Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hey, where was Charlie Goro?

Maybe you noticed it too. There on the sidelines, sending in various signals and dubious playcalls, were three quarterbacks.

1. Jared Funk — or Larry Smith, when Jared was getting the opportunity to get on the field and throw an interception.

2. Jordan Rodgers, who's likely redshirting after struggling with a shoulder injury.

3. Matt Casas, the walk-on who'll play in the event that hell freezes over.

Which begs the question, where was Charlie Goro?

I have no idea. Charlie's been on the sidelines doing the hand-signaling business in games past, but his No. 7 was nowhere to be seen on Saturday night.

Which means the rumors will start flying once again that he's transferring at the end of the semester. And unless he's in Nashville strictly for the academics, he's got to be wondering why he's here. He's a quarterback on a terrible offensive team that's desperate for a change. So what's he waiting for... to throw his first pass three years from now when he's a redshirt senior?

So Jared Funk lost the game for us?

Why is it that when a team gets their butts handed to them in a football game, their fans want to pinpoint the exact moment or the exact person that cost them the game?

In the case of Vandy's 49-14 loss last night, it apparently all boils down to the moment Jared Funk took the field.

Greg M. even blasted me for saying I loved the idea. Well, I do love the IDEA. I love that somebody in our coaching brain trust was planning for the game and said, "Hey, we're having trouble scoring. Larry Smith can't even get a freaking pass out of his hand before he's on his back. Maybe that's because he doesn't have time but maybe it's also because he's not reacting quickly enough. Jared Funk's been moving the ball in practice. So let's let him play the third series of the game."

When you score once out of every 30 drives or whatever, and you go three-and-out on 25 of them, it's not like you're throwing away a sure touchdown by substituting your quarterback for one drive in the first half. Fans have been wondering for the past two seasons why Larry hasn't gotten a breather here and there and a chance to settle himself down.

So we plan to do that. And yes, I love the IDEA of doing it and planning for it. In fact, when I saw Funk enter the game, I wondered if perhaps Larry hadn't performed so well precisely because he knew he'd have two series before he came out. And Caldwell practically said as much after game.

Now would I have ACTUALLY pulled Larry after the Dores opened the game with two touchdowns? Probably not. But if you tell Funk you're going to play him regardless of Larry's performance but then you wait for Larry to screw up before you make the substitution then you're sending the wrong signal to both guys.

And it wasn't Jared's fault that Barden couldn't catch the ball.

Bottom line, we didn't lose the game because Jared replaced Larry on the third series. If Larry had taken us to two more scores, we'd have lost that game 63-28. Petrino called off the hogs early in the fourth quarter.

It's like last year's Georgia Tech game. We put up a surprising number of points early, which only served to jump-start the other team's offensive machine. We weren't going to outscore the Razorbacks in a million years.

We used every bullet in our holster on those first two drives, while getting lots of help from Arkansas in the form of poor tackling and stupid penalties.

We were outmanned and we were going to lose that game. But the reason things went downhill so fast? (1) Our coaching staff failed to make adjustments on offense. (2) We lack game-ready SEC linemen on both sides of the ball — we couldn't get past their mammoth offensive line to pressure Mallett, and we couldn't stave off their mammoth defensive line to protect Larry. We were outweighed by 30 or 40 pounds on either side of the ball.

Sure, we lost by 35 points because Jared Funk played one series in the first quarter. If that makes you feel better about having the inferior team, then go ahead and believe that.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Commodores return to reality by halftime against Arkansas

Halftime and Commodores down 32-14.

Still, you gotta love the fact we came out and scored two touchdowns out of the gate. I know a lot of fans are going to whine about:

1. Funk coming in after Larry's two scoring drives and throwing a pick.
2. Larry fumbling in the end zone for a safety.
3. Our secondary surrendering 259 yards passing and three touchdowns.

I'm not whining about that. I love the idea of letting Larry sit for a series and watch the game, especially when he knows it's going to happen and is psychologically prepared for it. (But wouldn't it be nice to have a QB who doesn't have to be psychologically prepared for everything?) Barden dropped Funk's pass and it popped into the hands of a Razorback DB. Oh, and Mallett has no pressure. He'd torch any secondary when the D-Line isn't pressuring him.

We simply have zero error for margin. Our four-man rotation at defensive line, on average, gives up 30 yards to each Razorback offensive lineman. Thirty pounds! Eric Samuels rips off a great kick return and it's nullified by a bone-headed penalty from Josh Jelesky, who did a similarly stupid thing against Northwestern.

Yeah, Larry needs to unleash the ball sooner, but he's not getting much time. Mallett, as Caldwell likes to say, is eating a sandwich back there before he throws a pass. Our O-Line is missing a ton of assignments.

On the bright side of things, the Razorbacks are going to be sore after this one. Sean Richardson is laying the wood to those guys. Granted, he does it after they've gained 15-20 yards, but he's making them think twice about it. Marve is a beast, too.

And we're smarter than they are, too. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas' backup quarterback, was named the scholar-athlete of the week... for his 2.9 GPA in sports management.

A 2.9? In sports management? At Arkansas? Are we supposed to be impressed?

Hey, don't quit your day job — which apparently is playing football.

Vanderbilt scores two touchdowns in the first quarter for the first time since...

When's the last time the Commodores scored two touchdowns in the first quarter?

Glad you asked.

It was almost two years ago, on Nov. 15, 2008, against Kentucky, when D.J. Moore grabbed a couple of TD passes from Chris Nickson.

The Razorbacks just scored to cut their deficit to 14-13 and everybody on both sides is kind of bracing for them to explode and win by 40, but you've got to love the plays Des has been calling. He's stuck with our best playmakers and brought Larry along slowly.

Warren carries and then Jonathan Krause takes it to the house, and then Zac and Warren run and then Larry hits Barden a couple of times, the last time for a TD.

So far, so good.

