Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sign of the apocalypse: Turner Wimberly starting at wide receiver?

Jeff Lockridge of the Tennessean writes today that Turner Wimberly may get the start at wide receiver.


Wimberly hasn't been listed on the two-deep this season, and the fact that we're even talking about him starting shows how shaky the Commodores are at receiver. Wimberly was recruited as a quarterback in the same class as Jared Funk — Funk & Wimberly sounds like a great law firm or maybe a comic strip but will go down in history as a prime example why Vandy should never recruit two quarterbacks in the same year, especially quarterbacks who can't really play another position. Right now, Funk is playing on punt coverage or some such special team and Wimberly moved to receiver (where else was he going to play?) and has been an afterthought there until, well, today.

While my choice to replace Cole would be his twin brother Collin Ashley, I certainly wish Master Wimberly all the best if and when he faces the Rebels. But if things should go awry with our passing game Saturday, I suggest you chant these names to yourself: Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause, Jerrell Priester, Bradley Roby and Trent Pruitt — the dynamic collection of high school receivers (or guys capable of playing receiver) who've committed to play for the Commodores — and play they will.

In the meantime, let's review how the Dores arrived at their current predicament:

At the start of spring practice, the starting lineup looked like this:

• Terence Jeffers: A big, physical, big-time talent who could play for anybody in the SEC. And could probably have become eligible at any SEC school but Vanderbilt.

• Justin Wheeler: Senior receiver whose clutch catches helped pull monumental upsets of South Carolina in Columbia and Auburn in Nashville. Blew out his knee in spring, which ended his career.

• John Cole: Talented little receiver who as a true freshman played in the opener but injured his knee and was redshirted. Has gotten stronger and battled back from the knee injury and a series of other injuries in the preseason. Broke his hand in the first quarter at Rice but kept playing and recorded a career-high seven receptions.

Now here's Vandy's receiving corps, in order of receptions:

1. Cole (12-119 yards): The redshirt freshman plans to play with a cast on his broken hand. Probably won't start on Saturday.

2. Udom Umoh (9-139): The fastest and most physically talented receiver remaining on the roster. As a redshirt frosh last season, had a case of the dropsies in practice and recorded his first catches in the Music City Bowl. Has started all four games this season.

3. Alex Washington (6-72): Fifth-year senior who's been crippled by injuries most of his career. Finally starting at receiver, he's suffered some high-profile drops, especially his bobble in the Baton Rouge resulting in an interception that effectively put that game on ice. Still listed as a starter.

4. Collin Ashley (6-42): True freshman who had to wait until Wheeler was injured in spring practice — several months after national signing day — to even get a scholarship offer. But he's wowed coaches with his route-running, sure-handedness and toughness. Could start on Saturday in place of Cole. Listed on second team.

5. Wimberly (4-47): The redshirt junior jump-started the listing Vandy offense with a nice 21-yard catch late in the Miss State game, then had three catches against Rice. Not listed on depth chart.

6. Justin Green (1-46): At 6-6, 235, this redshirt junior and converted tight end has one of those all-airport team bodies. But only one reception. OK, it was Vandy's only receiving touchdown of the year (!) but still only one reception. Listed on second team.

7. Tray Herndon (1-17): Sophomore transfer was impressive as a true freshman for Minnesota, but only has one reception so far this season. Listed on second team.

8. Brady Brown (0-0): Highly touted true freshman was supposed to waltz into the starting lineup as a possession receiver, but has taken a backseat to fellow Texan Ashley. Has played in the WC and Rice games, with no receptions.

9. Chris Reinert (0-0): Fifth-year walk-on landed a scholarship for his hard-nosed play and is a fixture on special teams.

Players at other positions who have caught passes:

1. Austin Monahan (8-76): Redshirt sophomore claimed in the preseason that he and Brandon Barden compose the nation's finest tight end combination.

2. Brandon Barden (7-67): Redshirt sophomore made the SEC's all-freshman team but has a ways to go before making the big-boy team.

3. Zac Stacy (2-14): True freshman has been busy carrying the ball, and is now struggling with an ankle injury.

4. Warren Norman (1-11): True freshman has been busy toting the rock too, but is also known as a talented receiver out of the backfield, and could be used more in that capacity.

4. Kennard Reeves (1-11): Redshirt junior has been running hard and could get more passes thrown his way.

6. Jermaine Doster (1-6): Redshirt sophomore got his catch against Western Carolina and will likely ride the pine for the rest of the season.

7. Jared Hawkins (0-0): Senior looked good in his return to action against Rice and is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vandy receivers are catching the ball like their hands are broken

Bobby Johnson announced in his press conference yesterday that John Cole broke his hand against Rice, didn't say anything to coaches, and kept on playing. Not quite as impressive as Ryan Hamilton playing in Baton Rouge with one of his pec muscles torn off the bone, but still pretty stout.

Except that John was trying to catch the ball with his body — you know, because his hand was broken — and he dropped a pass when it bounced off his chest. I appreciate the warrior mentality, and he did have a season-high seven receptions, but sheez, when you're having trouble catching the ball with two non-broken hands, you might want to consider removing yourself from the game when you do break one of them.

Besides, true freshman Collin Ashley looks like a clone of Cole and made a huge catch over the middle, hanging onto the ball after getting leveled by a defender who was running at full tilt. Ashley's my bet to start in Cole's place on Saturday. Cole may play this week with a cast but, as Johnson says, "it's asking a lot for a wide receiver to play with a broken hand."

As for Cole's 31-yard touchdown off a reverse, we're not going to miss his rushing skills if he doesn't get on the field against Ole Miss. There's no way he gains more than a couple yards on that play against the Rebel defense. Those guys are loaded up front and fast on the corners. Rice was not.

Speaking of injuries:

• Sean Richardson looked like he'd recovered against his leg injury against Rice, except that he tore a tendon in his thumb. Johnson thinks he can play with a cast on Saturday.
• Jamie Graham still hasn't been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Miss State.
• Steven Stone isn't ready to go this week. He can run in a straight line but he can't cut or push off on his foot yet.
• T.J. Greenstone has a sore knee, but a pack of wild boar hogs couldn't keep him off the field.
• Zac Stacy hasn't recovered from his ankle injury, and is missing a lot of practice time this week. “He’s just not the same player right now," Johnson said.

When asked if he's ever had this many injuries this early in the season, Johnson said, "Not even close."

The defense continues to play remarkably well considering all the losses. We've played four games and given up only six touchdowns, and just one passing touchdown. Trice has stepped back into his old safety position, allowing Stokes to step back into his old starting position at strongside linebacker. No problem.

The offense remains the big question. Larry Smith ranks 110th in the nation and last in the SEC in passing efficiency. (I mention this so Charlie Goro's growing fan club can have a reason to comment.) In order to pass, we've got to be able to establish the run, but South Carolina had no success running the ball against Ole Miss last Thursday.

On the bright side, Jared Hawkins looked good on Saturday and brings a fresh set of legs, leadership and some strong inside running. And Udom Umoh continues to improve and looks like the closest thing we've got right now to a big-play receiver.

Think we can beat Ole Miss?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moral Victory! power ratings for Week 4

Now teams are starting to play somebody.

1. Alabama, 4-0 (1-0)
The Tide couldn't be in better position after dominating a Razorback offense that gave Georgia fits last week.
Last week: No. 1
Next week: At Kentucky

2. Georgia, 3-1 (2-0)
Has there ever been a more boring last-second victory? The Bulldogs messed around with the Sun Devils and were lucky to win. Still, they haven't faced a single cupcake yet, and they've handed South Carolina its only loss. They can take a big leap in the polls with a victory over LSU on Saturday.
Last week: No. 2
Next week: At home against LSU

3. South Carolina, 3-1 (1-1)
Spurrier chalked up a signature victory over Ole Miss, the nation's No. 4 team, and are trying not to think about that last drive in Athens.
Last week: No. 5
Next week: At home against SC State

4. Auburn, 4-0 (1-0)
Tigers looked uninspired — and surrendered 30 points — in a win over a bad Ball State team. But they're undefeated, and their stomping of Miss State a couple of weeks ago looks pretty good after the Bulldogs' near-upset of LSU.
Last week: No. 3
Next week: At home against Ball State

5. LSU, 4-0 (2-0)
How good are the five-star Bayou Bengals? They couldn't deliver a knockout blow of Washington or Vandy, and they were mighty lucky to escape Starkville with a W. Next up: Georgia and Florida.
Last week: No. 4
Next week: At Georgia

6. Florida, 4-0 (1-0)
With Tebow recovering from a concussion, the Gators' bye week couldn't have come at a better time.
Last week: No. 6
Next week: Bye

7. Miss State, 2-2 (1-2)
Dan Mullen is playing to win, and his Bulldogs dang near beat LSU. Now can they avenge last year's whipping at the hands of the Yellow Jackets?
Last week: No. 10
Next week: At home against Georgia Tech

