Thursday, September 30, 2010

Will any more true freshmen play for Vandy this season?

So far, 10 of Vanderbilt’s true freshmen have played this season. Let’s take a closer look at the freshman class’s playing time. What are the chances the remaining 14 will get on the field?


1. Jonathan Krause, WR: Has started two games and appears to be our best receiver; coaches need to get the ball in his hands.
2. Kenny Ladler, S: Started at free safety for the injured Jay Fullam against Ole Miss and looked impressive; too good to keep off the field.
3. Carey Spear, PK: Handling kickoff duties and is starting to loosen up and get some touchbacks.
4. Jordan Matthews, WR: Primarily playing special teams but is second team receiver and is slowly getting more time with offense; has struggled with tendonitis; expect him to get significantly more playing time and be a starter by season’s end.
5. Andre Simmons, S: Primarily playing special teams but has seen some snaps at safety and will get more action as season progresses.
6. Chase Garnham, LB: Playing special teams; listed as John Stokes’ backup ahead of projected starters Dexter Daniels and DeAndre Jones; will see more time on defense later in season.
7. Andre Hal, CB: Playing special teams; a skilled cover man who’ll get worked into the defense sometime during the remainder of the season.
8. Steven Clarke, CB: Playing special teams; an impressive athlete who’ll get some snaps at cornerback and who’s also an emergency running back.
9. Karl Butler, S: Playing special teams; with Fullam and Richardson gimpy, coaches wouldn’t hesitate to put him in big-game situations.
10. Fitz Lassing, TE: Playing special teams; with Austin Monahan gone for the season and Brandon Barden battling injury, he’ll likely see some action on offense.


1. James Kittredge, OL: Second-team center whom coaches won’t hesitate to play if Joey Bailey or another lineman gets injured or performs poorly; they’d prefer to redshirt him so he can start for four years, but with only two veteran backups ahead of him, that may be unlikely
2. Logan Stewart, OL: Second-team guard; another guy coaches like and could play in a pinch but would prefer to redshirt.
3. Chris Boyd, WR: Still developing; fans have been screaming for him to play, but he’s waiting in line for Krause and Matthews to get their shot first; if Matthews steps up, junior Tray Herndon keeps improving and senior Turner Wimberly keeps catching the ball, then Boyd could redshirt.
4. Chase White, OL: The 10th lineman on the team, he’s traveling with the team and is ready to play if needed, but he’ll likely redshirt.
5. Jared Morse, DT: With redshirt sophomores Colt Nichter, Josh Jelesky and Taylor Loftley stepping up and with Adam Smotherman poised to return, expect Morse to redshirt.
6. Vince Taylor, DT: An impressive, game-ready player who broke his hand in preseason and hasn’t been traveling with the team. If the D-line continues to play well, coaches would love to see Taylor redshirt and start for four years.
7. Kyle Woestmann, DE: With five ends in the playing rotation, it’s unlikely that Woestmann will play this year; coaches would love to see him compete for a starting position next year as a redshirt freshman.
8. Jordan Rodgers, QB (JUCO transfer): Struggling with a shoulder injury and may have surgery. Will likely redshirt unless Larry Smith and Jared Funk get injured. Remember, Vandy needs somebody to play quarterback in 2012.
9. Andrew East, LB/SN: A definite redshirt as a linebacker, but he’d get a long look if anything happened to longsnappers David Giller and John Stokes
10. Trent Pruitt, WR: Considered the fourth option among freshmen Krause, Matthews and Boyd. Expect him to redshirt.
11. Thomas Ryan, DT: Recruited as an end, he’s now listed as a defensive tackle but is still awfully light in the britches. He’ll redshirt and take a year to put on some weight.
12. Andrew Bridges, OL: A 240-pound kid with a huge frame, he’ll take a redshirt and pack on the pounds.
13. Blake Gowder, HB: An athlete with potential to play several positions, he’ll take a redshirt to recover from a shoulder injury and find a place to compete in the spring.
14. Grant Ramsay, OL: Once considered the most likely freshman lineman to play this season, Ramsay has injured his knee and is a definite redshirt.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Vanderbilt depth chart reflects minor changes

Here’s how this week’s depth chart compares to the opening week depth chart:

Still starting: R-SO John Cole and R-JR Udom Umoh
New starters: FR Jonathan Krause (replacing R-SR Turner Wimberly)
Still backups: FR Jordan Matthews
New backups: Wimberly, R-JR Tray Herndon (replacing R-SO Akeem Dunham)

Still starting: R-JR Larry Smith
Still backup: R-SR Jared Funk

Still starting: SO Warren Norman or SO Zac Stacy
Still backups: R-SR Kennard Reeves and R-FR Wesley Tate

Still starting: R-JR Brandon Barden
Still backup: R-FR Mason Johnston (will start if Barden not recovered from injury)

Still starting: R-SR Joey Bailey
Still backup: FR James Kittredge

Still starting: R-JR Kyle Fischer
New starter: R-SO Caleb Welchans (replacing R-SO Jabo Burrow)
Still backup: FR Logan Stewart
New backup: Burrow

Still starting: R-FR Wesley Johnson,
New starter: R-SO Ryan Seymour
Still backups: R-FR Mylon Brown
New backup: Welchans (replacing FR Chase White)

Still starting: R-JR T.J. Greenstone and R-SO Rob Lohr
Still backups: R-SO Josh Jelesky and R-SO Colt Nichter (will start if Greenstone not recovered from injury)

Still starting: SR Theron Kadri
New starter: R-JR Tim Fugger (replacing R-SR Teriall Brannon)
Still backup: R-SO Johnell Thomas
New backup: Brannon

Still starting: R-JR Chris Marve, SR John Stokes
New starter: R-SR Nate Campbell (replacing R-SO Archibald Barnes)
Still backup: FR Chase Garnham
New backups: Barnes and Campbell (replacing R-SO Dexter Daniels and R-SO DeAndre Jones)

Still starting: JR Casey Hayward and SO Eddie Foster
Still backup: SO Eric Samuels and SO Trey Wilson

Still starting: JR Sean Richardson and R-FR Jay Fullam
Still backup: FR Kenny Ladler (will continue to start if Fullam not recovered), FR Andre Simmons

Still starting: R-SO Ryan Fowler at field goal kicker, R-SO Richard Kent at punter and holder, R-JR David Giller at snapper, FR Carey Spear at kickoff specialist, SO Warren Norman at kick returner
New starter: SO Zac Stacy at punt returner (replacing R-SO John Cole)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vanderbilt hones offense, gets healthy during bye week

In his press conference today, Coach Robbie Caldwell said UConn is “much like Northwestern — maybe not the same at quarterback.” Northwestern’s Dan Persa is proving to be the real deal and is now the No. 2 rated quarterback in the nation in passing efficiency.