Two touchdowns against Razorbacks would be an improvement for Vandy

Well, here I am once again posting at the last minute with today's Vandy pick. And once again, we're checking out our preseason pick. Hmmm, let's see. We picked Arkansas to beat Vanderbilt 38-27.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

If Vandy scores 27 points against a huge Arkansas defense, then we should make Des Kitchings offensive coordinator for life, unless the defense scores all three or four TDs.

We're going to need Mallett to have an off game. I was going to say get hurt, but did you see the numbers that Wilson, his backup, put up against Auburn?

Anyway, call it 31-14 Razorbacks.

I'm being optimistic. We've scored four touchdowns in four SEC games, or one TD in three games if you throw out the Ole Miss contest, which we most certainly aren't going to do.

But I'll be interested to see how young Des does tonight and if he makes any difference. It's at 6 p.m. central time on Fox Sports South.

Go Dores.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vandy quietly building a talented, deep offensive line

Every now and then, a Vandy fan complains about how the coaches have let the offensive line fall into such disrepair. I disagree.

Fate has dealt the Commodores a cruel blow in the past year, with starter Reilly Lauer leaving school, starter James Williams an academic casualty, potential starters Chris Aaron and Justin Cabbagestalk suffering season-ending injuries and substitutes Richard Cagle and Rob Ashabranner leaving school. That’s six guys suddenly gone from your two-deep.

That’s why we’ve already burned the redshirts off two true freshmen offensive linemen this year.

But the coaches are not standing idly by. The recent verbal commitment from Jose Valedon — an underrated prospect with quick feet, long arms and the ability to play either tackle position — gives us a complete offensive line from our 2011 signing class:

• James Lewis, 6-5, 295, Arlington, Tenn., 3 stars from ESPN, Rivals, Scout
• Jake Bernstein, 6-4, 276, Crystal Lake, Ill., 3 stars from ESPN, Rivals, Scout
• Alex Barr, 6-7, 285, Fayetteville, Ga., 3 stars from ESPN, 2 from Scout
• Jose Valedon, 6-4, 270, Oak Ridge, Tenn., 2 stars from ESPN, Scout
• Spencer Pulley, 6-5, 277, Cordova, Tenn., 2 stars from ESPN, Scout

And this nicely complements the complete offensive line from our 2010 signing class:

• Grant Ramsay, 6-5, 280, Marietta, Ga., 3 stars from ESPN, Rivals, Scout
• James Kittredge, 6-4, 260, Ramsey, N.J., 3 stars from ESPN, Rivals, Scout
• Logan Stewart, 6-4, 270, Boiling Springs, S.C., 3 stars from ESPN and Rivals, 2 from Scout
• Andrew Bridges, 6-6, 245, Atlanta, Ga., 3 stars from ESPN and Rivals, 2 from Scout
• Chase White, 6-6, 260, Plano, Texas, 2 stars from ESPN, Rivals, Scout

What does this mean? It means that we’ll have a deep line in 2011:
• Redshirt senior: Kyle Fischer
• Redshirt juniors: Ryan Seymour, Jabo Burrow, Caleb Welchans
• Redshirt sophomores: Wesley Johnson, Mylon Brown, Justin Cabbagestalk
• Sophomores: Logan Stewart, James Kittredge
• Redshirt freshmen: Grant Ramsay, Chase White, Andrew Bridges
• Freshmen: James Lewis, Jake Bernstein, Alex Barr, Jose Valedon, Spencer Pulley

And an even deeper line in 2012:
• Redshirt seniors: Ryan Seymour, Jabo Burrow, Caleb Welchans
• Redshirt juniors: Wesley Johnson, Mylon Brown, Justin Cabbagestalk
• Juniors: Logan Stewart, James Kittredge
• Redshirt sophomores: Grant Ramsay, Chase White, Andrew Bridges
• Sophomore: James Lewis
• Redshirt freshmen: Jake Bernstein, Alex Barr, Jose Valedon, Spencer Pulley

Not bad, huh?

Just remember that more than any other position besides maybe quarterback, offensive linemen must make the biggest adjustments physically and mentally to the college game. That's why Myron Lewis, D.J. Moore, Warren Norman and Earl Bennett play as true freshmen, while Chris Williams, Thomas Welch, Brian Stamper and Justin Geisinger don't.

Our freshmen, even the ones who've been thrown into the fire, are still far from where they'll be in a couple of years. And with Herb Hand and Robbie Caldwell coaching them up, I'm confident the offensive line is going to improve dramatically during each of the next two seasons.

Walker May makes a move on Vanderbilt's depth chart

Only one noticeable change to the latest Vandy depth chart: After catching everybody's eye since spring practice for his nose for the ball and motor, Walker May has cracked into the depth chart and has made second team, supplanting Teriall Brannon, a redshirt senior who started the season opener.

This is perhaps a small, unimportant change, but I believe it says volumes about (1) the young talent we have, and (2) the mindset of this coaching staff.

For the longest time, we've rewarded hard-working student-athletes by putting their names in ink on the depth chart, even when the team continues to struggle.

Early on, Jonathan Krause booted Turner Wimberly out of the starting lineup and Jordan Matthews bumped out the likes of Akeem Dunham and Brady Brown. Now Matthews needs to get more touches. He's got one this season, for 35 yards. Oh, and he needs to replace John Cole or Udom Umoh in the starting lineup.

Did you know John Cole has touched the ball more than any other Commodore except for our quarterback and two running backs. Why?

Krause needs to get the majority of Cole's touches, which come mostly on punt returns and against weaker competition because the guy can't get open deeper than three yards downfield against an SEC defense. And Umoh's caught nine passes in seven games.

It will be interesting to see who gets the ball this week as Des Kitchings takes over as offensive coordinator.

On the offensive line, freshman Logan Stewart may have been on track to replace senior center Joey Bailey by season's end but Bailey missed Saturday's game with injury, precipitating Stewart's baptism by fire. Caldwell, who's never been terribly impressed with Bailey, said Stewart struggled but did some things better than Bailey does. Expect Stewart to improve dramatically this week.

