Friday, November 6, 2009

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.

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