8. Ole Miss, 2-1 (0-1)
The Rebels are proof that the polls should open, say, in the fourth week of the season. Think these guys miss Peria Jerry and Michael Oher?
Last week: No. 9
Next week: At Vanderbilt

9. Kentucky, 2-1 (0-1)
Oh well, lots of teams have gotten the snot beaten out of them by Florida. And by Alabama, too.
Last week: No. 12
Next week: At home against Alabama

10. Vanderbilt, 2-2 (0-2)
The Commodores have whipped two inferior teams. Beating Ole Miss at home on Saturday would be a huge deal and would put them back where they expected to be at this point in the season. But can they do it?
Last week: No. 11
Next week: At home against Ole Miss

11. Tennessee, 2-2 (0-1)
The problem with making the third game on your schedule the game of the year? Well, you've still got nine more teams to play, and the too-narrow win over Ohio shows you've got to come to play everyday. Auburn will be much, much tougher.
Last week: No. 8
Next week: At home against Auburn

12. Arkansas, 1-2 (0-2)
Sure, Petrino's got some horses or hogs or whatever they call talented athletes in Arkansas, but the Bama whipping shows he's still got a ways to go. Going into Week 5, his only victory is over Southeast Missouri.
Last week: No. 7
Next week: In Cowboys Stadium against Texas A&M

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Still three SEC teams in the Top 4

Ole Miss loses and free-falls in the Top 25, but the Rebels are replaced by LSU. Which means Vandy's already played one Top 4 team (LSU), plus a team that came inches from beating that team (Miss State). Oh, and the Commodores still must play the No. 1 team in the nation (Florida) as well as two more Top 25 teams (Georgia and Ole Miss) and another team that's knocking on the door (South Carolina).

Here are the SEC teams getting some action from national pollsters:

• Florida: No.1 AP/No. 1 USA Today

• Alabama: 3/3

• LSU: 4/4

• Georgia: 18/14

• Ole Miss: 21/18

• Auburn: 27/28

• South Carolina: 28/29

Unranked and no votes received:

• Arkansas

• Kentucky

• Miss State

• Tennessee

• Vanderbilt

What a difference a win makes

So we feel better about our football team this week, don't we? No mind that Rice is nowhere near as talented as LSU or Miss State. The important thing is that the Dores won a game they were supposed to win. Here are some specific things to feel good about:

• WARREN NORMAN: With fellow true freshman Zac Stacy still struggling with injury, Norman went bananas, touching the ball 14 times and picking up 175 total yards — two kick returns for 45 yards, an 11-yard reception and 11 rushes for 119 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown run.

• A 58-YARD TD RUN: When's the last time Vandy had a long touchdown run? Last season's longest scoring run was 27 yards by Jamie Graham...against Rice. The season before, it was Sean Walker for 15 yards against Georgia. John Cole's 31-yard TD run in the first quarter surpassed both of those. But isn't it nice to have a running touchdown by an actual running back?

• THERON KADRI: Glad he stuck with the team. He had a two sacks in the game, slightly ahead of Greg Billinger's 1.5 sacks.

• INTERCEPTIONS: Patrick Benoist had the first pick of his career, which was nice to see because he's done so much for Vandy in his four seasons. Myron Lewis had two big picks — bringing his career tally to eight — to kill a late drive, and freshman Eddie Foster recorded an interception as well.

• EDDIE FOSTER: The little speedster has been thrown into the fire at defensive back and he's been a revelation. After the game, Myron Lewis said of Foster, "He's an amazing player, man. He's young, physical and he's a ballhawk.

• BRENT TRICE: With Jamie Graham at home in Nashville and Sean Richardson injured, the team needed Trice, one of the few seniors on the team not to redshirt during his career, to move back to safety.

• THE LONG BALL: Don't forget that Larry can chunk it long, and Udom Umoh emerged Saturday as a deep threat. The two hooked up on a 54-yard completion to the 10-yard line. Johnson challenged because he said everybody on the sideline told him Umoh had stayed in bounds. He hadn't. Larry still needs to work on his short game. He missed on some screens and short throws. Oh, and by the way, where was Austin Monahan, who'd been practicing one-on-one with Larry this week? He didn't have a catch.

• 41 PASSES: We knew we could run on Rice, and so we did. But the offense needed to fine-tune the passing game. Glad to see Larry throw that many passes. In the end, we ran 43 times and passed 41. That's a good balance.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vanderbilt rolling to victory in Houston

Midway through the fourth quarter and Vandy's up 30-10. We've put up 441 yards total offense, including 268 in the air. Larry's hit John Cole seven times for completions (7-67 yards). He's got 11 completions of 10 or more yards:
• 54 yards to Udom Umoh
• 21 yards to Umoh
• 21 yards to Turner Wimberly
• 19 yards to Cole
• 13 yards to Collin Ashley
• 13 yards to Brandon Barden
• 11 yards to Cole
• 11 yards to Warren Norman
• 11 yards to Ashley
• 11 yards to Wimberly
• 10 yards to Cole

All three of Vandy's TDs have been on the ground, with Cole scoring on the 31-yard run in the first half, Smith scoring on a 6-yard run in the second half, and Warren Norman ripping off a 58-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Greg Billinger has a sack and a half in this game, and Patrick Benoist, Myron Lewis and freshman Eddie Foster each have picks.

Oh nevermind

Rice scores on a 48-yard run, much longer than any play LSU or Miss State could muster against us, to tie it at 7-7.

So far so good for Commodores

We score a single touchdown in eight quarters against SEC opponents and then against Rice we score a touchdown in our very first drive. We lead 7-0.

And get this — it was a 31-yard run by John Cole. Hey, if you can't catch, you might as well run.

It took six plays, if you don't count the 5-yard penalty we started with:
1. Incomplete pass
2. Jared Hawkins 17-yard run (welcome back, Jared)
3. JHawk for 3 yards
4. Larry to Udom Umoh for 21 yards, for U2's first catch of the season
5. Zac Stacy run for no gain
6. John Cole for 31 yards and a touchdown.

We'll take it. Hopefully we can complete a bunch more passes and the receivers can build confidence.

Why should we go with Goro?

As we approach kickoff for the Rice game, a full quarter of the people responding to our "what-the-heck-should-we-do-about-quarterback" poll believe the answer is burning the redshirt off Charlie Goro and starting him right now. (By the way, nobody believes Mac or Funk is the solution.)

I'm not in the play-Goro-now camp. I believe Larry Smith's the man, at least this season and probably next, and that he's going to bounce back and have a big game against Rice and play pretty well for the rest of the season if he can remain injury-free.

But many of you, including one particularly enthusiastic anonymous poster, believes that Goro is our man — and right stinking now!

I'd like to hear from you folks who think we should go with Goro. I'm all ears.

Miss State takes LSU the distance, which is reason to feel good about the Commodores

OK, so Miss State lost at home today to LSU.

But the Bulldogs had the ball 3rd and goal on the 4-inch line, six points down and about a minute left.

Dan Mullen made a brilliant call to fake the dive and leave a man wide open in the back of the end zone, but his 5-foot-tall quarterback Tyson Lee couldn't arc the ball enough and multi-sport sensation Chad Jones leapt up from the line of scrimmage and actually tipped the ball.

Of course, those morons at the SEC network — only one of them is named Dave now — thought it was a terrible call and wondered why State didn't just run off tackle two straight times when LSU had the box stacked.

It was a brilliant call by Mullen, and Les Miles gets by once again on freakish talent and freakish luck. When Mullen gets himself a decent quarterback, look out. And you'd better believe there's a talented pro-style kid out there who wants to play for the guy who called the plays for Mr. Tebow.

But anyway, this shows, I think, that Miss State wasn't as bad as we thought. The Dogs scared the daylights out of LSU, even with Lee throwing three picks and special teams giving up a critical TD punt return to Jones, who by the way is a real stud.

And if State's not as bad as we thought, then maybe we're not as bad as we thought. In other words, maybe we can beat Rice tonight.

Go Dores.

Moral Victory! predictions for this today's SEC games

Here we go with this week's picks:

LSU at Miss State: Vanderbilt lost by 14 to the Tigers in Baton Rouge and by 12 to the Bulldogs in Nashville. What does this mean? I have no idea. But I do think LSU is more multi-dimensional on offense. I'd love to see the Dogs pull the upset in Starkville, but I think the Tigers are too strong. Bayou Bengals 24-14.

Arkansas at Alabama: Let's see... a highly skilled offense and a porous defense. Expect Saban and Bama to do to the Razorbacks what they did to Georgia in Athens last season. Except this one's in T-Town. Crimson Tide 30-17.

Florida at Kentucky: I'm telling you, Tennessee has a vastly underrated defense. While Kentucky's no cupcake, the Gators will notice the difference in Lexington. Gators 38-14.

Ball State at Auburn: These Tigers are prowling under the radar, but not for long. And Ball State really misses that big quarterback who went to the NFL. Tigers 45-10.

Arizona State at Georgia: Think the Dawgs can give up another 40+ points and win? They'll win, but the D won't look so bad this week. Bulldogs 31-20.