Lots of "or"s in our starting lineup:
• Norman or Stacy at running back: Those guys are co-starters anyway.
• Bailey or Stewart at center: Bailey not expected to return this week from injury.
• Greenstone or Nichter, Smotherman or Lohr at defensive tackle: Also depends on upperclassmen's ability to return from injury.

In addition to May, lots of young guys are making a move on defense:
• Chase Garnham began the season stuck behind five redshirt sophomores at linebacker, but now he's the fourth- or fifth-best linebacker on the team behind upperclassmen Marve, Stokes and Campbell, and even with sophomore Archibald Barnes.
• In the secondary, true freshmen Steven Clarke and Andre Simmons are on the move and getting more playing time on defense. Kenny Ladler has replaced Jay Fullam as the starting free safety.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Robbie Caldwell shows he's no Bobby Johnson and pulls the plug on his offensive coordinator

It took Bobby Johnson seven years to demote his offensive coordinator. It took Robbie Caldwell seven games to demote his offensive coordinator.

Caldwell announced today that running backs coach Des Kitchings will replace Jimmy Kiser as OC, with Kiser focusing on coaching quarterbacks.

Kind of makes sense, huh? Caldwell said he thought long and hard about naming Herb Hand to the position, but Hand's got his hands full coaching a young and woefully inexperienced offensive line. Meanwhile, our quarterbacks, especially Larry Smith, need a ton of attention, and now Kiser has the time to do that.

Who needs the least amount of attention? Our running backs. And who should know best how to get those running backs, who also happen to be our best playmakers, involved in our offense?

The running backs coach.

Also, have you noticed that all the old white coaches never leave, but the young, up-and-coming coaches, who happen to be black, are gone after a couple of years to better jobs? Kenny Carter left for Florida and Warren Belin is now at Georgia.

Let's let a young guy call the shots for once. The kids have to like the change, and it certainly can't hurt recruiting, especially if the offense turns around and Kitchings looks like a keeper at OC.

At any rate, I applaud Caldwell for pulling the trigger on this.

So Vandy should get the ball to our playmakers... but who are they?

Coach Robbie Caldwell is pledging to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. Which of course begs the question: Who exactly are our playmakers? Let’s answer a question with some questions (and the answers to those questions):

Who’s touching the ball right now?
1. QB Larry Smith, 230 times (164 passes, 66 rushes)
2. RB/KR Warren Norman, 97 times (66 rushes, 20 kick returns, 11 catches)
3. RB/PR Zac Stacy, 62 times (50 rushes, seven catches, five punt returns)
4. WR/PR John Cole, 29 times (15 catches, 12 punt returns, one rush, one pass)
5. RB Wesley Tate, 27 times (26 rushes, one catch)
6. TE Brandon Barden, 21 times (21 catches)

Who’s got the most yards?
1. QB Larry Smith, 2000 yards (1,005 passing, 195 rushing)
2. RB/KR Warren Norman, 1001 (496 return, 395 rushing, 110 receiving)
3. RB/PR Zac Stacy, 336 (297 rushing, 27 receiving, 12 return)
4. WR/PR John Cole, 325 (211 receiving, 113 return, -1 rushing)
5. TE Brandon Barden, 247 (247 receiving)
6. WR/PR Jonathan Krause, 207 (148 receiving, 55 rushing, 4 return)
7. WR Udom Umoh, 166 (166 receiving)
8. DB/KR Eric Samuels, 120 (120 return)
9. QB Jared Funk, 114 (112 passing, 2 rushing)
10. WR Turner Wimberly, 103 (103 receiving)

Who with 10 or more touches has the most yards per touch?
1. WR/PR Jonathan Krause, 12.9 yards per touch
2. TE Brandon Barden, 11.8
3. WR/PR John Cole, 11.1
4. RB/KRWarren Norman, 10.3
5. QB Jared Funk, 8.8
6. QB Larry Smith, 08.7
7. RB/PR Zac Stacy, 5.4
7. RB Kennard Reeves, 5.4

Who has big gains on less than 10 touches?
1. WR Jordan Matthews, 35.0
2. DB Eddie Foster, 21.0
3. WR Turner Wimberly, 20.6
4. WR Udom Umoh, 18.4
5. DB/KR Eric Samuels, 17.1
6. WR Tray Herndon, 11.2

Who with 10 or more touches has the most touchdowns per touch?
1. TE Brandon Barden, 1 TD per 10.5 touches
2. QB Jared Funk, per 13 touches
3. WR Jonathan Krause, per 16 touches
4. RB/PR Zac Stacy, per 20.7 touches
5. RB/KR Warren Norman, per 24.3 touches
6. QB Larry Smith, per 28.8 touches
7. WR/PR John Cole, per 29.0 touches

Who else scores when they touch the ball?
1. WR Udom Umoh, two TDs on nine catches
2. DB Eddie Foster, one TD on one interception return
3. TE Mason Johnson, one TD on one reception

Who hasn’t touched the ball yet who should?
1. DB Steven Clarke
2. DB Andre Hal
3. S Andre Simmons
4. QB Charlie Goro

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Robbie Caldwell agrees his offense stinks and he's not going to take it anymore

Did you hear Coach Robbie Caldwell’s press conference last night?

None of that stuff we’ve heard the past seven years from Bobby Johnson about lack of execution.

He said three things I’ve been waiting to hear:

1. The offense played terribly and something’s going to change.

2. The playcalling was terrible and something’s going to change.

3. Nobody’s making plays and somebody’s got to step up.

Here’s some excerpts:

On the offense in the second half: “They made some adjustments, shut us down. I’m very disappointed in that aspect of it. Very poor performance second half offensively. That’s very disappointing. We’re gonna have to do some things. We’re prepared and ready to go.”