Caldwell listed UConn’s strengths as:
• A very strong power running game, with a big offensive line.
• An outstanding power back in Jordan Todman, who missed last week’s trouncing of Buffalo and is questionable for Saturday’s game.
• A big defensive front.

He said the team spent the bye week working on the following:
• On offense: Running the option, throwing screens, throwing the ball downfield, and protecting the passer
• On defense: Coverages and keeping pads down

As for people dismissing Vandy’s victory over Ole Miss, Caldwell said, “I saw where Ole Miss beat the dog crap out of Fresno so maybe we did something good down there.”

Caldwell said Saturday’s game at UConn will be officiated by an SEC crew. Maybe we can get the kind of home cooking that Northwestern got in Nashville from a Big 10 crew.


• TE Brandon Barden: Caldwell said Barden has been practicing and “looked pretty good running around.” Just in case, he’s being listed on the depth chart as a co-starter with redshirt freshman Mason Johnston.

• DT T.J. Greenstone says he’s ready to return from injury, but Caldwell said, “The verdict’s still out.” He’s being listed as a co-starter along with redshirt sophomore Colt Nichter, who spelled Greenstone against Ole Miss.

• DT Adam Smotherman is “not quite ready,” Caldwell said.

• Jamie Graham “looks like he’s gonna be ready,” Caldwell said. He said Graham will boost depth in the secondary, especially considering that starting safeties Sean Richardson and Jay Fullam are “nicked up.” True frosh Kenny Ladler started in place of Fullam against Ole Miss and looked sharp.

• Lineman Chris Aaron, who’s been out since preseason with an inner ear problem, is ready to return, says left tackle Wesley Johnson, but Caldwell did not confirm this.

• Wesley Tate continues to recover from a foot injury and will continue to become more involved in the offense as he regains the ability to cut on his foot.

• Warren Norman had fluid drained from his knee and is close to returning to old form. Both he and Zac Stacy “feel better” and “look better” according to Caldwell.

Vanderbilt opponents stumble out of the gate

Remember all that talk about the 10 bowl teams on Vandy’s schedule? Well, it’s been tough sledding for many of them. In fact, only four of the nine teams remaining on Vandy’s schedule have winning records after four games. Let’s review:

Record: 2-2.
Wins: Blowout victories over Texas Southern and Buffalo
Losses: Michigan and Temple by a combined score of 26-60.
Stock: DOWN. Husky fans expected to be 3-1 at the least.
Timing: This is a trap game for the Huskies, who’ve got a big ESPN game against Rutgers the Friday after the Vandy game.
MV! preseason prediction: 31-21 Vandy.
Still feasible?: YES. Though we may need some defensive or special teams TDs to put up 31 points. Also, the Huskies are 10-point favorites, so we’re definitely going out on a limb here. A win by any margin would be huge for the Dores.

Record: 0-4
Losses: A 4-point loss to Army, followed by another narrow loss to Miami-Ohio and a blowout to Central Michigan and Ohio State.
Stock: UP. Put a scare into Army, who beat Vandy last season and Duke on Saturday
Timing: If EMU beats Ohio this week, which isn’t beyond reason, they could be sky-high for the Commodores
MV! preseason prediction: 30-10 Vandy
Still feasible?: YES. Though it could be closer, especially if we try to get more young receivers and quarterbacks into the mix.

AT GEORGIA (Oct. 16)
Record: 1-3
Wins: Louisiana-Lafayette
Losses: South Carolina, Arkansas, Miss State by a combined score of 72-48.
Stock: WAY DOWN. The natives are restless.
Timing: The Dawgs could be back on track against Vandy after the return of A.J. Green and games against Colorado and Tennessee.
MV! preseason prediction: 24-15 Georgia
Still feasible?: YES. Though it could be much closer if Aaron Murray continues to adjust. But the Dawgs will try to pound the ball on the ground against the Dores, and their defense is awfully fast and talented. It’ll be tough to score on these guys. We still think this is a loss, but maybe 17-10.

Record: 3-1
Wins: Southern Miss, Georgia, Furman
Losses: at Auburn
Stock: UP. This is a top 10 football team that’s going to put a serious scare into both Alabama and Florida.
Timing: After a bye week and an emotional home game against Alabama, the Gamecocks go on the road against Kentucky and then Vanderbilt.
MV! preseason prediction: 27-20 SC
Still feasible?: YES, if Spurrier is still jerking his starting quarterbacks around. But this is a ridiculously talented team with a big prototypical tailback, huge athletic receivers and a scary fast defense. Don’t expect us to ring up 20 against these guys. (What were we smoking?) They’ve got to give us plenty of help (penalties, dropped passes, missed assignments) for us to have a chance of winning.

Record: 3-1
Wins: Tennessee Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, at Georgia
Losses: Alabama
Stock: STEADY. Mallett’s an awesome talent, and they’ve got plenty other weapons.
Timing: The Razorbacks could have an emotional letdown against Vandy after a glitzy game against Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium, a war against Auburn and a home game against Houston Nutt and Ole Miss.
MV! preseason prediction: 38-27 Arkansas
Still feasible?: Wow, we were optimistic about our offense, huh? After seeing the Hogs D against Bama on Saturday, I don’t know we can get 27 against them. And while our secondary is great against the run, they’ve struggled some in coverage. This one could be worse than expected, but I think Arkansas will have a bit of a letdown against us.

FLORIDA (Nov. 6)
Record: 4-0
Wins: Miami-Ohio, South Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky
Stock: STEADY. We’ll know more after Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa.
Timing: The Gators travel to Nashville after likely destroying Georgia in Jacksonville.
MV! preseason prediction: 31-14 Florida
Still feasible?: Seems about right, though it’ll be tough to score 14 against a speedy Florida D.

