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.


James said...

Actually, that's me on the left. Sweet pic!


You're looking good. Hey, we like to perpetuate stereotypes as best we can.

Thanks again for the great answers. I think you really nailed Meyer's conservative approach against lesser opponents and why Vandy might stay closer to Florida in this game than, say, Georgia did.