime Norman fumbled as he was diving into the end zone and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback, setting up the winning field goal by Army.

Gators First: Were Vanderbilt fans ever worried about losing Bobby Johnson to another job? How do they feel about him now?
Moral Victory!: Yes, we were very worried after our 5-0 start last season, which coincided with Tommy Bowden’s firing at Clemson, which is Johnson’s alma mater. While we hated losing the next four games in a row, we liked the fact that it took Johnson off the radar. I’m still a big fan of Johnson’s, but clearly he’s a defensive guy who needs some innovative offensive minds on his staff. Most fans want to keep Johnson and fire offensive coordinator Ted Cain. Both Johnson and Cain would love to be playing the style of ball that Florida’s playing right now: Dominating defense and impeccable special teams combined with just enough offense to crush the other team’s spirits in the fourth quarter.

Gators First: What is the single biggest factor to Vanderbilt’s success (prior to this season), compared to its previous position in the basement of the SEC?

Moral Victory!: I’d say Johnson and staff have greatly improved our team speed and depth, especially on defense.

Gators First: If you could take one player (not named Tebow) off of this Florida team, and put him in your lineup, who would you take? How much would this change the current state of the team? For that matter, how much better would Vanderbilt be if you did choose Tebow?

Moral Victory!: I don’t know where to begin. I’d say an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman. We get 230-pound kids and put another 50 pounds on them, but they’re still undersized for SEC linemen. While it would be awfully hard to leave Carlos Dunlap on the table, I might instead go with one of the Pouncey twins or Carl Johnson. Why? Because SEC defensive lines consistently dominate us. In fact, after we played Miss State, LSU and Georgia, a defensive lineman from those teams was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week (Pernell McPhee, Rahim Alem and Geno Atkins).

It would be interesting to see what Tebow could do at Vanderbilt, meaning without an offensive line, wide receivers, and so many chances to convert on third and short. I think he’d be a little like Jay Cutler. Sure, Cutler had a big-time arm, but at Vanderbilt he was known for mostly being tough and resourceful. Remember, he didn’t win more than two games until his senior year. I think Tebow would have done better than that with the same talent Cutler had around him, maybe three wins, five wins, six wins and eight wins. And I think last year’s Vandy team wins nine games instead of seven with Tebow, and this year’s team is 5-4 instead of 2-7.

Gators First: Seriously, what’s up with your basketball court?

Moral Victory!: It looks dark and strange on television, but it’s one of the best places in America to watch a basketball game, especially if you’re a Vandy fan in search of some home cooking. It’s built in tiers like an opera house and all the seats are right over the court.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Florida fan and blogger answers our questions

As Vandy journeys down to the Swamp, we're swapping questions with James Brown (not pictured above) over at Gators First. He feels good, and you would too if your team was No. 1 in the nation and contending for its third national championship in four years. I'll let you know when he posts my answers to his questions. In the meantime, here's what I asked him, along with his answers:

Moral Victory!: In 1996, a two-win Vanderbilt team scared the daylights out of No. 1 and eventual national champion Florida, losing 28-21. It was the closest any SEC team came to beating the Gators. Is it possible for the Commodores to come that close again on Saturday? What would have to happen?

Gators First: It seemed like those Widenhofer teams were always playing us closer than anyone else, but in those days we didn't have Game Plan or a way to watch Vanderbilt play other teams, so I'm a little surprised they only won two games in those years. I knew they were not football juggernauts and not going to bowl games, but they always seemed to have a decent defense. Until we hung 70 on old Woody and he was gone soon after.
Is it possible they could keep it within 7? I'd say so. But even if the score was somewhat close, I think it'd be one of those games where Florida was never even worried about the final outcome. We could keep it on the ground, and play ultra conservative, which is what Urban Meyer has done for probably 90 percent of the games he's coached at Florida. We could kick a lot of field goals and keep our total points down. Then some turnovers happen, or a Myron Lewis TAINT (TD after an INT, if you're not familiar with Bill Simmons) when backup Johnny Brantley comes in to chuck it around some, and all of a sudden you're thinking "hey it's a two-score game." But the Vanderbilt offense is going to have tough going against this Gator defense, so I don't think anyone will reasonably think the outcome is in doubt, and this team is so driven I don't think anyone will sneak up on them again, especially after Arkansas had their shot.
I'm still going to take Florida and lay the points.
Moral Victory!: Does anything scare you about this Vanderbilt team? If so, what?
Gators First: Only that they'll be playing with nothing to lose. Bobby Johnson is an extremely underrated coach, in my opinion- I don't know enough about the Commodores to know exactly what went on this season — and they are capable of playing very good football. At this time last week, I was comparing our quest for a repeat to that of our basketball squad a couple years ago — in those games, every team came out of the locker room more fired up than us, and games were closer than you'd expect, or we were behind for longer than you'd expect, because we were every team's Super Bowl.
I thought Vanderbilt was going to be better than this, and so I obviously think they are capable of playing much better than their record shows (hell, you predicted a 7-5 year on our site back in August). But, again, I think this team has their act together after overcoming the struggles against Arkansas, so they will not be over-looking anyone (well, maybe FIU in 2 weeks, but in that case it really doesn't matter). So to answer the question, very little scares me — even if Vanderbilt plays us tougher than most expect, I don't think I'll ever contemplate losing to Vanderbilt. Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett aren't there any more.