Record: 3-1
Wins: Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron
Losses: Florida
Stock: STEADY. They’ve whipped a mediocre team and two terrible teams and they’ve gotten blasted by Florida. Nothing new.
Timing: After a tough string of SEC games, they’ll be coming off a blowout win over Charleston Southern.
MV! preseason prediction: 20-14 Vandy
Still feasible?: YES. I still like this score, though Randall Cobb still scares the heck out of me.

Record: 2-2
Wins: Tennessee-Martin, UAB in overtime
Losses: Blowouts to Oregon and Florida
Stock: DOWN. Showed some scrap against two Top 10 teams but the UAB win was awfully weak.
Timing: Coming off road game at Memphis and home game against Ole Miss.
MV! preseason prediction: 17-16 Vandy
Still feasible?: YES. This will be our best opportunity to beat the Vols for many years to come. We’d better take advantage of it.

Record: 2-2
Wins: Presbyterian, Duke in a 54-48 shootout
Losses: Blowouts to Stanford and Florida State, surrendering 99 points
Stock: DOWN. Outside of EMU, this is the weakest team on Vandy’s schedule, lacking the star power and consistency of the teams that have beaten Vandy in recent years
Timing: Will face Vandy after a tough ACC stretch of Maryland, Boston College, NC State and Clemson.
MV! preseason prediction: 31-14 Vandy
Still feasible?: YES. Wake is well-coached and could rebound, but are staggering so far this season.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Larry Smith faces uphill climb in battle of passing efficiency ratings

A co-worker of mine, who happens to be a UT fan, was offering me kind words the other day about Vandy's victory over Ole Miss, adding that "your quarterback" played a great game and looks like a "nice" player.

Translation: I can't wait for him to face the Vols in November.

Larry's gotten an unfair rap so far, I think, in all three games, not withstanding the kind comments of UT fans:

• Game 1: Paired against Dan Persa, who after three games has complete an astounding 82 percent of his passes, has no interceptions, and is the nation's second most efficient passer. Performed admirably but was no Dan Persa.

• Game 2: Faced a massive LSU front that feasted on our young offensive line and a blue-chip secondary that shut down our shaky receivers. Was unable to carry the offensive by himself.

• Game 3: With the offensive line blowing holes big enough for trucks to drive through and the defense setting the tone and even scoring a touchdown, he wasn't required to light it up from the air. When he was dropping back and under pressure, he threw the ball away instead of taking a sack, which was a great improvement over his previous game. Except that it didn't do anything to improve his stats.

Larry's now ranked 98th in the nation in passing efficiency. Here's how he stands against the rest of the SEC (except for Miss State, which had no QB in the top 100):

1. McElroy (Alabama): 200.03 (1st nationally)
2. Newton (Auburn): 187.66 (4th)
3. Mallett (Arkansas): 186.50 (5th)
4. Hartline (Kentucky): 170.16 (8th)
5. Garcia (Scouth Carolina): 143.79 (40th)
6. Murray (Georgia): 143.27 (41st)
7. Brantley (Florida): 137.97 (57th)
8. Masoli (Ole Miss): 129.26 (60th)
9. Simms (Tennessee): 120.89 (73rd)
10. Jefferson (LSU): 113.15 (89th)
11. Smith (Vanderbilt): 103.69 (98th)

The last time Vanderbilt had a bye week

It's been much publicized that Vandy had no bye week last year. So how did we do in 2008 after a bye week?

Glad you asked. Well, we entered the bye week after beating Ole Miss in Oxford in a game in which we forced a highly touted transfer quarterback into some critical errors, returned an interception for a touchdown, stuffed the Rebels on fourth and short, and sealed the game with a fumble recovery.

Sound familiar? (The highly touted transfer quarterback, if you've forgotten him already, was Jevan Snead.)

Anyway, after the bye week, in their fourth game of the season, the Commodores beat Auburn, as I'm sure you do remember.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vanderbilt ranked No. 1 in nation in red zone efficiency... sort of

I'm not kidding. Vandy is really ranked No. 1 in the nation in red zone efficiency. The Commodores score 100 percent of the time when they start a play in the red zone.

That's the good news. The bad news? The Commodores are tied with Stanford, Oklahoma State, California, Nevada, East Carolina, Duke, South Carolina, Arkansas, Central Florida, Illinois, Pittsburgh, USC, Washington, BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, Oregon State, San Jose State, Western Kentucky, Mississippi State and Florida Atlantic.

Oh, and Vandy's only been in the red zone four times all season. So while we're four for four in the red zone in three games, Stanford is 19 for 19 in the same number of games. So we're 100 percent and Stanford's 100 percent, but I bet Stanford feels better about its offense.

While the Ole Miss game made Vandy fans feel better about the offense, we've still got a long, long way to go. For example, Vandy is 54th in rushing offense but 110th in passing offense and 106th in total offense. Sure, we're no longer 119th in total offense, but I'll say we've improved when we at least have a double-digit ranking.

On defense, we're ranked 104th in rushing defense, 64th in passing efficiency defense, 82nd in total defense and 58th in scoring defense.

On the bright side of things, we're 23rd in turnover margin and 16th in tackles for loss.

But we should also remember that nearly every other team in America has opened its season with a bunch of second-tier teams.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Commodores show some of that 2008 opportunism

It's important for Vandy fans to distinguish between (1) teams we should beat, (2) teams we can beat and (3) teams we can't beat.

Some fans think we should be able to beat everybody we play. Not so.

I was disappointed this past week with the number of fans who thought that Caldwell is way out of his league and must be replaced, that all our coaches are terrible, and that our recruiting has been poor and must improve.

Why was everybody freaking out? Because we'd just lost by 24 points to A TEAM WE COULDN'T BEAT. You didn't hear all the hysteria after the first week when we lost by two points to a TEAM WE COULD (BUT SHOULDN'T) BEAT.

I just didn't get it. We have a brand-new head coach, a brand-new offensive line, a quarterback who still hasn't started a full season, and a receiving corps that we're in the process of replacing with true freshmen. And we'd just lost to LSU, a team with as much talent as any team in the nation, especially on the defensive and offensive lines. In my mind, the loss to LSU wasn't any worse than the loss to Northwestern, especially considering we avoided major injury.

Saturday, we were a double-digit underdog to Ole Miss, and we'll likely be an underdog in every game we play this year except Eastern Michigan.

Our best days are ahead of us. Our best players have never played, and you can't just throw all those guys out on the field at once.