Ohio at Tennessee: The Vols will be glad to be home and playing against a team even Jonathan Crompton can pick on. Volunteers 28-7.

Vanderbilt at Rice: I hope Vanderbilt wins. Let's call it 28-27 Commodores.

Friday, September 25, 2009

No, Jamie Graham's not playing offense this weekend... or defense

Early this week, Vandy fans were still grumbling about Jamie Graham playing defense instead of offense. Jamie, you may remember, scored a critical touchdown last season that put us ahead of Rice.

Well, bad news. Jamie's not playing offense. Oh, and he's not playing defense. Oh, and he's not even traveling to Houston for the game. He's still recovering from a concussion he got in the Miss State game.

Vandy is 1-0 when Jamie Graham doesn't travel to the game. He stayed home from the Lexington trip last year because of injury, which forced Johnson to move D.J. Moore to receiver, which leads me to wonder if we'd even won that game if Jamie had traveled and started against the Wildcats. Not that he wasn't talented, but D.J. Moore's two first-half touchdown receptions had everybody wondering what took Bobby so long to make that move.

Anyway, I'm not suggesting we'll be better on Saturday without Graham. In fact, the secondary will be in a bind.

Here's our secondary depth on opening day against Western Carolina:

• CB: Myron Lewis, Sr.
• CB: Casey Hayward, So.
• FS: Ryan Hamilton, R-Sr.
• SS: Sean Richardson, So.
• NB: Jamie Graham, R-So.

Second team: Redshirt senior Joel Caldwell, redshirt freshman Micah Powell and true freshmen Eric Samuels, Eddie Foster and Trey Wilson

Now here's our current secondary depth:

• CB: Myron Lewis, Sr.
• CB: Casey Hayward, So.
• FS: Joel Caldwell, R-Sr.
• SS: Brent Trice, Sr. (currently starting at linebacker) or Sean Richardson, So. (currently recovering from injury)
• NB: Eric Samuels, Fr.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Moral Victory! Thursday night bonus pick

We're 24-3 (88.9%) picking SEC games so far this season. Which ain't hard to do when everybody's playing FIU and FAU and all the other schools nobody's heard of before.

So we'll put that on the line and pick South Carolina to upset Ole Miss tonight. Call it 24-22. But don't bet on it.

For Vandy fans, it's time for psychological preparation

Thank goodness Vandy plays Rice this weekend, right?

After all, Rice is 0-3 and doesn't have the physical defense or overall talent that LSU and Miss State have, right? And all those Owl skill players who burned us last year have graduated, right? And the Commodores are favored by as many as 10 points, right?

So this should be an easy win, right?

Well, wrong. Vandy fans need to psychologically prepare themselves to lose this game. First, we'll feel even more relieved and elated if we win, which is how we should feel after any win. Second, we'll be more stoic — and less danger to ourselves and society in general — if we at least consider the possibility of a demoralizing loss.

Here are a few scary stats:
• The Vanderbilt offense is averaging 6 points a game against Division I opponents, while Rice is averaging 19 points against DI opponents, including two teams that finished in the regular season Top 10 last season.
• The Vanderbilt defense is allowing 19 points a game against DI teams, which is solid, but not exactly encouraging when you consider it's more than three times as many points as the offense generates.
• Oklahoma State converted on third down only twice in nine tries against the Rice defense.

Here's one encouraging stat:
• The Rice defense is surrendering 47 points a game, including 44 to UAB.

So here's the conundrum: Do we focus on running or passing against Rice? Sounds like we're going to try to pound the ball down their throats and win a ball-control game, just like we always do against lesser opponents (see: MTSU 2005 or Duke 2008). Right now, Bradley Vierling is talking about reestablishing the running game and Ted Cain is talking about simplifying the game plan.

Sure, our running game needed some work, but don't you wish we'd spent a little more time on the passing game during the Western Carolina game? Let's say our offensive line can overpower Rice and pick up big chunks on the ground. So we stick with the running game and get the win. Then we play Ole Miss and all those hulking, freakishly fast defensive linemen and our passing game still needs fine-tuning and we get crushed.

But let's say this thought actually occurs to Ted Cain, and he decides to let Larry sling it around and work out the kinks in the passing game and we get into a shootout.

Which brings up another concern: Our secondary. Rice can sling the ball around. Jamie Graham has a concussion and may not play. Casey Hayward is having migraines. Sean Richardson pulled a muscle in his leg and is limping around. And the best of the true freshmen, Eric Samuels, is still recovering from an ankle injury. Who's left? Here's the list, along with where they stood on the opening day depth chart:

• Joel Caldwell, R-SR: Second team
• Eddie Foster, FR: Not listed
• Trey Wilson, FR: Not listed
• Micah Powell, R-FR: Not listed
• Al Owens, R-FR: Not listed

Alan Strong, too bad you decided to quit the team this summer. Too bad for you and for us.

Anyway, go ahead and psychologically prepare yourselves, Vandy fans.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ah, Rice! But is Vandy ready for somebody they're supposed to beat?

Ah, rice! Especially good with real butter, cracked pepper and a few drops of hot sauce.

Ah, Rice! A team Vandy absolutely must beat. We're on the road, and that's a good thing. We're favored to win, and that's a bad thing. We've got our backs against the wall, and that's probably not a good thing.

But maybe this team is different. Maybe this is a team that finds a way to win in the second half of the season instead of just the first. Two weeks ago, everybody was talking about Larry Smith's coolness under fire and his ability to win. I believe he's going to show that. I believe the young receivers are going to improve. I believe the offensive line is going to gel.

That's got to happen if we're going to even put ourselves in a position to have a winning season.
A couple of weeks ago, I ranked the teams Vandy will have the best chance of beating. Let's review the list.

1. Western Carolina: WIN
2. At Army: No, the Knights don't have SEC talent. For example, one of their starting wide receivers was an offensive lineman last season. (Of course, he is 6-10.)
3. At Rice: Don't have SEC talent either, but do have an offensive system that can score a ton of points. If you haven't noticed, Vandy's ill prepared for a shootout.
4. Miss State: LOSS
5. Kentucky: Looking like the best bet for a conference victory so far, but we never play well on senior day.
6. At South Carolina: At least we believe we can beat them because we've done it the past two years. Think Spurrier will be taking us seriously this year?
7. Ole Miss: Sure, the Rebels are the No. 4 team in the nation but we traditionally have been able to hang tough with them.
8. Georgia Tech: Bobby Johnson knows Paul Johnson's system from past Furman-Georgia Southern battles.
9. Georgia: The Dawgs are heating up on offense, but we usually give them a good fight in Nashville.
10. At Tennessee: We don't match up well with the big defensive front of the Vols, or their big offensive front and bruising running backs.
11. At LSU: LOSS
12. At Florida: Expect the Gator offense to be firing on all cylinders by the time we face them.

After Florida, LSU is the closest thing to a sure loss on Vandy's schedule. So if the Dores can win tonight...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

His receivers can't catch, but at least Bobby Johnson hasn't lost his sense of humor

Bobby Johnson was on his game this morning in his chat with the guys from Nashville sports station 104.5 FM.

At one point, Mark Howard asked Johnson: “How frustrating were the drops by the wide receivers?”

To which Bobby replied: “I enjoyed it.”

Which prompted this question from the former Titans tight end and noted satirist Frank Wycheck: “Bobby, how does it feel to lose a game?”

When asked what he thought about being listed as “Bobby Jones” in the game notes published by the Rice sports information department, Johnson said: “They were probably thinking of my golf game.”

Glad to see he’s still got his sense of humor.

He said two other things I found interesting.

First, he said Larry Smith would have to do something “pretty major” to lose his starting position, like suddenly cop a “bad attitude.” He cited Smith’s strong arm, saying, “He makes all the throws we want.” He also said Smith works hard and prepares well.

Also, Johnson said the C-USA officiating crew aided Rice last season in its up-tempo attack, which was highly successful in the first half. He said Rice had “three or four guys moving when the ball was snapped.”

Expectations continue to drive Vandy fans crazy

Fans and experts decide which games a team should win and which games they should lose, and the result produces either elation, hope or anger. Kind of like a chemical reaction. For example:

• Expecting to win + an actual win = Mild sense of superiority and power, especially if you gain 600 yards against a team named the Catamounts

• Expecting to win + an actual loss = Panic and gloom, or gnashing of teeth if you only score 3 points against a team that surrendered 49 a week earlier

• Expecting to lose + an actual win = Wild elation (see last year's South Carolina, Ole Miss or Auburn games), trash-talking, and going online to check the price of Sugar Bowl tickets

• Expecting to lose + an actual loss = Mild sense of sorrow mingled with hope if you had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter in Baton Rouge and you think you can blame the loss on a single player like, say, Alex Washington

So this season we've felt a mild sense of superiority, followed by a mild sense of sorrow mingled with hope, followed by weeping and gnashing of teeth. We're doomed, right?