On what changes he has in mind: “I got several things. You’ll see them next week hopefully. We’ve got to do something different. We gotta maintain some clock, do some things — we’ll make some adjustments.”

On whether the problem is the offensive personnel or the playcalling: “It’s a little bit of both but we’ll talk about that when I’m ready — not right now.”

On true freshman Logan Stewart starting at center: “He did a good job considering he’s a freshman but it didn’t work out. A little complicated for him in there, the game got too fast.”

On the difference between Vandy and South Carolina: “It’s a difference in playmakers. You gotta have some people who can make plays. Were working toward that. We gotta have somebody step up. Right now on offense our playmakers are our running backs and they can take that away by loading the box. We haven’t been able to compensate with the passing game yet.”

On redshirt freshman Walker May, who got a boost in playing time at defensive end: “We need a spark, we need somebody to strike the match, light the fire. And he’s done that on special teams as a defensive player. What’s he weigh? 218 pounds soaking wet?
Man, what a motor he’s got… He’s gonna be something special — he is something special.

On the need to make changes: “When I jumped into the seat, things were already laid out but now it’s had time; we gotta make some tweaks. We still got some great opportunities ahead of us. The season’s not over by any means. We got some good young talent and that’s what it is, we gotta get ’em ready to go.”

So what kind of changes will Caldwell make?

1. Somebody new calling the plays. Herb Hand? He’s sure got his hands full with his line.
2. Stick with the veterans on offensive line. True freshmen James Kittredge and Logan Stewart are great prospects for us but way over their heads right now. But who’ll play center if Joey Bailey can’t go?
3. Play the best skill players, regardless of age. Jonathan Krause started over John Cole, which is a start. Cole, Umoh and Wimberly are great guys with great work habits but they are not SEC receivers. Barden’s got to step up. Matthews has got to learn the dang playbook fast. What else? Tate in the slot? We’re lining up Zac wide but he’s not really a burner out there.
4. Keep throwing young defenders out there. Walker May looked sharp. Steven Clarke is a man out there, too, and got a ton of minutes last night.
5. Think he’ll do something at quarterback? Charlie Goro? Probably not.

Should be interesting. I like how Caldwell’s reacting. He’s going to make a change. He wants to be head coach and he’s not afraid to piss off some of his buddies if that’s what it’s going to take.

This week’s Sporting News magazine says that Vandy may have “found a keeper in Caldwell.”

The jury’s still out, but I sure haven’t given up on him yet, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vandy's game with the Gamecocks will be uglier than we thought

Each Saturday, we like to examine our preseason prediction for that day's game and then stick with it.

Two months ago, we predicted Vandy would lose 27-20 to South Carolina.

No way.

Vandy's going to be just what the doctor ordered for the Gamecocks, just like we were just what the doctor ordered last weekend for the Georgia Bulldogs. It's very unfortunate for us that Kentucky beat SC last week.

Sure, we've beaten SC two out of the last three years. But those teams didn't have the offensive line that this team has. Don't be too glad about Lattimore missing the start today; his backup is the guy who gained 125 yards against us last season. And Alshon Jeffery should have a field day against us.

Don't forget that we'll have a true freshman starting at center against a stout defensive front, and don't forget that our starting tackles are still gimpy.

I really, really hope we score some points. The team seemed angry and embarrassed after the Georgia loss, and hopefully they don't get embarrassed today. But their odds of winning are very slim.

Call it 24-3 Gamecocks.

But don't go jump off a building if we lose. We have no business winning this game. Instead, we need to figure out something we can do offensively, get our young O-linemen some more quality minutes, and shore up our weaknesses on defense.

In fact, that's what we need to do in our next three games. OK, go ahead and say we can beat Florida. Do you know how loaded with talent the Gators are? We'll be just what the doctor ordered for them too. No, we need to focus on self-improvement and building a solid foundation for the future.

Then maybe we can have some success when we finish our season with three progressively weaker opponents: Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Beating two of three of those teams would be a big deal for us and give us some momentum heading into 2011.

As for 2011, here's what we need to do:
• Get a whole new offensive coaching staff. It's time for a change. We recruit marginal SEC talent on both sides of the ball, but our defense is always competitive because of our defensive coaches and schemes. In fact, our defense looks so great because our offense is so unbelievably bad. I'm glad we've changed coordinators and schemes, but we need to keep changing until we find something that works. Anything else is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
• Get Jordan Rodgers healed and give him the ball next season. We'll be much better at all positions but quarterback next season and then even better in 2012. So we need to go with a quarterback in 2011 who'll be around in 2012. Rodgers is redshirting and will be available to fit the bill. Let's redshirt Damien Fleming next season and get him ready to be a three year starter in 2013. Meanwhile, Larry's got six more games to change our minds, and I hope he does.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vandy fans, stop whining and enjoy being in first place

Sure, the Georgia loss was humbling. And sure, Chris Low now has us dead last in his latest SEC power rankings.

But guess who’ll be in the SEC East driver’s seat if they win on Saturday?

That’s right, Vanderbilt.

Today, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are the only teams in the East with two conference losses. Everybody else — Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee — has three.

So if Vandy upsets the Gamecocks on Saturday, the Commodores will be all alone in first place with a 2-2 record.

Sure, the likelihood of the Dores beating Florida and Arkansas to maintain the lead seems slim to none.

But we’ve never been in this position before. It’s the eighth week of the season and we’re not in the cellar of the SEC standings. In fact, we’re on top. In many ways, our season begins on Saturday. Sure, it could all turn to crap pretty fast, but for now let’s pause to acknowledge the rare gift of playing badly and still having the opportunity — however unlikely — to pull off a miracle season.

It’s too early to throw in the towel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Vanderbilt depth chart shows effects of injuries on offensive, defensive lines

After a 43-0 blowout, you'd expect some changes to the depth chart, but there's not much different about this week's two-deep. Here are a few highlights, if you wish to call them that:

• Warren Norman and Zac Stacy are still listed as co-starters at running back; both started against Georgia as Vandy went with a two-receiver set with Cole and Umoh and true freshman Jonathan Krause first off the bench.