Yes, Ole Miss was a team we could (but shouldn't) beat. We could (but probably shouldn't) beat UConn, Kentucky, Wake Forest and Tennessee. (I'm picking us to win all four, against my better judgment.) The only team we should beat is Eastern Michigan.

We probably can't beat Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida, unless those guys get drunk the morning of the game or decide to go on a laptop-stealing spree.

We've got to be opportunistic. When a team we can (but shouldn't) beat stumbles or has a weakness, we've got to capitalize. We couldn't capitalize against Northwestern, but we capitalized beautifully against Ole Miss.

Let's face it: We stayed in the game for three quarters against LSU because they let us, just like Miss State stayed in the game for a half against LSU in Baton Rouge before the Tigers whipped them in the end.

We learned something about ourselves on Saturday, and we learned, as some of you have already pointed out, that this team bears some resemblance to the Music City Bowl champions of 2008. We learned we've got:

• A very, very young offensive line that needs time to gel. Remember we had no returning starters on the line in 2008. Nobody's mentioning that sophomore Ryan Seymour, our lineman with probably the most NFL potential, didn't start against Northwestern or LSU because he violated team rules. On Saturday, Seymour replaced Caleb Welchans at right tackle, and Welchans replaced guard Jabo Burrow, who was woefully outmatched against LSU. And for all you folks complaining about our lack of recruiting on the line, we've got five true freshmen (James Kittredge, Logan Stewart, Grant Ramsay, Chase White and Andrew Bridges). And more than any position except maybe quarterback, offensive linemen need a redshirt year to prepare for SEC play. Next year, we'll have three more true freshmen linemen (three-star prospects James Lewis and Jake Bernstein, and Spencer Pulley).

• A quarterback who can get the job done if he doesn't make mistakes. Remember how good Chris Nickson was in the red zone in 2008? Larry Smith's sweet ball fake and touchdown run in the presence of a heavy rush on Saturday was mighty encouraging. And did you notice he was below .500 passing? That's because he threw the ball away instead of taking sacks against the Rebels.

• No penalties down the stretch. Sure, we started the game with some stupid penalties, especially on punt returns. But after the first quarter, we avoided penalties and the offensive line did some good work without drawing holding penalties.

• A bend but don't break defense. Has there ever been a quieter 100-yard rushing day than the one Jeremiah Masoli had against us? With the exception of his jaw-dropping spin-move touchdown, he had a bunch of runs on second and third and long that came up short. Did you notice how much time the Rebels took in the fourth quarter just to get to the 50-yard line? Sure, our defense benefited from some dropped balls, and our pass coverage sometimes leaves something to be desired, but they totally dictated the game and even worked the clock to our favor in the end. How many third or fourth and short situations did we stuff the Rebels? A bunch.

• A punter who can consistently land the ball inside the 20-yard line. Richard Kent — and the guys covering his punts — came up huge Saturday. Ole Miss had terrible field position, which greatly helped our defense and our offense.

• An offense that, while still struggling to move the ball, can at least get a couple of first downs and help our field position. Remember how Nickson would move us 20 or 30 yards so that Upson could boot the opposition into a hole? Larry was doing that on Saturday.

• A team capable of winning the turnover battle. We finally recovered a big fumble and had a pick-six. And Casey Hayward held onto an interception. Meanwhile, Larry Smith avoided game-killing mistakes. Still, Warren Norman's got to curb his tendency to stretch out with the ball for extra yardage.

• Confidence and character. Eddie Foster's gamble on the pick-six and Larry's third-down pass to Brandon Barden out of the end zone — that began a 96-yard TD drive — lifted the team and made them believe they could win. And let's not forget who downed one of Richard Kent's punts inside the 10-yard line — it was walk-on David Giller, who had just snapped the ball to Kent. Meanwhile, Ole Miss's thug quarterback-for-hire racked up big statistics but lacked the passion and leadership in the face of opposition that the Rebels needed.

• Speed. Sure, we miss D.J. Moore, but we're even faster now than we were in 2008. Even counting the first two games, our defense has demonstrated big-time speed on the corners. Tim Fugger ran down Masoli just like he ran down Dan Persa; the guy's got some wheels. Chris Marve was all over the field, even when playing hurt. And our young DBs — Foster, Trey Wilson, Eric Samuels, Kenny Ladler — were all over Masoli and the other Rebels when they tried to turn the corner. And on offense, let's not forget Zac Stacy and Warren Norman. When's the last time a Commodore running back went 80 yards without getting tackled against an SEC defense? Um, it was Zealand Thigpen against LSU... in 1948. Vandy's longest run from scrimmage remains punter Bill Marinangel's 81 yard fake against Bama in 1996.

• Big plays. We had woefully few big plays on offense last season. And while our 5.5 rushing average on 41 plays sounds good, we averaged 2.2 yards on 37 carries. The remaining four carries? An 80-yard TD by Warren, a 35-yard TD by Zac, a 15-yard TD by
Larry and a 13-yard run by Wesley Tate. We'll take it.

• Statistics when we need them. We converted on third down only three times on Saturday. And all of them came on the 96-yard drive in the second quarter. When Ole Miss scored 14 unanswered points to tie the game, Warren broke his 80-yard TD run. When we were forced to punt the ball away in the fourth quarter, we got it back on a fumble and Larry faked and sprinted into the end zone.

• Guys who step up when others get injured. If you'd told me T.J. Greenstone would leave the game for good during the first series, I'd have told you we were toast. But Rob Lohr, Colt Nichter, Josh Jelesky and Taylor Loftley were stout. Jay Fullam missed the game but there was absolutely no drop-off with true freshman Kenny Ladler. Wilson, Samuels and Foster have almost made us forget Jamie Graham, who should be ready to go against UConn.

What remains a concern? Well, we still depend on the other team to help us beat them. We need to play even better than we did Saturday — and take advantage of more opponent's mistakes — to beat UConn in two weeks. And we'll need a whole lot of help to even be in the ballpark with South Carolina and Arkansas, or even Georgia, which has already lost to both the Gamecocks and Razorbacks.

But you never know. At the start of 2008, Auburn was a team we couldn't beat. Except they stumbled and we capitalized.