How ’bout we take it one game at a time? Remember how last season we started the season winning five games we were favored to lose? Then our expectations got thrown out of whack and we freaked out when we started losing to Miss State, Duke and Tennessee. And at the end of the season, everybody's saying we should have gone 10-3. (Further evidence that we're in unchartered waters.)

Winning a bowl game last season was a huge step for this program. Like Bobby Johnson says, Vandy has to battle to beat anybody they play. That's not poor-mouthing; it's absolutely true. We have the least talent in the SEC and probably always will. To win, we need to do what Wake Forest and even Georgia Tech has been doing with lesser talent: Implement a system that maximizes the players you do have and then execute it perfectly. We're getting there on defense; we all know what's happening to the offense.

But last Saturday was only one game. What if, this season, we stumble out of the gate and then we finish strong? What if we lost a game or two we're supposed to win, but early in the season, and then won some games we're supposed to lose, but late in the season.

I'd consider that an improvement. It would mean we've got more depth, and we're getting stronger as the season progresses and building toward next season, and we've actually improved.

We'll see. But a win would do wonders for our collective psyche right now. Just don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Hey Commodore fans, it's Jimmy Kiser who's calling the plays

Here are a few things we learned from Monday's press conference with Bobby Johnson:

• Stop hatin' on Ted Cain. Because Jimmy Kiser's calling the plays, which Bobby thinks has been fine so far. He says Kiser, the quarterback coach, calls the plays now because he knows the quarterback best and understands what plays he wants to run. So what do fans do now? Call for Jimmy Kiser to be fired instead of Cain?

• Injuries: Jamie Graham had a concussion. That's bad. And he's not getting a chance to play offense because of the lack of depth in the secondary. Eric Samuels didn't "look good" in pregame warm-ups against Miss State and is still nursing an ankle so he didn't play. Jared Hawkins may get in the game Saturday in his home state. Also, he said he'll strongly consider playing safety Jay Fullam if the true freshman can return in the next few weeks from a hand injury.

• New faces: Eddie Foster excelled at cornerback. Linebackers Archie Barnes and Dexter Daniels are playing well on special teams. Johnson also said Warren Norman blocked well and returned kicks well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh no! Vanderbilt is favored to beat Rice

Yes, Vanderbilt is favored to beat the Owls on the road. The line is anywhere from 11 points to 7.5 points.

Think we could even score 11 points? That's three field goals and a safety. Or a touchdown, two-point conversion and a field goal.

Just a reminder: In the past two years, Vandy is 0-3 when favored against Division I opponents.

Moral Victory! power ratings for Week 3

OK, we're getting into the meat of the SEC schedule. Florida and Ole Miss are taking their time, but they'll have a chance to move up soon enough.

Anyway, here are the weekly power rankings:

1. Alabama, 3-0 (0-0)
An impressive opening win followed by the devouring of two cupcakes.
Last week: No. 1
Next week: At home against Arkansas

2. Georgia, 2-1 (2-0)
Joe Cox was sick in the opener but has looked like Joe Montana against Gamecocks and Razorbacks. But what's up with the defense?
Next week: At home against Arizona State

3. Auburn, 3-0 (1-0)
Beat a bowl team in La Tech, dominated an SEC foe in Miss State and wore down a tough WV team.
Last week: No. 6
Next week: At home against Ball State

4. LSU, 3-0 (1-0)
That Washington win looks better than ever, huh? Oh, and the La-Lafayette quarterback wasn't better than Larry Smith after all
Last week: No. 4
Next week: At Miss State

5. South Carolina, 2-1 (0-1)
Has won a defensive struggle over a lower-tier bowl team, lost a shootout to Georgia and messed around with a D-2 club. What's next?
Last week: No. 3
Next week: At home against Ole Miss

6. Florida, 3-0 (0-0)
After administering two wood-shed whippings, the Gators play it surprisingly close against the Vols. Urban Meyer says that's because Kiffin didn't play to win.
Last week: No. 6
Next week: At Kentucky

7. Arkansas, 1-1 (0-1)
The Razorbacks can sling it around, no? Ryan Mallett is already last season's Jevan Snead.
Last week: No. 12
Next week: At Alabama

8. Tennessee, 1-2 (0-1)
Is UCLA really that good? Or is Florida not as good as we thought? Or is Tennessee better than we thought? One thing's for sure: Eric Berry can play some football.
Last week: No. 10
Next week: At Florida (2-0)

9. Ole Miss, 2-0 (0-0)
Two fairly impressive wins over two fairly unimpressive teams.
Last week: No. 8
Next week: Thursday night game at South Carolina

10. Miss State, 2-1 (1-1)
Dan Mullen can coach, and he's got some horses. He doesn't match up well against Auburn, but he sure does against Vandy
Last week: No. 11
Next week: At home against LSU

11. Vanderbilt, 1-2 (0-2)
Last season feels like a dream, doesn't it? This season feels like a nightmare, doesn't it? But here's some good news: We don't play Miss State next year.
Last week: No. 7
Next week: At Rice

12. Kentucky, 2-0 (0-0)
Looked bad at times against Louisville but got the win.
Last week: No. 9
Next week: At home against Florida

SEC defensive lineman of the week: Whoever plays against Vanderbilt

Last week's SEC defensive lineman of the week: LSU's Rahim Alem

This week's SEC defensive lineman of the week: Miss State's Pernell McPhee

Glad Vandy has five returning starters on the offensive line, huh? (James Williams wasn't a starter last year.)

Some fans have criticized Bobby Johnson for getting too many verbal commitments from defensive tackles for next year's freshman class. No way. You can't have enough big defensive tackles. (Notice how we've switched our focus to the future?)

Vanderbilt highlights and other fine examples of oxymorons

Here are some examples of oxymorons:

• Military intelligence
• Jumbo shrimp
• Rolling stop
• Liquid gas

Oh, and Mississippi State Highlights.

As in video highlights from Vandy's mind-numbing 15-3 loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday.

It's 3 minutes and 46 seconds long. Here's a breakdown:

• 51 seconds: Various Vanderbilt tackles for loss
• 39 seconds: Opening and closing credits
• 31 seconds: Warren Norman returning kickoffs
• 26 seconds: Two actual pass completions
• 21 seconds: Sean Richardson's tackle and strip that gave us 1st and goal at the 5 yard line
• 18 seconds: The game's one touchdown
• 13 seconds: Upson punting
• 12 seconds: Vandy "capitalizing" on the turnover with a field goal
• 9 seconds: The team running out on the field with lots of smoke
• 6 seconds: An incomplete pass by one of the Bulldog QBs

So 26 of the 426 seconds are dedicated to offensive plays. Sounds about right.

Stick with Smith as the starter, but don't forget the Mackenzi Backup Magic

The topic of discussion this morning seems to be whether Bobby Johnson will turn to Mackenzi Adams. The Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge writes that Johnson considered pulling Larry Smith several times against Mississippi State and that this could indicate a future change at quarterback.

I would certainly hope Johnson was considering lots of changes. The way Vandy was playing, major adjustments on offense were in order.

But I think we should leave Larry in there. Heck, the season is shot anyway, and we do need him to develop. Developing a young quarterback takes time. That said, we sure could have used some of Mackenzi's backup magic on Saturday.

Miss State has our number. But Lockridge points out that the Rice defense may be just what the doctor ordered, allowing more than 40 points a game, including 44 to UAB.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Commodore fans should brace themselves

This quote from Larry Smith pretty much sums up last night's nightmarish 15-3 loss to Mississippi State:

"They blitzed pretty heavily the entire tonight, and we didn't pick them up. We didn't execute, didn't throw the ball well, didn't catch the ball at all. Overall, the offense played poorly."

We've said this before, but Vandy will never be able to play the grind-it-out possession game that Bobby Johnson would like. Yes, we've got some tough, hard-working athletes who are as close to SEC caliber as perhaps we've ever had. But our offensive line was getting pushed back pretty good and we couldn't run. If the receivers can catch when Larry throws a good one and if Larry can throw when the receivers are wide open, then maybe we can put something together. But as we found out last night, we can't run when we can't pass. And right now we just plain can't pass.

It hurts, but we're in a period of transition. Everybody's saying we need a quick-strike tricky offense, and we're saying it here now. And we're trying to do it right now. Here are the problems:

• We've got small receivers that wouldn't be playing anywhere else in the SEC.

• We're breaking in a young quarterback who's supposedly the coolest customer anybody's ever seen in the huddle. OK, how about in the pocket?

• Our offensive line is experienced but they're still no match for those huge SEC defensive fronts. And I think James Williams meant more to this team than we knew. We haven't moved the ball worth a dang since he got hurt, especially on the ground. And Stacy got most of his best runs off Williams.

• Our team is built around defense and special teams, and our offense needs to keep the defense off the field. So now we're running a no-huddle offense that just makes us go three and out faster than ever before.

These are facts. The truth is, we're in a rebuilding process. We're not getting the breaks and the miracles we got last season and now we're forced to actually rebuild an offense that was among the three worst in the nation.