Moral Victory!: Many Vandy fans have an unrealistic assessment of our talent. Don't know how familiar you are with the Vanderbilt players, but which Vandy players, if any, do you think could crack the Florida depth chart? (Urban Meyer was very high on our middle LB, Chris Marve, and CB Myron Lewis is an NFL prospect.)
Gators First: I'm not as familiar with this year's Vanderbilt team as I have been in years past. With that said, I don't think it's unrealistic to say, "none of them" — if you're talking about starting. Alex Washington would definitely get on the field, as would the guys you mentioned — but we returned almost our entire team after winning the championship.
We have arguably the best CB tandem in the nation, so Myron Lewis wouldn't start (though he'd get substantial minutes. I strongly dislike seeing Wondy Pierre-Louis in on defense, and we do play a lot of nickel, and have a history of playing a lot of guys in our defensive rotation). So not starting in this defensive backfield is no disrespect to Mr. Lewis — but our two guys are also going to go highly in the NFL draft. He'd definitely be on the two-deep.
My guess is Chris Marve would start this week, because of the Spikes suspension... and would be in the rotation, otherwise. But we did return the entire two-deep on defense, and only lost 2 tackles and 2 WRs on offense. Considering you're going with a freshman at tackle, I'd say Alex Washington is the only guy on offense that could crack the depth chart. We don't really have any TE depth behind Aaron Hernandez (actually, I don't even think we have a healthy backup TE, period), so Brandon Barden would be a huge upgrade over the FBs, OTs, and WRs we'd have to force into action. And with an actual useful backup, we might get to implement some of the 2-TE sets we supposedly developed for Hernandez and Cornelius Ingram — before Ingram's injury (and jump to the NFL).

Moral Victory!: Tim Tebow got his concussion during a blowout of Kentucky. At what point on Saturday does Meyer pull Tebow?

Gators First: Let's get something straight before I respond: Florida jumped out to an early lead (31-0 in the first quarter), and the offense stalled for the next quarter and a half (it was 31-7, middle of the 3rd at the time Tebow was injured). Part of those 31 points can be attributed to special teams, as well.  No reasonable college football fan expects players to start getting rested — with a bye week coming up — at the start of the second quarter, on the road, in a conference game. Meyer was leaving Tebow in to get a little work in the passing game (without throwing it every down, as then he gets blasted for "running up the score") — between Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin taking their games to Sundays, Riley Cooper playing Texas Summer League baseball instead of working on football, and Deonte Thompson's injuries, I believe Meyer was just trying to work some things out, timing wise, before heading into a bye and traveling to Baton Rouge. He was probably going to pull Tebow out after that drive, assuming it resulted in a touchdown, because we had started moving the ball again.  I'm usually the first one to want to go to the backup, and it didn't cross my mind- until, like everyone else, Tebow was laying on the ground.
The previous explanation was necessary to answer your question — I don't know if it's a time/score thing as much as it is a feel. We'd need a huge lead, he'll probably come back out after halftime for at least a series — and it also depends on how well the passing game is clicking. Because with a tough defense to face in Columbia next week, we need to work out some kinks. I don't mean to be dismissive of Vanderbilt here, but the premise of the question assumes that at some point we are looking at a blowout, no?
For what it's worth, I checked last season's play-by-play: Brantley entered in the 3rd quarter, our second posession. I dunno if this is because it was the second series, and the plan was for Tebow to play only one series after the half — or if it was a product of the Vanderbilt scoring drive immediately preceeding it taking 8 minutes off the clock (meaning Brantley entered in the 3rd, but with only 1 minute to go). So did Meyer pull Tebow at the 9:39 mark of the 3rd quarter, or the the 1:04 mark? I think Tebow was out of the game regardless of what happened during that Vandy drive. So I'll say Tebow gets pulled after the first series of the second half, at the earliest. And I'm already on record for saying I think the game will play out that way.
Moral Victory!: Ryan Seymour, a redshirt freshman left tackle, will be starting the first game of his career in the Swamp on Saturday. He said Tuesday that he couldn't think of a better opponent to get his first start against than Florida, and he said he's seen faster players than Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham. What advice do you have for young Ryan?