In summary, the Ole Miss game was mighty, mighty encouraging. Just remember that this Vandy team, while talented, is very much a work in progress and won't hit its stride for at least a year. (And that firing our coaching staff will seriously break that stride.) In the meantime, let's steal some more ballgames!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vandy gets most lopsided SEC victory since Ole Miss in 2007

Vandy's 28-14 win over Ole Miss on Saturday was its most-lopsided SEC victory since its 31-17 victory over Ed Orgeron's Ole Miss team in Nashville in 2007. In fact, Vandy has only four double-digit SEC victories in the past seven years — the two wins over Ole Miss, the 17-6 win at South Carolina in 2007 and the 31-13 victory over Mississippi State in Nashville in 2004.

Such things don't happen often. But this team wouldn't know much about Vandy's history. A whopping 67 percent of the players on the field for the Commodores on Saturday (37 of 55) did not play on the 2008 Music City Bowl team, which won four league games, but all in cardiac fashion. And more than a third of the Commodores who saw the field Saturday were in high school in 2008.

We're sticking with a Vandy win today

We're still not worried about the Commodores... yet.

In fact, they're right where we expected them to be. Before the season, we predicted Vandy to be 0-2 right now and to have lost those games by a combined 22 points. Well, Vandy is 0-2, but losing by a combined 26 points.

But here's where we picked Vandy to win, 27-24. We'll stick with that prediction, but I'm not sure how in the world we score 27 points. Kendrell Lockett is back for the Rebels at defensive end, and Jerrell Powe is a real load on the D-line. Maybe you've noticed we have trouble with loads on the D-line. We're gonna have big problems running between the tackles.

I'm not terribly worried about our defense in this one, but like everybody I'm concerned about the offense, in this order:

1. Offensive line
2. Wide receiver
3. Quarterback

Today I'd like to see us stick with the same offensive line, use all three freshman wide receivers (Pruitt is redshirting), and stick a backup quarterback in there for a series if Larry starts getting down on himself or his teammates.

Go Dores!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Surprise! Vandy's weaknesses are still its receivers and offensive linemen

Coach Robbie Caldwell said in last night's press conference that the staff is preparing freshman receivers Jonathan Krause, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd to shoulder more of the receiving burden.

Caldwell said that none of the starting receivers could get open. Boy, was that the truth. Know how many receptions starters Cole, Umoh and Wimberly had against LSU?


Only two receivers, Krause and junior Tray Herndon, caught passes. The leading receiver was junior tight end Brandon Barden.

So far, Krause is the only freshman with a reception — he's got 5 for 77 yards, but only one against LSU. Matthews has been slowed by tendinitis in his knee, and Boyd hasn't played yet but it sounds like he's getting lots of work in practice and is going to play this season.

Meanwhile, Caldwell was especially tough on his offensive line, guys he coached last season. He said he and Coach Hand thought the linemen could go one-on-one with LSU's D-linemen and block them straight up, which certainly didn't happen. He talked about how young those guys are and how little depth they have. Sounds like they're reluctant to throw the true freshmen (especially Kittredge and Stewart) into the mix, as well they should be.

Vandy fans seem shocked right now that we had trouble moving the ball against LSU. None of this should be a surprise to anybody, though. We knew we had big problems on the line and at receiver, those guys are trying to grow up in a hurry and they're struggling.

Again, it's no surprise. We told you Vandy would be 0-2 right now but we've also told you they'll win six out of their next 10. Sure, maybe that's a stretch and we'll know much more Saturday afternoon after the Ole Miss game, but right now nobody should be surprised or panicked.

Vanderbilt football is in good company... sort of

If I'd told you at the start of the season that this Vanderbilt football team after two games would bear comparison to Virginia Tech, you'd consider that a good thing, right?

Well, wrong.

Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and UCLA are the only teams from BCS conferences to have 0-2 records. No kidding. Even Washington State has a win.

North Carolina and Oregon State took an early bye week with 0-1 records.

In all, 15 teams have 0-2 records. Those from the minor conferences are Marshall, Memphis and UAB from C-USA; Akron, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan from Mid-Am; Colorado State, New Mexico and UNLV from the Mountain West; North Texas, Western Kentucky and Arkansas State from the Sun Belt; and San Jose State from the WAC.

New Mexico State, La-Monroe and FIU have 0-1 records.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Names and numbers from Vandy's 27-3 loss to LSU

Some key numbers from Vandy's 27-3 loss tonight:

Eight: Vanderbilt first downs in the game; that’s two first downs per quarter
135: Yards of total offense
135: Yards gained rushing, but that number drops to 65 when you subtract our 70 yards of losses.
Seven: Number of Vanderbilt penalties, for 52 yards; LSU had three penalties for 15 yards
2 of 13: Third down conversions
Six: Times Larry Smith was sacked

These guys played in the first game of their careers:
• Taylor Loftley, DT, R-So
• Jared Morse, DT, Fr
• Walker May, DE, R-Fr

These guys saw their first action of the season:
• Jared Funk, QB, R-Sr
• Tray Herndon, WR, R-Jr
• Akeem Dunham, WR, R-So
• Ryan Seymour, OT, R-So
• Nate Campbell, LB, R-Sr (starter)
• Micah Powell, LB/RB, R-So

These guys played last week but not this week:
• Kennard Reeves, RB, R-Sr
• Mylon Brown, OL, R-Fr

That's all for now. We weren't surprised about tonight's outcome and are still optimistic. It'll be interesting to see how long Caldwell will go with Smith at quarterback. I think he should get one more complete game before it's time to seriously consider other options.

Have a good rest-of-the-weekend. Remember, it's not the end of the world. We've got time to have a good season. And Tennessee is getting murdered right now.

Preview: Vandy faces tall challenge against LSU

So 55 percent of visitors to this site believe the Commodores will win tonight against LSU.

Not me. Before the season, I picked us to lose this game 26-14. I'm thinking it might be worse than that.

Again, that doesn't mean this team's not progressing. But remember how we ran the ball seemingly at will against Northwestern? While we were moving the ball up and down the field against the Wildcats, LSU was holding North Carolina to 24 yards rushing on 33 attempts.

Let me say that again: 24 yards rushing on 33 attempts.


The good news, if there is any, is that Ryan Seymour returns to the offensive line, which increases our number of linemen with more than one game of experience to four.

I think we really struggle on offense in this one. There's no way we'll move the ball through the air tonight with Cole, Umoh and Wimberly in the lineup. Last year, SEC secondaries were laughing at these guys. Yeah, they've worked hard in the off season but they still can't get downfield and separate from elite defenders. Jonathan Krause needs to stay on the field tonight, and Matthews and Boyd need to get some serious reps too. They'll take their lumps and they probably won't be the difference in the game, but they could very well be the difference for us next week and for weeks to come.