If you're a Vandy fan and want to remain a Vandy fan, I advise patience. As it's always been, this is a long hard road. We're going to struggle this season but we're awfully young on offense. The goal, I think, is to get the kinks worked out of our offense this season and be ready for next season. Maybe working out the kinks involves making a few adjustments among our offensive coaches. Just a thought.

Rice is up next. And the Owls are our new game of the year. Can't wait to see the spread on that one. Hopefully we're not favored.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good night, Commodores

Tyson Lee just ate our lunch again and now we trail 15-3.

Our offense has been horrible.

Bobby Johnson has gotten taken to school by Dan Mullen, just like he got taken to school last year by David Cutliffe of Duke.

We don't do better than 4-8 this season. This was the game of the year for us, and we choked.

Dixon just put this one on ice

with a 41-yard run. Still down 9-3 but that one shows that our defense is dog-tired and can only do so much.

Words can't describe how bad the Vanderbilt offense is.

John Cole can't catch

Cole just got injured when a critical third-down pass bounced off his shoulder.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Bulldogs don't think we can score a TD

Dan Mullen, who knows a thing or two about offense, is calling three runs and then punting. Why? He doesn't think we can move the ball and score the go-ahead touchdown.

More passing game gaffes

Larry fires a nice pass to Alex (great catch too) to move the ball up to midfield.

Then John Cole can't hold onto a nice bomb into the end zone.

The Brandon Barden pulls up on a route and misses a sure first down.

I hate broccoli

The field goal kicker for Miss State, not the vegetable.

We're losing 9-3 after the field goal after the fumble by Alex Washington.

Alex Washington can't catch part II

Washington just fumbled away a punt. Our defense is playing admirably while our offensive "playmakers" do everything they can to put the game out of reach. Oh, and Jamie Graham's hurt.

Somebody voted at halftime, and I don't blame them

Somebody just cast a vote in our poll that we're going to lose by more than a TD. I concur.

Halftime in Nashville: Welcome to our nightmare

Last season, we went to Starkville and gained just seven first downs and a pitiful 107 yards of total offense, including 62 yards passing and 45 rushing.

Those numbers seem absolutely prolific compared to tonight's halftime stats.

Get this: We've got 29 yards of total offense and a single first down. I'm not kidding. That includes two yards rushing and 29 yards passing.

No kidding. Two yards rushing on 13 carries:

• Zac Stacy: five carries, 7 yards
• Kennard Reeves: three carries, 2 yards
• Warren Norman: two carries, 1 yard
• Larry Smith: three carries, minus 8 yards

Meanwhile, our defense looks good, but has still surrendered 166 total yards, including 111 yards on the ground and 55 yards in the air, plus 11 first downs.

Extremely disappointing, wouldn't you say?

We're only down 6-3 but it doesn't bode well for us.

We can't win without an offense

OK, so the defense is playing great. Joel Caldwell's filling in nicely for Ryan Hamilton. Everybody's flying to the ball. Still, the Bulldog offense is moving the ball far better than we're moving the ball against their D. Their QB, Relf, is like a poor man's Tebow running the ball. And Dixon is a beast. Compared to the rest of the SEC, we're mighty small. Our D-line is small and our backers are small. Sure, we're good on defense but we're small.

Our offense is getting absolutely dominated. Larry's running for his life. This could be a very long game and it's already reminiscent of last year's.

Vandy D still hanging tough

Myron just delivered a hellacious hit on a State running back (not Anthony Dixon, who's dominating us). Marve looking good too.

Now we have the ball and Larry still throwing wild. Tied 3-3. The rain is gone. Come on, Larry.

Announcers just said, "What a difference a week makes for the Bulldog defense."

Yeah, Vandy's just what the doctor ordered.

Udom made his first catch of the season but three yards short on third down. Yet another three and out.

Not looking good.

We stink on offense

After a brilliant strip by Richardson that gave us first and goal, we run three straight times and are forced to kick a field goal. Pitiful. Say what you want about Chris Nickson — and we certainly have — but the guy was money in the red zone.

Larry's got to step up. Oh, and Mr. Cain must realize that we're not going to be able to run the ball against the Bulldogs until we establish the passing game. They're dominating our offensive line.

Looks like last year all in Starkville all over again.

Here we go again: Our offense looks horrible against Miss State

The Bulldogs are dominating our offense. Larry looks rattled. The offensive line is caving in. Vierling just lost his cool and swatted at a Bulldog after the whistle but fortunately nothing was called. We're 0-4 on third down. Ouch.

But Upson keeps booting them into a hole.

But Miss State has our number on defense. On offense, we're picking up where we left off last year. Reminder: We had 107 total yards of offense last season — 45 rushing and 62 passing.

Nevermind. Richardson just stripped the ball and Fugger recovered.

After a review, the play stands. Richardson is a stud. So is Casey Hayward.

Larry looks a bit uptight so far

Larry Smith has Udom open on 3rd and 4 and misses and just now he had Austin Monahan, as sure-handed a receiver as we've got, wide open on 3rd and 5 and overthrew him.

Looks like it's going to be a slobberknocker

Remember last year's game in Starkville? Well, so far it looks like a similar battle of field position.

Leave it to the geniuses at Fox Sports South to come up with U2 as a nickname for Udom Umoh. Not bad guys.

We've wondered before why U2 doesn't have a catch this season, and then Larry misses him just now for a first down. But then Udom shakes it off and downs a Brett Upson punt at the 5-yard line.

Looks like the Bulldogs are gonna get on the back of Anthony Dixon and take a ride. So far we look up to task.

Bad news and good news for Vanderbilt

Bad news: We had only 210 yards last week against a team that gave up nearly 500 yards to winless Washington in Seattle.

Good news: Washington just beat No. 3 USC in Seattle.

Bad news: Miss State just took the opening kickoff to the house.

Good news: The Bulldogs were holding.

Go Dores!

How are the true freshmen doing for Vanderbilt?

I don't hear Vandy fans talking about him much, but true freshman Eric Samuels is one guy we need on the field tonight. Remember he had an interception and a fumble recovery in the opener before spraining his ankle. He's a tall, athletic corner, and we need all the DBs we can get.

Here's a quick look at how the true freshmen are faring so far for Vanderbilt, compared to the results of our preseason poll. Heck, let's rank ’em:

1. Zac Stacy, RB: About 44 percent of Moral Victory voters thought he'd play as a freshman, the most votes for any of the new tailbacks. Instantly became one of our best offensive players, and has a quickness hitting the hole and cutting in traffic that we've lacked since, heck, maybe since Dan McGugin was coach.

2. Warren Norman, RB: Only 21 percent of fans thought he'd play right away, and he was an afterthought in any conversation involving Stacy and Wesley Tate. Still, he burst on the scene in the opener, gaining more than 100 yards and scoring twice. Didn't carry the ball against LSU, but did return kickoffs and looked like a vast improvement over our other returners. Right now, Stacy will get the big carries, and junior Kennard Reeves is running hard, but Norman's not going away.

3. Eric Samuels, DB: Like Stacy, 44 percent of fans expected Samuels to play right away, and he did, looking sharp but injuring his ankle in the opener. Didn't travel to Baton Rouge. A very talented player who's a huge part of our team's plans for the future.

4. Collin Ashley, WR: The biggest surprise so far. He got no votes because he wasn't on the poll, and that's because he wasn't a member of Vandy's February signing class. No, he had no offers from major college teams. But he's a game-ready receiver who looks like a clone of John Cole, and he made an immediate impression in preseason practice. Has already caught a couple of passes, and coaches are talking like he's one of the best receivers on the team.

5. Eddie Foster, DB: Only 10 percent of fans thought he'd play this year, but the 170-pound Foster has been too fast and too athletic to keep off the field. With Graham, Samuels and Hamilton sidelined in Baton Rouge, he was thrown into the fire at cornerback and looked fine.

6. Trey Wilson, DB: About 36 percent thought he'd play this season. Got a slow start after dropping his bed on his toe and missing most of preseason practice but has been too talented to keep off the field. Will see more and more action in this young and depth-strapped secondary.

7. Brady Brown, WR: Got the most preseason votes to play, with 56 percent. Played in the opener but not against LSU. No catches so far. He's a big possession receiver, something we could use right now, and the team needs him to develop sooner rather than later.

8. Jay Fullam, S: Got only 4 percent of the preseason votes, while fellow frosh Javon Marshall got 27 percent. But Fullam turned heads in practice and would have played in our first two games if he hadn't injured his hand before the season started. He's recovering from surgery and Johnson has him on the injury report and is talking like he's a veteran who'll immediately step in and play when he returns in a month or so. We'll see.

9. Wesley Tate, RB: About 39 percent of fans thought he'd play right away. That number was much higher right after he signed, but he dropped as word about Stacy began to spread. Right now, he's behind Stacy, Norman and junior Kennard Reeves on the depth chart. Fans are talking about moving him to linebacker and moving just about everybody on the team to wide receiver, but Johnson says Tate's a running back and will probably get a redshirt and return to form a Thunder-and-Lightning type of combination with Stacy. But Tate will be traveling to games and ready to play if Jared Hawkins can't return and one of the other backs is injured.