• Senior center Joey Bailey will likely sit out the South Carolina game with injury, which means true freshman Logan Stewart would likely start in his place. Other than quarterback, center is probably the last position you want a true freshman. Caldwell said another true freshman, James Kittredge, might also get a look there, and that redshirt sophomore Jabo Burrow has been snapping the ball in practice and could be used in an emergency.

• After losing his starting job to Caleb Welchans in the third game of the season, Burrow is back at starting left guard, with Welchans listed as backup to both Burrow at guard and Ryan Seymour at right tackle.

• Senior Adam Smotherman played on Saturday and could get the start, as could junior T.J. Greenstone, who's missed the past two games to injury. They'd replace redshirt sophomores Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter.

• Senior Nate Campbell is listed as a starter at outside linebacker and Chris Marve's backup in the middle. Of the five redshirt sophomore linebackers — Tristan Strong, DeAndre Jones, Dexter Daniels, Archibald Barnes and Micah Powell — only Strong and Barnes are listed on the depth chart; those guys have been a real disappointment so far. True freshman Chase Garnham is still second-team at OLB.

• True freshman free safety Kenny Ladler continues to fend off redshirt freshman Jay Fullam, who started the first two games. Two more true freshmen, safety Andre Simmons and corner Steven Clarke, are two-deep in the secondary, and classmates Karl Butler and Andre Hal are seeing plenty of time on special teams.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Don't feel bad, Robbie Caldwell... you've got nothing on Gerry DiNardo

Lighten up, Vandy fans. Yesterday's 43-0 loss to Georgia was only the 22nd worst loss in Vanderbilt history. Imagine how bad Dan McGugin, the winningest coach in Vandy history, felt the morning after his Commodores or whatever they were called back then lost 83-0 at Georgia Tech in 1917.

And Robbie Caldwell's got nothing on Gerry DiNardo, who in his four seasons masterminded three of Vandy's Top 10 losses of all time: 65-0 against Tennessee in 1994, 52-0 at Florida in 1993, and 62-14 at Tennessee in 1993.

Just for kicks, here are the 35 games Vanderbilt has lost by 40 or more points since it starting playing organized football in 1890:

1. 83-0 at Georgia Tech, Nov. 3, 1917 (Dan McGugin)
2. 71-0 Alabama, Nov. 17, 1945 (Doby Bartling)
3. 65-0 Tennessee, Nov. 26, 1994 (Gerry DiNardo)
4. 66-3 Alabama, Sept. 29, 1979 (George MacIntyre)
5. 71-13 at Florida, Nov. 3, 2001 (Woody Widenhofer)
6. 52-0 at Florida, Nov. 20, 1993 (Gerry DiNardo)
7. 56-6 at Auburn, Oct. 13, 1990 (Watson Brown)
7. 56-6 at Auburn, Oct. 23, 1920 (Dan McGugin)
9. 48-0 at Tennessee, Nov. 22, 2003 (Bobby Johnson)
9. 48-0 at Chicago, Oct. 13, 1917 (Dan McGugin)
9. 48-0 North Carolina, Nov. 3, 1900 (J.L. Crane)
9. 62-14 at Tennessee, Nov. 27, 1993 (Gerry DiNardo)
13. 47-0 at Ole Miss, Oct. 28, 1961 (Art Guepe)
14. 46-0 Tennessee, Nov. 29, 1952 (Bill Edwards)
14. 46-0 at Centre College, Oct. 17, 1896 (R.G. Acton)
16. 45-0 at Tennessee, Nov. 30, 1991 (Gerry DiNardo)
16. 45-0 at Georgia, Oct. 16, 1976 (Fred Pancoast)
16. 45-0 at Tennessee, Dec. 1, 1945 (Doby Bartling)
19. 44-0 Alabama, Sept. 29, 1973 (Steve Sloan)
19. 44-0 Georgia Tech, Oct. 16, 1920 (Dan McGugin)
19. 47-3 Georgia, Oct. 18, 1975 (Fred Pancoast)
22. 43-0 at Georgia, Oct. 16, 2010 (Robbie Caldwell)
22. 43-0 Tennessee, Dec. 2, 1950 (Bill Edwards)
24. 42-0 at Mississippi State Sept. 5, 1998 (Woody Widenhofer)
24. 42-0 Alabama, Oct. 9, 1971 (Bill Pace)
24. 42-0 at Georgia Tech, Sept. 24, 1966 (Jack Green)
24. 45-3 at Georgia Tech, Aug. 31, 2002 (Bobby Johnson)
24. 49-7 at Ole Miss, Oct. 18, 1993 (Gerry DiNardo)
24. 49-7 LSU, Oct. 12, 1985 (George MacIntyre)
24. 49-7 Auburn, Oct. 14, 1978 (Fred Pancoast)
35. 41-0 Tennessee, Nov. 28, 1998 (Woody Widenhofer)
35. 41-0 at Notre Dame, Sept. 16, 1995 (Rob Dowhower)
35. 41-0 at Georgia, Oct. 18, 1980 (George MacIntyre)
35. 41-0 at Alabama, Sept. 30, 1980 (George MacIntyre)
35. 47-6 at Baylor, Oct. 17, 1953 (Art Guepe)

If you're wondering, DiNardo was the master of being on the wrong end of a 40-point blowout, leading his team to five of them in his four seasons.

DiNardo had one more of them than McGugin had in 35 seasons as head coach or George MacIntyre had in seven seasons.