Larry appears to be growing and learning and finding a rhythm. He faces a huge challenge tonight because our line is young and light by SEC standards, LSU has its usual massive D-line, our receiving corps is shaky, and we'll have trouble gaining yards on the ground. It'll be interesting to see how he responds.

On defense, Jordan Jefferson is going to give us problems. Stanimal at VSL compares him to Dan Persa, and they're right in that he's capable of putting up those kinds of numbers against us tonight. But we contained Persa for key stretches of the game, and a good portion of his passes were on third down and were short of the marker because we backed off, allowed the completion and then made the tackle that forced the punt.

Jefferson is about half a foot taller and maybe 30-40 pounds heavier than Persa, and he's got gigantic wide receivers with world class speed. And the LSU offensive line is bigger and stronger than the Cats.

LSU can beat itself, and if they do and we're also playing at the height of our powers,
then we can win this game but we've got to have help from them and from the renowned game manager Les Miles. It's no secret that we have zero margin for error against a supremely talented team like LSU.

So yes, we can win. But we could also get blown off the field.

If that happens, keep your heads. Really, we have no business beating or even hanging with LSU. At the end of this one, it will probably be easy to blame:

• Larry Smith
• Our young offensive line
• Our receivers
• Our defensive line
• Larry Smith
• Larry Smith
• And did we mention Larry Smith?

If we lose to LSU, don't look for a scapegoat. Outside of maybe Florida, this is by far the most talented team we'll play all season. And maybe you've heard that we're not supposed to win every game.

Don't dwell on the scoreboard in this one. It'll be a victory for us if:
• We don't lose any starters or key players (last season against LSU we lost our best offensive lineman and a four-year starter at safety for the rest of the year)
• The unbelievably young offensive line continues to gel.
• Larry Smith keeps his cool, stays healthy and makes some good throws whether we catch them or not.
• We take the wraps off Krause — a bunch of us would love to see him on a reverse — and get Matthews his first reception.
• The secondary, particularly redshirt frosh Jay Fullam, keeps the Tigers from completing long pass plays.
• Ryan Fowler makes an extra point.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Use it or lose it: Foghorn malfunctions during Northwestern game

Forgot to mention the biggest highlight from Saturday's Vanderbilt-Northwestern game.

Late in the first half, after Vanderbilt had punted six straight times, Warren Norman scored a touchdown and the crowd went crazy. And per Vanderbilt tradition, the foghorn sounded.

Remember that the foghorn didn't get much use last season. So when it was finally activated on Saturday, it ran and ran and ran.

After several minutes, it was still going, but in that skipping electronic way that let the crowd know it had gone haywire.

Finally, after nearly five minutes, somebody shut down the foghorn. Apparently all that noise rattled kicker Ryan Fowler, who botched the extra point.

Vandy would score 15 more points in the game, but without the foghorn. No word on whether it will be ready for Saturday's game with LSU.

Did we mention this Vanderbilt team is young?

I refuse to accept people saying "Same old Vanderbilt" about this team. The only time I felt like saying it on Saturday was when I saw John Cole, Udom Umoh and Turner Wimberly — who all started games for us last season — play the entire first quarter with little success.

But then Jonathan Krause entered the game. This kid can play. And so can Jordan Matthews.

In all, 50 players saw action for Vanderbilt on Saturday, and 19 of them had never played in a college game before. That means that nearly 40 percent of the guys on the field for Vandy were playing in their very first NCAA game.

And nearly 70 percent of the guys on the field for Vandy will have two or more years of eligibility remaining after this season.

Caldwell and his staff seem to have decided which freshmen will play and which won't. The plan appears to be to work these guys onto the field at special teams and then get them on the field later at their regular positions. This is the approach the team took two years ago with Hayward and Richardson. On Saturday, a whopping eight true freshmen played on special teams (Spear, Clarke, Lassing, Garnham, Hal, Ladler, Butler and Simmons).

This is a very, very young team. Here are the guys who played for the first time:

• Jonathan Krause, WR: Clearly Vandy's best receiver already. He'll be in the starting lineup any day now.
• Jordan Matthews, WR: He started on special teams and got some snaps at receiver in the second half. Expect him to crack the starting lineup by mid-season.
• Carey Spear, PK: Handled kickoff duties for most of the night, though he didn't come close to kicking it into the end zone. If Fowler continues to struggle, he may become the full-time kicker.
• Steven Clarke, RB: Played on special teams. Will provide depth at running back but may return to the secondary.
• Fitz Lassing, TE: Played on special teams. Will provide depth at tight end.
• Chase Garnham, LB: Played on special teams. Listed as the backup to John Stokes.
• Andre Hal, CB: Played on special teams. Will be playing corner as a backup very soon.
• Kenny Ladler, S: Played on special teams and had a big hit. Second team free safety. A big strong guy who could end up splitting time with starter Jay Fullam.
• Karl Butler, S: Played on special teams. Another strong guy who'll provide solid depth.
• Andre Simmons, S: Played on special teams. Second team strong safety. Won't challenge Sean Richardson's job, of course, but could see some action soon.

• Wesley Johnson, OL: Started at left tackle and looked pretty good. Will be a fixture on the line for years to come.
• Jay Fullam, FS: Tallied 12 tackles on Saturday. A ferocious hitter though he's not very big.
• Wesley Tate, RB: Had a big first-down run on Saturday. Expect him to get more carries and be used in different situations as the season progresses.
• Mason Johnston, TE: Played special teams and also saw some time at tight end and H-back.
• Mylon Brown, OL: Played special teams. A raw talent who, like James Williams last season, could blossom in his second or third year with the team.
• Mark Panu, DE: The walk-on played on special teams.

• Jabo Burrow, OL: Spent last season as a backup defensive lineman and did not play. Started at left guard on Saturday and appears to be a solid starter.
• Richard Kent, P: Started at punter; not an impressive average because three of his punts were aimed inside the 20 yard line.
• Reece Lovell, RB: The walk-on running back played up-back on kick returns.