*Haven't played yet and will likely redshirt: TE Mason Johnston (10%); OL Justin Cabbagestalk (suspended, 5%); QB Charlie Goro, DE Thad McHaney, LB Blake Southerland (4% each); OL Wesley Johnson, OL Mylon Brown, DE Walker May (2% each).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Larry Smith still a work in progress

I think Larry looked great in Baton Rouge last Saturday... for a kid playing the fourth college game of his life.

Yes, Larry's played in four games, and started three:

1. Wake Forest: Off the bench in the rain in a game where the Commodores were seemingly behind before it started — and on the road against a defense with two No. 1 draft picks. Had a gutsy fourth-down touchdown pass. Threw a 60-yard strike dropped by Sean Walker, then on the next play had a pick returned for a TD.

2. Boston College: Starting in a bowl game in freezing weather against a team that hadn't lost in the post-season in eight years — and with a senior quarterback replacing you on nearly every drive. Opened the game with two nice deep balls that led to two field goals. Closed the game with a huge third-down pass to George Smith to set up the winning field goal. Wowed the team with his coolness under pressure.

3. Western Carolina: Ran for a bunch of yards, just like Nickson would do against weaker teams. Fumbled into the end zone on the opening drive. Had a TD bomb to roommate Justin Green. Left the game with cramps right before he would have been pulled anyway because of the wide margin.

4. LSU: Still fresh on our minds. Handled the spread and the no huddle and all the hand signal business coolly and professionally in a loud stadium in driving rain. Ran out of the pocket a couple of times when he shouldn't have. Had a bunch of passes dropped.

Larry's only going to get better and I believe as he develops he's going to figure out how to make his young receivers better. He wasn't pointing fingers last Saturday though he had some reasons to. But it's not like he's been throwing to these guys for years.

Anyway, it takes a while for an SEC quarterback to develop. If hindsight were 20/20, we'd have started Larry against Miss State last year and let him get baptized by fire. You've got to do it at some point. But we didn't realize we were going to lose the next four games.

Larry's going to experience some growing pains, maybe even have a bad game every now and then. But I believe he'll be dramatically better by the time we face Tennessee at the end of the season. Eventually, he'll be a quarterback who helps us win instead of our usual quarterback who just needs to avoid doing anything to make us lose.

Saturday's Mississippi State game is the biggest of the year for Vanderbilt

Saturday's Mississippi State game is make-it or break-it for Vanderbilt. Don't let the 10-point spread fool you. This will be a close game, and the Commodores could easily lose.

The Bulldogs are bigger, faster and stronger than we are. Anthony Dixon could start for any team in the SEC, including Florida. Pernell McPhee can be a dominating defensive lineman. And if you don't think a single D-lineman can dominate a game, look at what LSU's Rahim Alem did against Vandy last week: seven tackles, a sack and a tipped pass. He was the defensive player of the week in the SEC.

Last week, the Vanderbilt Hustler rated the Vandy offensive line ahead of the LSU offensive line, and called it a draw between the Vandy and LSU defensive lines. That's hilarious, though it wasn't so funny after LSU won the battle at both lines of scrimmage. I'm not putting down our athletes. We're better and deeper than we've ever been. Our big guys in the trenches played hard and well and they didn't lose the game for us. We were able to run the ball and Larry got off some nice passes. But overall, LSU won control of both lines of scrimmage. That was the difference in the game.

The Bulldogs aren't as good as LSU, but they've got big boys inside and man for man they've got better athletes than we do. I think we'll win because at this point we've got an established system and more experienced players and we're playing at home. But we've still got a very small margin of error. Some Vandy fans are talking about how mental mistakes cost us the LSU game. Oh really? So we beat Western Carolina because we made fewer mental mistakes in that game? It's funny how teams tend to make more mistakes against more talented teams.

Anyway, don't chalk this one up before it's over. I think our passing game will look much improved this week. The Bulldogs will try to mix it up, but if we can take an early lead and force them to go to the air, we could put it away early. Relf is a load to bring down, and as we know Lee can tuck it and run, especially on third down. But if the MSU quarterbacks have to throw to win, we should be in good shape. If we mess around with them and let them control the ball and the clock, we could be in trouble.

But I'm going to be optimistic: Part of me thinks we score four touchdowns in this one, and two in the air, to win 31-20. Now I'm going to be pessimistic: Every game I've ever predicted us to win by double digits, we lose.

So let's call it 20-13. Commodores.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Moral Victory! predictions for this week's SEC games

No, Tennessee-Florida is not the game of the week. More like blowout of the week. But you already knew that. I think the league's best matchups this week are Georgia at Arkansas, West Virginia at Auburn, and yes, Miss State at Vanderbilt. Here we go:

Tennessee at Florida: Words don't matter — or maybe they make butt-whippings even bigger. Don't forget that the Vol defense is pretty stout. Of course, Tebow is stouter. Gators 38-10.

Louisville at Kentucky: The Cats offense looked surprisingly smooth and powerful a couple of weeks ago. Now they're at home. Wildcats 31-20.

North Texas at Alabama: The Tide continues to get all those blue chip recruits some experience before the SEC schedule. Crimson Tide 35-3.

La-Lafayette at LSU: The Tiger offense is glad to take a break from the Vandy defense. LSU 44-17.

Miss State at Vanderbilt: We'll handle this one closer to game time.

Florida Atlantic at South Carolina: Which Gamecock offense will show up this week? Won't matter. Gamecocks 27-10.

Southeastern Louisiana at Ole Miss: It's the home opener for the Rebels, with the usual cupcake. Rebels 35-13.

West Virginia at Auburn: The Tigers are looking good, and for now they're sticking to the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tigers 31-21.

Georgia at Arkansas: Razorback fans have got to be excited about this one. Points will be scored, though not as many as last week's UGA-SC game. Expect Joe Cox to keep his job for at least another week. Bulldogs 28-24.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bad sign for the Commodores: They're favored to win

Quick! How many games was Vanderbilt favored to win last season?

Answer: Two.

I'm not kidding. The Commodores were actually underdogs to Rice and Miami-Ohio, but they were favored to beat Duke and Tennessee. We know how both those games came out.

Last season, Vandy was 5-0 and fans and players were confident they'd go down to Starkville and beat the Bulldogs, but the opening line was pick ’em. It was an ugly, disheartening game. I know because I was there and the cowbells are still ringing in my ears.

I don't know about you, but it always makes me nervous when Vandy is favored to win. Case in point: MTSU during Jay Cutler's final year.

Right now, Vegas has the Commodores anywhere between an 8.5- and 10-point favorite. That's bulletin board material for the Bulldogs, whose defense manhandled the Dores last year.

I think the game will be much closer than that. The Bulldogs still have big, fast, strong players. Maybe not as big, fast and strong as Auburn or LSU, but bigger, faster and stronger than the Commodores.

Hopefully we have the advantage because of our system, our coaches, our experience and the overall strength of our program. But we've still got to play well to win. As everybody knows by now, our receivers need to improve dramatically and we've got some depth issues in the secondary. As always, we've got to have the mentality of an underdog and play with a chip on our shoulder.

When we think we deserve to win, we rarely do. On Saturday, we must remember what happened last year in Starkville.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How the Vandy roster has changed since preseason

Here's a look, position by position, at changes to the Vandy depth chart since the first day of preseason camp. Before we get into the whole list, here are some highlights (or lowlights):

• Current starters not first-team in preseason: Larry Smith, Austin Monahan, Zac Stacy, Tim Fugger, Brent Trice, Casey Hayward, Jamie Graham

• Current players on depth chart not listed in preseason: Collin Ashley, Zac Stacy, Warren Norman, Caleb Welchans, Tristan Strong, Chris Johnson, Eddie Foster, Trey Wilson

• Starters lost to injury: James Williams, Jared Hawkins, Steven Stone, Ryan Hamilton

OK, here's the breakdown, if you've got the time:

Kept starting job: John Cole, Alex Washington, Udom Umoh
Won competition for starting job: N/A
New on depth chart: Justin Green (second team), Collin Ashley (second team)
Still on depth chart: Tray Herndon
Dropped off depth chart: Turner Wimberly, Chris Reinert, Akeem Dunham

Kept starting job: N/A
Won competition for starting job: Larry Smith (over Mackenzi Adams)
New on depth chart: N/A
Still on depth chart: Adams
Dropped off depth chart: N/A

Kept starting job: N/A
Won competition for starting job: Zac Stacy (after injury to Jared Hawkins)
New on depth chart: Stacy, Warren Norman (co-second team)
Still on depth chart: Kennard Reeves (co-second team)
Dropped off depth chart: Jared Hawkins (injury), Gaston Miller

Kept starting job: N/A
Won competition for starting job: Austin Monahan (over Brandon Barden)
New on depth chart: N/A
Still on depth chart: Barden
Dropped off depth chart: N/A