In all, 17 of Vandy's 26 coaches have suffered a 40-plus-point blowout. Here's how they rank, in order of worst to best:

1. Gerry DiNardo (1991-1994): five in four seasons (1.3:1)
2. Robbie Caldwell (2010): one in one season (1:1)
3. Doby Bartling (1944-1945): two in two seasons (1:1)
4. Fred Pancoast (1975-1978): three in four seasons (1:1.3)
5. Woody Widenhofer (1997-2001): three in five seasons (1:1.7)
6. George MacIntyre (1979-1985): four in seven seasons (1:1.8)
7. Rod Dowhower (1995-1996): one in two seasons (1:2)
7. Steve Sloan (1973-1974): one in two seasons (1:2)
7. J.L. Crane (1899-1900): one in two seasons (1:2)
7. Bill Edwards (1949-1952): two in four seasons (1:2)
11. R.G. Acton (1896-1898): one in three seasons (1:3)
12. Jack Green (1963-1966): one in four seasons (1:4)
12. Bobby Johnson (2002-2009): two in eight seasons (1:4)
14. Watson Brown (1986-1990): one in five seasons (1:5)
14. Art Guepe (1953-1962): two in 10 seasons (1:5)
16. Bill Pace (1967-1972): one in six seasons (1:6)
17. Dan McGugin (1904-1934): four in 31 seasons (1:7.8)

And these guys never got whipped by 40 or more:
• Red Sanders (1940-1942, 1946-1948): zero in six seasons (0:6)
• Ray Morrison (1935-1939): zero in five seasons (0:5)
• Elliott Jones (1890-1892): zero in three seasons (0:3)
• W.H. Watkins (1901-1902): zero in two seasons (0:2)
• Henry Thornton (1894): zero in one season (0:1)
• W.J. Keller (1893): zero in one season (0:1)
• C.L. Upton (1895): zero in one season (0:1)
• J.H. Henry (1903): zero in one season (0:1)
• E.H. Alley (1943): zero in one seasons (0:1)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time to find out who really loves Vandy football

So the Dores chalk up their worst performance against Georgia since a 45-0 loss in Athens in 1976. Fortunately, I missed the second and third quarters watching my 8-year-old son's soccer game. His team lost 4-3 in something of a moral victory.

Not even I could find a moral victory in today's game.

I told you before the game that Georgia has a better team and much better talent. But 43 points better?

Don't tell me it was Larry's fault. He got killed out there. Their secondary ate up our receivers. And our two tight ends set the tone for the game in the first quarter with Brandon Barden dropping a wide open trick pass from John Cole and then Mason Johnston fumbling a reception that was returned for a touchdown before being ruled a drop.

My biggest disappointment? Not playing Charlie Goro. You're getting killed so why not try to accomplish something instead of just throwing the same old guys out there?

It didn't help losing Joey Bailey to an ankle injury in the first half. But we rolled over and quit, at least offensively, like we haven't done since losing 71-13 to Florida in 2001 in the game that cooked Woody Widenhofer's goose. In other words, none of Bobby Johnson's teams ever looked this bad against anybody.

I'll stick with what I said after the EMU blowout: Caldwell must win at least two more games to keep his job. His remaining opponents: South Carolina, at Arkansas, Florida, at Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest.

Don't tell me you think we should set the bar higher. Two wins will be a tall order.

Have a good Saturday afternoon. Remember, Georgia had way more talent than we did.

You asked for it: A closer look at Vanderbilt's commitments for 2011

Mark was wondering about Vandy's current recruiting class. It's a nice class so far, and we shouldn't lose anybody like we did last year because (1) all these guys have committed to a 2-10 team instead of a defending bowl champion and (2) they're not being pursued by as many big-name programs as guys like Davis Dudchock and Bradley Roby were last year.

Here's a breakdown of our verbal commitments, starting with who we believe are our best prospects:

1. James Lewis
• Hometown: Arlington, Tennessee
• Measurables: 6-5, 275
• Stars: 3.0
• SEC offers: Kentucky
• Other BCS offers: Illinois, Duke
• Position at Vandy: This is the rare Vandy recruit who's a true left tackle. He's a high school basketball player with quick feet and long arms, and could be the second coming of Chris Williams.
• Earliest playing time: If he's putting on weight like some people say, he could be ready to play right away; he already looks like a better long-term prospect than any of the true freshmen Vandy signed in 2010.
• Chances he'll jump ship: Unlikely. People say he's a good kid whose parents have taught him to stick to his word.

2. Jake Bernstein
• Hometown: Crystal Lake, Illinois
• Measurables: 6-4, 276
• Stars: 3.0
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: Arizona, Illinois, Cincinnati, Colorado, Minnesota, Indiana
• Position at Vandy: Listed at offensive tackle but lacks the athleticism of Lewis and could play guard; seems like a similar prospect to Grant Ramsay, who has struggled with injury his freshman season and is redshirting.
• Earliest playing time: With Vandy losing only Joey Bailey to graduation next season, and with our five offensive line signees from 2010 with a year under their belts, Bernstein will almost certainly redshirt in 2011.
• Chances he'll jump ship: Offensive linemen are usually intelligent guys who value a good education, and as far as I can remember, Vandy's never had an O-linemen renege on a commitment. But if his home state team, Illinois, goes to a bowl as some are predicting, then who knows?

3. Keith Heitzman
• Hometown: Hilliard, Ohio
• Measurables: 6-3, 237
• Stars: 3.0
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana
• Position at Vandy: He's a solid football player but perhaps not athletic enough to excel at his listed position, defensive end. For example, true freshman Thomas Ryan was recruited as an end but is being redshirted and is already being listed as a tackle. Like Taylor Loftley, Josh Jelesky and Rob Lohr, this is the kind of guy who shows up on campus a DE, spends a year at the training table and in the weight room and then lines up at DT. Or in the case of defensive end signees like Ryan Seymour and Jabo Burrow, maybe he heads over to the offensive line.
• Earliest playing time: If Kyle Woestmann, one of our best defensive end recruits in a long time, is being redshirted this season, Keith Heitzman is a lock to redshirt unless he is pressed into duty at tight end, where he's also a solid prospect.
• Chances he'll jump ship: Unlikely if he doesn't get a better offer, which we don't think he will.