Here's an update on the freshmen who did not play on Saturday:

• Logan Stewart, OL: Listed as a second-team guard. Will see action this season. Only five linemen played on offense on Saturday.
• James Kittredge, OL: Listed as second-team center. Will see action this season.
• Chris Boyd, WR: Not on depth chart, but will likely see action soon. Only five receivers played on Saturday.
• Chase White, OL: Listed as a second-team tackle. Will dress and likely travel with the team and be ready to play.
• Jared Morse, DT: Not on depth chart, but dressed out and could see action.
• Kyle Woestmann, DE: Dressed out on Saturday but appears to be a candidate to redshirt.
• Grant Ramsay, OL: Considered the team's top OL recruit, but did not make depth chart or dress out on Saturday.
• Vince Taylor, DT: An exciting prospect who didn't dress out on Saturday. Not sure what's up.
• Andrew East, SN: Dressed on Saturday and was one of only two snappers to warm up during the pregame. A good possibility to redshirt though.
• Thomas Ryan, DT: Recruited as a defensive end but now listed as a tackle. Likely a project who'll redshirt. Didn't dress out.
• Andrew Bridges, OL: A project at tackle. He dressed Saturday but will likely redshirt.
• Blake Gowder, HB: Recovering from a shoulder injury and did not dress out. Will likely redshirt.
• Trent Pruitt, WR: Did not dress out on Saturday and will likely redshirt.

• Walker May, DE: Had a good spring but is not listed on the depth chart.
• Thad McHaney, DE: A highly regarded prospect who like May appears to be lost in the log jam at end.
• Blake Southerland, LB: A middle linebacker prospect who's not on the depth chart.
• Charlie Goro, QB: Considered to be the fourth quarterback, or the third if Rodgers redshirts.
• Javon Marshall, DB: Injured and did not dress on Saturday.
• Justin Cabbagestalk, OL: Blew out knee and will sit out season.

21 reasons to be optimistic about Vanderbilt football

At first it seemed like a joke. I was at Saturday's Vanderbilt-Northwestern game and the public address announcer explained that if Vandy scored 14 points in the game, fans could redeem their ticket stubs for a free crunchy beef taco at Taco Bell.

This was nearly 25 minutes into the game. Vandy had completed six drives... and punted six times.

But suddenly Tim Fugger showed superhuman speed and sacked Dan Persa, stripping the ball and leading to a John Stokes recovery. On the next play, Larry Smith hit Turner Wimberly for 37 yards.

We wouldn't punt again for the rest of the game. We'd gain more than 400 yards of total offense.

So what happened?

• Larry Smith found a rhythm. He wasn't perfect, but he was much improved.

• The starting line of Bailey, Burrow, Johnson, Fischer and Welchans played the entire game with a limited amount of glaring errors. While Smith was often running for his life, the line looked promising run blocking and opened up some big holes for Stacy and Norman, though the backs also got themselves out of more than a few jams.

• Jonathan Krause entered the game. While Wimberly had a big reception, he struggled to separate from the Wildcat defenders, and so did fellow starters John Cole and Udom Umoh. We cannot survive with the same starting receivers as last year. Krause was a revelation, grabbing some clutch passes and darting away from defenders. It was a similar debut to the one by Earl Bennett, who had a few big catches and runs in his first game against Wake Forest.

• Brandon Barden got involved in the offense. He made some big catches and is a big-time weapon.

So we scored 21 points and my four children went crazy because they got a free crunchy beef taco which I might have gotten for them anyway but it sure is fun to win free stuff.

Take away the victories over weak Western Carolina and Rice teams, and we scored 21 points or more only once last season.

While things will only get tougher, here are reasons for optimism:

• Massive sophomore tackle Richard Seymour, who was benched Saturday for team policy reasons, should return soon. He's an improvement over Caleb Welchans, who performed admirably and will be a solid backup.

• The staff will take the wraps off Jonathan Krause and likely insert him in the starting lineup — and Jordan Matthews, who played on special teams and got some offensive snaps in the second half, could be a starter too by mid-season. Also expect to see Chris Boyd get worked into the offense. John Cole is scrappy and Udom Umoh looks bigger than last season and Turner Wimberly is a hard worker and had a big catch, but these guys are not starting receivers in the SEC. Call me mean or whatever, but we're not going to get better on offense if we don't get the freshmen WRs on the field fast, and we're headed in that direction.

• Larry looked much improved. He still has work to do for sure, but he looked especially good rolling out and throwing on the run. The only time he had any room to throw was on his interception. And apart from Krause, none of his receivers could separate from their defenders and get open.

• The offensive line and wide receivers are young, young, young — and they're going to improve. Against Northwestern, seven of our top 10 linemen and three of our top six receivers had never played in a college football game before. That's astounding. It's a miracle that we stuck with a veteran team like Northwestern.

Again, I'd like to reiterate that we should be realistic here. LSU is a ridiculously talented team. They've got a massive defensive line and skill players who'll be in the NFL in a few years. We need to fight hard and get out of this one without incurring major injuries. Our young guys are going to gel soon and it's going to be fun to watch. Robbie Caldwell is going to take some chances — I wholeheartedly support the decisions he made Saturday — and he's going to have a sense of urgency because (1) he wants to win, (2) he wants to keep his job and (3) he can only keep his job if he wins now.

The winning can start in a couple of weeks. Be patient. It'll come.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Vandy-Northwestern recap: 5 bad plays, 5 good plays

Here are five key plays from Vandy's loss to Northwestern, not counting the ridiculous personal foul call against Jay Fullam that ended the game. Take any of them away and we could have had a different outcome:

WILSON'S FUMBLE: After Northwestern took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, the Wildcats kicked away from Eric Samuels, who'd opened the game with a 44-yard return, and instead booted the ball to sophomore Trey Wilson, who dropped the ball, picked it up and was tackled on the 7-yard line. The mistake put the Dores in a big hole and eventually led to a Northwestern touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

FOWLER'S MISSED PAT: Late in the second quarter, Ryan Fowler missed an extra point. If he'd made it, Vandy would have been tied at halftime and would likely never had gone for two. Instead, Vandy spent the entire game trying to get the missed point back and finished with 21 points instead of 24.

LARRY'S INTERCEPTION: Trailing 10-9 in the third quarter, Vandy was finding its rhythm on offense until Larry Smith threw high to Brandon Barden and was picked off. Northwestern launched a scoring drive and took a 17-9 lead.

CASEY'S WHIFF: After Larry's interception, Northwestern faced a third and long. Dan Persa launched a pass and it appeared that Casey Hayward had a bead on it but it went through his hands and into the arms of a Wildcat receiver for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Northwestern would score a few plays later.