Kept starting job: Thomas Welch (left tackle), Bradley Vierling (center), Eric Hensley (right guard)
Won competition for starting job: Ryan Custer (left guard over Kyle Fischer)
New on depth chart: Caleb Welchans (competing with Reilly Lauer and Fischer for right tackle job)
Still on depth chart: Fischer, Ryan Seymour, Joey Bailey
Dropped off depth chart: James Williams (won starting job at right tackle over Lauer before injury), Chris Aaron

Kept starting job: Broderick Stewart
Won competition for starting job: Tim Fugger (after injury to Steven Stone)
New on depth chart: N/A
Still on depth chart: Teriall Brannon, Theron Kadri
Dropped off depth chart: Stone (injury), Johnell Thomas

Kept starting job: Greg Billinger, Adam Smotherman
Won competition for starting job: N/A
New on depth chart: N/A
Still on depth chart: T.J. Greenstone (part-time starter), Rob Lohr
Dropped off depth chart: Colt Nichter

Kept starting job: Patrick Benoist, Chris Marve
Won competition for starting job: Brent Trice (over John Stokes)
New on depth chart: Chris Johnson, Tristan Strong
Still on depth chart: Stokes
Dropped off depth chart: Nate Campbell (left team)

Kept starting job: Myron Lewis, Sean Richardson
Won competition for starting job: Casey Hayward (corner over Jamie Graham)
New on depth chart: Graham (listed as starting nickel), Eddie Foster, Trey Wilson, Eric Samuels (currently injured), Trice (also listed as starting linebacker)
Still on depth chart: Joel Caldwell (competing for starting free safety to replace injured Ryan Hamilton)
Dropped off depth chart: Rich Tompkins (moved to receiver), Al Owens, Micah Powell

Duct tape: The official sponsor of the Vanderbilt defense

How good a defensive coordinator — actually, his official title is assistant head coach in charge of defense — is Bruce Fowler?

You know how the Vandy defense turned up the heat on LSU in the second half? Well, consider this:

• Ryan Hamilton was playing with a pectoral muscle that had been torn off the bone.
• Patrick Benoist had an injured arm.
• Jamie Graham had a sprained ankle.

Which means you had linebackers playing safety and safeties playing linebacker. And you couldn't tell by the way the defense was flying to the ball and covering those Tigers. Although I knew something was up when I first noticed redshirt freshman linebacker Archibald Barnes playing 30 yards downfield.

Now Hamilton is out for the season. Oh, and second-team middle linebacker Nate Campbell has been dismissed from the team.

Which means that senior Brent Trice is listed on the Miss State pregame depth chart as the starting strongside linebacker and a co-starter at free safety. And Jamie Graham is listed as the starting nickel back and the backup strong safety, and meanwhile the fan base is screaming for him to play wide receiver.

Let's just split Trice and Graham in half and let them regenerate like planaria. Not sure if we can get that done by kickoff, though.

Ryan Hamilton is one tough son of a gun... who deserves a sixth year of eligibility

How tough is Ryan Hamilton? After the LSU game, coaches thought the fifth-year senior captain had something wrong with his bicep and would be doubtful for next week's game. Turns out his right pectoral muscle had been torn from his humerus bone, and he'd kept playing for more than a quarter and made two more tackles.

We're not worthy.

Bobby Johnson says he'll petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt for Ryan, which would allow him to play next season as a sixth-year senior. Hopefully when that great association steps up to its decision-making dart board, the dart will land on YES.

Johnson said the NCAA tends to favor cases involving two injuries — as opposed to a player like Ryan who redshirts his freshman year because of the needs of the team and then gets injured later in his career.

Johnson did say he thinks the team has a good case.

We'll keep our fingers crossed. Bottom line, you hate to see Ryan's Vandy career end like this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moral Victory! power ratings: To be somebody, you've still got to play somebody

Once again, our power ratings aren't based on what we think teams are going to do, but how they're doing so far. We fully expect Florida to make a dramatic leap within the next few weeks, but first they've got to play somebody. All together now: TO BE SOMEBODY, YOU'VE GOT TO PLAY SOMEBODY!

Anyway, here are the rankings:

1. Alabama, 2-0 (0-0)
Week 1: Handled Va Tech, one of the nation's top teams
Week 2: Developed some new depth against FIU, one of the worst
Last week: No. 1
Next week: At home vs. North Texas (1-1)

2. Georgia, 1-1 (1-0)
Week 1: Lost on the road to the vaunted OSU Cowboys, which lost to Houston this past week
Week 2: Showed some pride and beat Spurrier's Gamecocks
Last week: No. 3
Next week: At Arkansas (1-0)

3. South Carolina, 1-1 (0-1)
Week 1: Outslugged NC State, a decent ACC team
Week 2: Lost in a surprising shootout to UGA in Athens
Last week: No. 2
Next week: At home vs. Florida Atlantic (0-1)

4. LSU, 2-0 (1-0)
Week 1: Journeyed to Washington, winless in 2008, and struggled to win
Week 2: Slipped and slid to a two-touchdown win over Vandy
Last week: No. 5
Next week: At home vs. La-Lafayette (2-0)

5. Auburn, 2-0 (1-0)
Week 1: Thrashed recent bowl team La Tech
Week 2: Dominated Miss State with the new improved AU-Burns offense
Last week: No. 6
Next week: At home vs. West Virginia (2-0)

6. Florida, 2-0 (0-0)
Week 1: Whipped Charleston Southern
Week 2: Whipped Troy, which was a bowl team last year. Prediction: Gators will face Men of Troy in January
Last week: No. 9
Next week: At home vs. Tennessee (1-1)

7. Vanderbilt, 1-1 (0-1)
Week 1: Defense dominated Western Carolina
Week 2: Defense held its own against LSU, but receivers couldn't hang on
Last week: No. 10
Next week: At home vs. Miss State (1-1)

8. Ole Miss, 1-0 (0-0)
Week 1: Beat an overmatched Tiger team in Memphis
Week 2: Bowed down to the porcelain god and prayed the flu would go away
Last week: No. 4
Next week: At home vs. SE La (2-0)

9. Kentucky, 1-0 (0-0)
Week 1: Dominated Miami-Ohio, a middling MAC squad
Week 2: Got their breath back after scoring 42 points in the opener
Last week: No. 7
Next week: At home vs. Louisville (1-0)

10. Tennessee, 1-1 (0-0)
Week 1: Beat the ever-lovin’ dog out of the lowly Hilltoppers, praised Crompton
Week 2: Made fun of UCLA's baby-blue uniforms, then lost to the Bruins again
Last week: No. 8
Next week: At Florida (2-0)

11. Miss State, 1-1 (0-1)
Week 1: Scored a bunch of points against Jackson State
Week 2: Got scored on a bunch by Auburn
Last week: No. 12
Next week: At Vanderbilt (1-1)

12. Arkansas, 1-0 (0-0)
Week 1: Proved they could beat a non-FBS (Mo St) team by more than a field goal
Week 2: Took a week off to celebrate
Last week: No. 11
Next week: At home vs. Georgia (1-1)

Should Vandy move Jamie Graham to wide receiver?

Wow, have you seen the Vandy-LSU video our athletic department just posted on its official site? It includes Alex Washington's assist for an interception and it ends rather abruptly with Washington's drop on fourth down. That sound you just heard was Alex getting run over by an official Vanderbilt University bus. And that other sound is the bus backing up.

More then a couple of Vandy fans are offering a solution to our pass-catching woes: Move Jamie Graham back to wide receiver.

It's a natural conclusion. I mean, Jamie's a big, physical receiver who can get open, make tough catches in traffic, and then turn upfield. I am suddenly reminded, though, of a certain play late in the first half of last year's Tennessee game when Mackenzi Nickson or whoever was playing quarterback hit Jamie in stride deep in Vol territory and he bobbled the ball into the hands of a UT DB, who returned it all the way to the VU goal line, essentially breaking our backs.

But I digress. Moving Jamie to DB made sense with Terance Jeffers-Ineligible-Harris and Justin Wheeler still in the mix. But now it's impossible not to think about Graham catching passes, especially the two end zone jump balls he grabbed in the UGA game.

Here's the problem: We also need Jamie in the secondary, especially with true freshman cornerback Eric Samuels and now safety Ryan Hamilton injured. And on the LSU game depth chart, Graham was listed as Hamilton's backup at safety, in addition to being the starting nickel back and Hayward's backup at corner. He's a pretty important part of our secondary right now, and he got banged up Saturday night and missed some action, forcing true freshman featherweight cornerback Eddie Foster onto the field.

Nobody seemed to notice at the time, but Alan Strong's decision this summer to transfer to Tennessee State was a major blow to our depth in the secondary. Now, especially after the injuries, we really need Graham in the secondary.

Here's what we could do:

• Play Jamie on defense, but move him to offense when we absolutely need a clutch catch. You know, like we did against UK when we played D.J. at receiver and started the game with two quick touchdowns.