Gators First: Uh, don't eat too soon before the game. You may throw up otherwise. The noise for a night game at the Swamp should be deafening — at least early on, because as soon as the game starts looking like it's in hand, the students will get bored of not drinking inside the stadium and leave to go somewhere that does provide alcohol. Which is probably why we didn't have as much homefield advantage down the stretch in 2005 as we should have.
As far as faster players than Dunlap and Cunningham — I've seen them, too. Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Percy Harvin, etc., etc. Carlos Dunlap is a freak of nature. In high school, as a 6'7", 275-lb. DE, he returned punts. 
Moral Victory!: How many passing yards does John Brantley get on Saturday?
Gators First: Less than 100. Probably less than 50. A year ago, he got 20 and didn't look very good (though he completed 3 out of 4 to Gators- the 4th you guys caught). He looks much better now (and I'd like to see him used a little more), but we'll have likely have around 20 passing attempts on the day — figure 12-15 of those for Tebow, depending on the offense's success. Brantley's only got 232 yards for the year, over 4 games (in only 3 of which he attempted a pass). 30 of those were against UK, the others were against Sun Belt powerhouse Troy and FCS Charleston Southern. I bet he's something like 4-5 for 36 yards. They haven't changed the offense much when he did come in — he even out-rushed Tebow against Charleston Southern.

Moral Victory!: Who do Florida fans hope to face in the national championship game this season?
Gators First: I was hoping to give USC the smackdown they deserved. So I had to settle for living vicariously though Oregon this past weekend. I guess I'd like to face Texas. Probably because I now live in Texas, and they were so loud after getting 'left out' of the BCS Championship a year ago. And I'd like to go ahead and play the best college football has to offer — so that there's no controversy. 
That being said, Florida-Alabama in Atlanta has me more excited, and more worried.  The game was epic last year — very few mistakes on either side by two very well-coached teams. With the time to prepare for a BCS game, it has me much less worried than that game in Atlanta at the end of an SEC gauntlet.
And on certain days if you ask me, I'd probably answer "Western Kentucky." Because as a certain point, I just want this repeating business taken care of. I deal with being an underdog much better, emotionally, than being expected to win every game.

Moral Victory!: We usually wear gold helmets but do you think it would help if at game time Vandy switched to black helmets?

Gators First: Haha — No. And I'm usually one who believes in uniform karma, to an extent. I would say you should steer clear of doing anything to mimic Georgia. After all, Dawgs lick balls.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Moral Victory! Power Ratings for the SEC

Entering the 10th week of the season, here's the pecking order:
• The Big Three: The nation's top two teams, Alabama and Florida, plus LSU, the team whose only loss was to Florida
• Shaky Four: Tennessee, South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia — taking turns bouncing each other out of Top 25 contention
• Sleepy Two: Alternately powerful and lethargic, Arkansas and Ole Miss could finish the season in New Year's Day bowls — or sitting in their living rooms
• Scrappy little brothers: Miss State and Kentucky are fighting for their bowl lives, with the Bulldogs gaining the upper hand last Saturday
• Sinking ship: Commodores going nowhere, but trying to take somebody down with them

Here's a closer look:

1. Alabama: 8-0 (5-0): Gets the nod over Florida, for the time being, because of its victory of Va Tech and its thrashing of Arkansas, a team that scared the daylights out of the Gators.

2. Florida: 8-0 (6-0): Sitting pretty, as a head-to-head matchup with Bama in the SEC championship game nears reality.

3. LSU: 7-1 (4-1): Clearly the No. 3 team right now, with an opportunity to beat Bama and then Florida in the SEC championship, but Bama will be ready, and so will the Tigers' other remaining opponents Arkansas and Ole Miss.

4. Tennessee: 4-4 (3-3): The win over SC was huge, and now the Vols are bursting with confidence and contending for a New Year's bowl.

5. South Carolina: 6-3 (3-3): Lots of opportunities remain, but the Gamecocks must continue to improve on offense to avoid their annual late-season collapse.

6. Auburn 6-3 (3-3): Tigers followed their beat-down in Baton Rouge with an impressive home win over the Rebels. Now it's homecoming against Furman and then a date in Athens.

7. Georgia: 4-4 (3-3): Dawgs need to finish strong, but Ga Tech is looming and Auburn poses a major threat.

8. Ole Miss: 5-3 (2-3): Who are we going to hype next summer?

9. Arkansas: 4-4 (1-4): Not even a massacre of Eastern Michigan can erase the pain of the Ole Miss loss. Still, the Razorbacks could find themselves in a New Year's Day bowl if they finish strong.

10. Miss State: 4-5 (2-3): A very big win over Kentucky keeps the Bulldogs in the bowl hunt.

11. Kentucky: 4-4 (1-4): The Wildcats beat Auburn on the road and lose to Miss State at home. Kind of sums up the season for everybody in the SEC not named Alabama, Florida or LSU.

12. Vanderbilt: 2-7 (0-5): It'll take wins over Kentucky and Tennessee to save face for the Commodores this season. But that means a quarterback other than Larry Smith led us to victory, which would have everybody wondering why Bobby Johnson stuck with Smith for so long.