4. J.J. Keels
• Hometown: Melbourne, Florida
• Measurables: 5-10, 193; 4.4 40
• Stars: 2.7
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Maryland, Duke
• Position at Vandy: Keels is listed as a change-of-pace running back who won't play every down, and that would certainly be the case if he were headed somewhere like Georgia or Alabama; in fact, he'd probably move to cornerback at those schools. But at Vanderbilt, which doesn't attract prototypical tailbacks, so-called change-of-pace guys like Warren Norman and Zac Stacy do play tailback on any and every down. So he could be a fine running back for Vandy, or he could move to corner like Eric Samuels, who was more highly rated as a running back than were Norman, Stacy or Wesley Tate.
• Earliest playing time: Remember that Norman and Stacy played immediately because Jared Hawkins was injured, and Samuels and guys like Foster and Wilson played immediately because of shortages and injuries in the secondary. But Vandy will be stacked at both running back and cornerback, which means Keels will likely move to his best position and then play only if he can beat out one of the older guys. Our guess is for him to move to running back and play only in event of injury.
• Chances he'll jump ship: Unlikely he'll get a last-minute offer from Miami, Florida or Florida State, but he could easily be an SEC-caliber talent like Warren Norman. He'll likely stick with the Dores.

5. Damien Fleming
• Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
• Measurables: 6-3, 175
• Stars: 2.3
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: West Virginia
• Position at Vandy: He'll surely play quarterback unless we get a new coach or coordinator who installs a pro passing attack. He's a great prospect to run the spread offense, and get this: He's comfortable with defenders in his face. You kind of need that skill to be able to play QB at Vandy.
• Earliest playing time: A lock to redshirt. Larry will be a senior, Jordan a junior and Charlie a sophomore.
• Chances he'll jump ship: This guy is flying way under the radar. Only Southern, Hampton and West Virginia have offered him, so who knows what he'll do if a big school has a late opening? But Vandy needs a quarterback bad, and he's got a great chance to be handed the keys to the offense in 2013, when he's a redshirt sophomore. Plus, he'll have a pretty decent offensive line by then too.

6. Mitchell Hester
• Hometown: Neptune Beach, Florida
• Measurables: 5-10, 180; 4.3 40
• Stars: 2.3
• SEC offers: Arkansas
• Other BCS offers: Illinois, South Florida, Rutgers, Maryland, Virginia, Iowa State
• Position at Vandy: Another "change-of-pace" runner who can catch passes out of the backfield and is a real burner. He may be a couple of inches shorter than 5-10; so is Zac Stacy, but Hester lacks his bulk. Expect Hester to play offense.
• Earliest playing time: Likely won't beat out Norman, Stacy, Tate or even Keels as a true freshman, but his speed could get him on the field right away playing special teams.
• Chances he'll jump ship: He's not highly rated, but he does have an offer from Arkansas, though he'd have a much worse chance of getting on the field for the Razorbacks.

7. Conor Hart
• Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
• Measurables: 6-4, 250; 4.5 40
• Stars: 2.3
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: Syracuse
• Position at Vandy: Holy crap, is this guy really a defensive end who runs a 4.5? Then why is his only BCS offer from Syracuse? His father played for Michigan State and his grandfather won the Heisman trophy at Notre Dame and Vandy is his best offer? Hey, we're not complaining. With his speed and size, he looks like a real SEC defensive end on paper. Or maybe he bulks up and becomes a defensive tackle like Rob Lohr did last season. But look for him to stay on defense.
• Earliest playing time: Again, if Kyle Woestmann is redshirting, then Conor Hart will likely redshirt unless he's just too fast to keep off special teams.
• Chances he'll jump ship: A privileged kid whose best offer is Vanderbilt? Sounds a bit like Nash Nance, huh? No telling what he'll do if Michigan State or — gasp! — the Fighting Irish make a late offer. Does he have a teammate who's a five-star wide receiver?

8. Spencer Pulley
• Hometown: Cordova, Tennessee
• Measurables: 6-5, 277
• Stars: 1.7
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: None
• Position at Vandy: A big offensive lineman who looks an awful lot like Rob Ashabranner, who never played much before leaving the team this season as a redshirt junior. This guy's a guard.
• Earliest playing time: OK, comparisons to Ashabranner are mean and unfair. The kid is plenty big and the staff sees something in him even though his only offers are from Navy and Arkansas State. But he's clearly a project and a lock to redshirt.
• Chances he'll jump ship: What, to play for Navy? This kid's ship came in when Vandy made an offer, and he's going nowhere.

9. Alex Barr, OL
• Hometown: Fayetteville, Georgia
• Measurables: 6-7, 285
• Stars: 1.3
• SEC offers: None
• Other BCS offers: None
• Position at Vandy: The guy is huge, but a relative unknown with no offers from anybody. Sure sounds like an offensive lineman, but we're going to wait until his redshirt year's over — and maybe even his third year on campus — before we see him on the field.
• Earliest playing time: Did we mention he'll almost certainly redshirt?
• Chances he'll jump ship: Come on, the kid plays in metro Atlanta and he has zero offers. Bet right now he's wearing a Vandy hat and putting a VU window decal on his car.

Quick prediction for today's Vandy-UGA game

OK, so they're about to kick off in Athens. We predicted a 24-15 Bulldog victory during the preseason and we'll stick with it, though it could be worse than that.

I think Georgia's working out some problems and will beat Vandy handily. They certainly have far better talent. Don't for one minute believe anybody who says we've got the best backfield or the best secondary in the SEC. Yes, we've got great kids and a couple of future NFL players sprinkled in for good measure. But we don't have nearly the talent the Dawgs do.