• Keep him on defense full-time and let our receivers gain experience and confidence and try to rush the development of bigger targets like Justin Green, Akeem Dunham and Brady Brown.

• Move him to offense full-time and take our chances with Samuels, who's hopefully on the mend, and fellow true frosh Foster and Trey Wilson, as well as Al Owens and Micah Powell, two redshirt freshmen DBs who've played a little but not a lot.

• Clone Jamie.

What do you think we should do?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

LSU moves up in polls after Vandy victory

So LSU struggles to beat Vandy, fails to cover the spread, and moves up to No. 7 in the USA Today poll. I guess Commodores should take that as a compliment.

Here's how the SEC teams shake out in the new rankings:

1. Florida: No. 1 AP/No. 1 USA Today

2. Alabama: 4/4

3. Ole Miss: 5/6

4. LSU: 9/7

5. Georgia: 23/20

6. Auburn: 33/31

7. Arkansas: 40/44T

8. Kentucky: --/38

9. South Carolina: --/44

Not ranked: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Miss State

Whoops, we just dropped another pass

Playing big, fast, strong athletes — even ones who've given up more than 400 yards to lowly Washington — has a way of highlighting your strengths and weaknesses.

So the day after Vandy's scrappy performance against the five-star talent of LSU, we still feel pretty good about our veteran offensive line; we feel great about our freshman tailback, who's still averaging more than 100 yards a game; and we feel great about our young quarterback, who was firing lasers to his receivers.

Oh, and we feel worse than ever about the guys who are supposed to catch those lasers. This morning, on the way to church actually, I vowed not to berate Alex Washington like I berated George Smith last season. You may remember that Smith, a profile in courage if there ever was one, had his name written in ink in the VU starting lineup and still couldn't catch a pass with somebody breathing down his neck. Well, not until the Music City Bowl, when he hauled in a bullet from Larry that set up the winning field goal.

Now Alex has picked up the title of fifth-year senior starter who can't catch. He dropped two passes, one which he tipped into the hands of a DB deep in Tiger territory and the other on fourth down to put the game on ice.

The three receivers who caught passes for Vandy — Washington, John Cole and Collin Ashley — are each under 6 feet tall, while every member of LSU's secondary and almost everyone on its two-deep was taller than 6 feet. That's OK if you can get open, make the catch and then hang on. But we didn't do that.

Starter Udom Umoh is exactly 6 feet, but was missing in action on Saturday except for that crazy reverse play. Justin Green, the 6-foot-6 converted TE who caught a long TD against the Catamounts, played, I think, on Saturday but didn't make his presence felt. And our other two tall receivers, 6-3 redshirt frosh Akeem Dunham and 6-4 true frosh Brady Brown, didn't play.

Against the Catamounts, the receivers caught a combined six balls for 112 yards and a touchdown. Not bad. Kind of encouraging. But against LSU they combined for four catches and 34 yards.

Larry Smith was not the problem. In tight man-to-man coverage, he was firing the ball into our receivers' hands. In all, I counted five drops. Probably there were more but I'm not going to count plays like when Austin Monahan got tangled up with a giant linebacker and couldn't haul in the pass.

And all the drops were significant:
• Brandon Barden (OK, he's one of our vaunted TEs) lined up at H-back and then dropped a beautiful floater out of the backfield that killed what was looking like an impressive opening drive.
• Collin Ashley dropped a critical pass deep in Tiger territory in the first half.
• John Cole dropped a low pass under coverage.
• Washington dropped the two aforementioned passes.

If those are caught, and they should have been, Larry would have gone 16-24-0 for about 140 yards instead of 11-24-1 for about 90 yards. And seeing how those drops all killed drives, he would have thrown more passes and could have ended up something like 20-for-30 for at least 180 yards.

But here's the deal. A loss has a funny way of forcing you to correct your weaknesses. Remember last season, when we started 5-0 despite a shaky offense. The only difference between our current team and this one? We didn't get the calls and the breaks.

We had 210 yards last night. Last year, we gained only 15 more yards in our upset of South Carolina, 8 fewer yards in our upset of Ole Miss, and later 10 fewer yards in our Music City Bowl victory over Boston College.

Was everybody throwing up their hands after the Ole Miss victory? No. That one was a gift from the gods. And once we got to 5-0, we couldn't make any changes to the offense — like taking the wraps off Larry — because we might jeopardize a shot at that magical sixth win.

So maybe it's a blessing to get a loss that highlights a specific area of our offense. If we don't make adjustments this week and beat Miss State on Saturday, we will have a losing season. We can't sit back and wait for our defense and special teams to bail us out like we did last season. Eventually, the breaks and the calls will go the other way, and Saturday night they did.

Oh, and did I mention we couldn't catch?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Where's Justin Green?

Alex Washington just dropped another pass, this one on fourth down.

We now know that the receiver position is indeed a huge weakness. Larry Smith looked promising, the running backs and offensive line were much improved, the defense hung tough and special teams were much improved over last week.

But the wide receivers have looked bad. Cole, Ashley and Washington are short and the LSU DBs are tall. Udom Umoh has been AWOL. Oh, and where's Justin Green? You'd think a 6-6 wide receiver would have been an asset in this game.

We knew losing Terance Jeffers-Harris was big at the time. Now we know how big.

Alex Washington can't catch

Alex just tipped a pass into a Tiger's hands for an interception deep in Tiger territory. A huge mistake. Not Larry's fault. But our D is tightening up and looking good.

Fourth quarter and we're still in the game

So it's pouring down rain and a bunch of fans have left and Death Valley isn't the intimidating place it usually is at night. And the Dores D has adjusted well and is giving Jordan Jefferson fits. And Zac Stacy has been a revelation darting between the tackles. And Larry keeps on keeping his cool.

Oh, and Kennard Reeves looks like one of the freshmen tailbacks, and that's a compliment.

Don't know how it will turn out. But it's the fourth quarter and we're still hanging around, which is exactly what the LSU coaches were afraid of.

Patrick Benoist is the man

Patrick just got his second sack deep in VU territory. And then LSU snaps over the punter's head for a safety.

And it's 16-9. A safety, Vandy's first in five years.

Can you believe we're within a touchdown?

Memo to Ted Cain

OK, so all of a sudden we have a pretty good running game, with a much improved line and some talent at tailback and even fullback.

But we still can't run on first and second down and then throw on third and long. Mix it up, dude.

James Williams down on the field

Big James Williams, the sophomore who's been playing great at right tackle, is down on the field and it looks serious. The ESPNU camera just showed Ted Cain in the press box slamming his fist on the table while he was watching trainers tending to Williams.

We're down 16-7 and really need to get some offense going. One bright spot: Warren Norman just returned a kickoff. The coaching staff must have read our blog post at halftime.

Williams now being carried off the field. His backup is Caleb Welchans, but I'd think we could see Reilly Lauer instead.

Still hanging tough: Commodores down 13-7 at halftime

You know how I said earlier this week that for some reason this game reminded me of the Auburn game last year? You know, a talented team pretending to take us seriously and acting like they don't hear their fans grumbling? Well, look at the score right now: 13-7. That was the halftime score of the Auburn game last year.

Now, I'm not saying we'll win this one 14-13. For one thing, I have no idea how we can stop LSU's offense. The Tigers have 234 yards of offense, including 124 yards rushing on 5.9 yards per carry. Oh, and a 60 percent conversion rate on third down.

Some observations:

• We're halfway following last season's recipe for success: A positive turnover ration of +1 but four penalties for 32 yards, including two killer face mask penalties on the Tigers' TD drive.

• Our running game looks pretty good, with 72 yards and 4.2 yards per carry. Zac Stacy is the real deal, folks. He was nine for 48 yards on some tough runs between the tackles including a huge 25-yard gain on 3rd and 1. When's the last time we even converted with run on 3rd and 1? I know we were 0-6 in the Music City Bowl. Kennard Reeves has been running tough, too. Still no Warren Norman. I also notice Wesley Tate on the sidelines. He's No. 24.

• LSU's pretty much shutting down our receivers in man-to-man. Collin Ashley had a nice 9-yard catch early on, and John Cole got his first career catch and then dropped a pass later in the drive. He looks tiny out there. The tight ends have been getting popped hard by their linebackers. Our best receivers so far have been our running backs. Did I mention Zac Stacy is a player?

• Larry's looking pretty good and is capable of creating plays when he's not getting any help. That TD run was nice and also showed that maybe the winds of fortune are blowing our way. Remember that he's learning and he'll only get better.

• The O-Line doesn't look bad. As we mentioned earlier in the week, Larry needs to stay in the pocket and the line have been carving him out a pretty good one.

• Finally, why are Jamie Graham and Ryan van Rensburg returning kickoffs? RVR is a fullback for heaven's sake, and Graham, while being a nice, shifty athlete, doesn't have the breakaway speed to rip off 10-20 yards before the coverage can get down the field. Aside from a nice sideline return to start the game, he's lost yards.

OK, let's turn things around and pull this one off. Only six points down.