CATS RECOVER: With 2:10 remaining in the game and Northwestern attempting to run out the clock, the Cats fumbled the football but recovered it back. On the next play, on third down, Fullam stopped Persa short of a first down but was called for the personal foul.

But here are five plays that kept us in the game:

FUGGER'S SACK: We knew Tim Fugger was fast, but with 4:22 remaining in the first half and NW QB Dan Persa appearing ready to squirt away once again, Fugger turned on the jets and ran down Persa, stripping the ball from him. John Stokes recovered and Vandy would suddenly discover its offense and move the ball without a punt for the remainder of the game.

WIMBERLY'S CATCH: Right after Stokes' recovery, Larry Smith fired a 37-yard pass to Turner Wimberly, who was wide open down the middle. It was a huge play for Wimberly, who struggled to get open and was replaced by Jonathan Krause down the stretch.

THE GAMBLE: With Vandy trailing in the third quarter and facing fourth and two, Coach Caldwell elected to go for it, and Warren Norman broke free for an 11-yard run.

T.J.'S BLOCK: With Vandy down by eight points late in the fourth quarter, T.J. Greenstone's block of a Northwestern PAT kept the Commodores alive.

KRAUSE'S CATCH: With the other Vandy receivers struggling to separate from DBs, freshman Jonathan Krause worked one-on-one against a veteran corner in the third quarter, grabbing a pass and motoring 24 yards. A few plays later, Larry Smith fired a long TD to Brandon Barden.

What does Virginia Tech losing to Boise State have to do with Vandy losing to Northwestern?

Glad you asked. See, Boise State scored a late touchdown tonight to beat Virginia Tech, but they did so on the strength of a 15-yard personal foul.

Called when a Boise player ran out of bounds, but back in bounds and kept running, no whistle, and he was hit (not in the head) by a VT player who was diving to stop him.

Bad call.

Made by a Big 10 officiating crew.

Against the defense and in front of the offense's bench.

That was the turning point in the game.

(I don't have to explain the connection to Saturday's game at Dudley, do I?)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vandy lost... We laughed, we cried

I'm in Nashville, where I saw Vandy lose 23-21 to Northwestern. The game was at once satisfying and unnerving. Satisfying because Vandy amassed more than 400 yards, scored three touchdowns, and found a big-time talent in WR Johnathan Krause. Unnerving because Larry made a couple of errors, John Cole struggled and the game essentially ended with a crap flagrant foul call against Jay Fullam, which was made in front of the NW coaching staff.

Typing this on my iPod keypad so I'll end here and break it down later. Overall, the performance was encouraging. Wait till Ryan Seymour returns and replaces Welchans, who struggled. Wait till we take the wraps off the frosh WRs.

Chris Marve is a freaking beast and we are fortunate to have him. More later. Let's hold our heads high.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Vanderbilt fans should psychologically prepare themselves for tonight's game with Northwestern

Yes, we're excited about our new head coach and our new talent and maybe even the fact that we're playing a private university without a great football tradition. So we're gonna win, right?

Wrong. At least, we shouldn't win.

I've already picked us to lose this game but win six games. We have a shot tonight, sure. But there are a ton of questions to be answered about this team, starting with our receiving corps and offensive line, last year's two big eye sores.

We feel better because we have new players at those positions. But get this:
• THREE of our top six receivers are true freshmen.
• SEVEN of our top 10 offensive linemen (not counting Ryan Seymour, who's been dropped from today's roster for disciplinary reasons) have never played in a college football game, and four of them are true freshmen.

I'm not trying to be a buzzkill, but it's important to be realistic about this.

If we lose, and even lose in a blowout, it's not the end of the world. Those true freshmen and redshirt freshmen — and other players like sophomore Jabo Burrow who still haven't played yet — are still talented players on whom we're building the foundation for a promising future. We need to remember that if we struggle tonight. This is a work in progress, and we're playing a team that scored 31 points in a New Year's bowl game against Auburn. We, you may recall, didn't win an SEC game.

If we do win, it's a really, really big deal. The media loves Robbie Caldwell, and some of them, like Chris Low, are actually picking Vandy to win. But we should be bigger underdogs than the 5.5 point spread. If we win, don't take it for granted. It would be a tremendous accomplishment, on the lines of any of our five wins in our miracle 5-0 run of 2008. And that team, you may recall, also returned no starters on the offensive line and was picked to win one or two games.

So what I'm saying is, I'm going to psychologically prepare myself for the game — win or lose — and you should too.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Warren Norman is the latest starting running back... and other roster changes

Earlier this week we analyzed the depth chart released with the Commodores game notes package.

Some things have cleared up since then:

• Turner Wimberly or Jordan Matthews as the third wide receiver. And the winner is... neither. It's true freshman Jonathan Krause. Matthews, another true frosh, will likely see plenty of action too. As for fifth-year senior Turner Wimberly being listed as a possible starter, it reminds me of the time my Little League coach forgot to play me in a game and put my name in the paper as being the winning pitcher. (Which was especially funny because we'd lost the game.) Wimberly's a smart, hard-working kid who won't be anywhere near the field during crunch time.

• Warren Norman or Kennard Reeves to start at running back along with Zac Stacy. And the winner is... Warren Norman. It appears that Norman has actually recovered from his knee injury and will start the game in a one-back set, which means he'll be backed by Stacy, then Reeves, then Wesley Tate. All should see action.

• Theron Kadri or Tim Fugger at defensive end. And the winner is... Theron Kadri. Fugger started eight games last season at defensive end while Kadri, a senior, has started one his entire career. But Kadri has one the job for now and will start opposite fellow senior Teriall Brannon.

• Archibald Barnes or Dexter Daniels at outside linebacker. And the winner is... Archibald Barnes. The other starting linebackers are senior John Stokes and junior Chris Marve. Daniels should see plenty of action.

• Eddie Foster or Trey Wilson to replace the injured Jamie Graham at starting cornerback. And the winner is... Eddie Foster. But Wilson will be the nickel back and will start the game instead of Barnes if the Commodores open up in the nickel formation.

• Warren Norman or Eric Samuels at kick returner. And the winner is... neither. Trey Wilson will likely start the game at kick returner, backed by Samuels. Unless the game hinges on a kick return, Norman will likely sit out special teams this week as he recovers from injury. Also, Zac Stacy will likely share punt return duties with John Cole.