If Georgia goofs around and plays sloppily, we could hand it to them. But our fate depends on the Dawgs ability to execute. If we play well and they play well, we lose. If they play badly, then we've got to play great. As Bobby Johnson always said, we've got zero margin for error.

If you want to argue about Vandy's talent, consider this:

• 19 of Vandy's scholarship players are from Georgia, but only one of them, Kyle Woestmann, who's redshirting, had an offer from the Dawgs.
• Nine of Vandy's Georgia players are regular starters — nearly 40 percent. Those guys are Brandon Barden, Brandon Barden, T.J. Greenstone, Casey Hayward, Richard Kent, Jonathan Krause, Kenny Ladler, Warren Norman, Ryan Seymour and Udom Umoh.
• If you combined Vandy's and Georgia's rosters, likely none of Vandy's players would be starting. Or if you want to be generous, maybe Barden and Hayward would have a shot. Norman could certainly return kicks for them.

So we shouldn't win. Can we? Yes. Let's go do it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vandy players making a move on the depth chart

Comparing this week’s depth chart to the one on opening day, these players have made a move:

• Jonathan Krause, receiver: Has replaced Turner Wimberly as a starter
• Kenny Ladler, freshman free safety: Has started three games in place of redshirt freshman Jay Fullam
• Logan Stewart, center: Replaced fellow freshman James Kittredge as backup center last week and played against EMU
• Steven Clarke, freshman cornerback: For now, has a slight edge over fellow freshman Andre Hal as a backup cornerback

• Ryan Seymour, right tackle: After sitting out the opener for violating team rules, has reclaimed his starting right tackle spot, sending redshirt sophomore Caleb Welchans to starting left guard, redshirt sophomore Jabo Burrow to the second team, and freshman Chase White off the depth chart
• Colt Nichter, defensive tackle: Has moved into a starting role until the return of T.J. Greenstone

• Tim Fugger, redshirt junior defensive end: Regained his starting job from redshirt senior Teriall Brannon
• Jamie Graham, redshirt junior nickelback: Has returned from injury to reclaim his nickelback job from sophomore Trey Wilson
• Tray Herndon, receiver: After sitting out the first game for violating team rules, has replaced redshirt sophomore Akeem Dunham in the playing rotation

• Nate Campbell, redshirt senior linebacker: Started for the injured Chris Marve and has elevated himself on the depth chart above redshirt sophomores Archie Barnes, DeAndre Jones, Dexter Daniels and Tristan Strong

While we’re looking at players by class, let’s see which classes have played and started the most scholarship players this season:

Started (2): WR Jonathan Krause, S Kenny Ladler
Others played (11): S Karl Butler, CB Steven Clarke, LB Chase Garnham, CB Andre Hal, OL James Kittredge, TE Fitz Lassing, WR Jordan Matthews, DT Jared Morse, S Andre Simmons, K Carey Spear, OL Logan Stewart
Not played (10): WR Chris Boyd, OL Andrew Bridges, LB Andrew East, HB Blake Gowder, WR Trent Pruitt, OL Grant Ramsay, DL Thomas Ryan, DT Vince Taylor, OL Chase White, DE Kyle Woestmann

Started (2): S Jay Fullam, OL Wesley Johnson
Played (7): OL Mylon Brown, TE Mason Johnston, DB Javon Marshall, DE Thad McHaney, DE Walker May, LB Blake Southerland, RB Wesley Tate
Not played (3): WR Brady Brown, OL Justin Cabbagestalk, QB Charlie Goro

Started (5): CB Eddie Foster, RB Warren Norman, RB Zac Stacy, DB Trey Wilson
Others played (1): DB Eric Samuels
Not played (0): None

Started (9): LB Archibald Barnes, OG Jabo Burrow, WR John Cole, K Ryan Fowler, P Richard Kent, DT Rob Lohr, DT Colt Nichter, OT Ryan Seymour, OL Caleb Welchans
Others played (8): LB Dexter Daniels, WR Akeem Dunham, DT Josh Jelesky, LB DeAndre Jones, DT Taylor Loftley, LB Micah Powell, LB Tristan Strong, DE Johnell Thomas
Not played (1): S Al Owens

Started (2): CB Casey Hayward, SS Sean Richardson
Others played (0): None
Not played (1): QB Jordan Rodgers

Started (8): TE Brandon Barden, OG Kyle Fischer, DE Tim Fugger, NB Jamie Graham, DT T.J. Greenstone, LB Chris Marve, QB Larry Smith, WR Udom Umoh
Others played (2): WR Tray Herndon, HB Ryan van Rensburg
Not played (1): TE Austin Monahan

Started (2): DE Theron Kadri, LB John Stokes
Others played (0): None
Not played (0): None

Started (5): C Joey Bailey, DE Teriall Brannon, LB Nate Campbell, RB Kennard Reeves, WR Turner Wimberly
Others played (1): QB Jared Funk
Not played (2): OL Chris Aaron, DT Adam Smotherman

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Four wins this year would be a success for Vanderbilt

We're still talking up the possibility that Vandy will win six games. That would be a miracle, just like the 2008 season and the Music City Bowl win was a miracle. It can happen, but it's unlikely.

Vandy has been favored to win one game so far this season and has won two, so the Commodores have exceeded expectations. They will not be favored to win another game this season.

Here's what I think: Four wins this season would mean we win two out of three against Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Or one of those and a really big win against Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas or Florida. (The Georgia team we face Saturday will not be the same one that lost to Miss State and Colorado.)

Four wins would be a big success and Robbie Caldwell should get a two-year extension to see what he can do with all the promising young talent (at least by Vandy standards) that he has.

If we don't win another game, then we should get another coach.

And if we finish with three wins? Well, it depends on how we do in the other games. Do we show improvement? If we roll over and get crushed like we did in the latter days of Woodyball, then we should move on.

Eastern Michigan just what the doctor ordered for Vanderbilt's statistics

If we're going to bash Vanderbilt for having a total offense, passing offense and run defense ranked in triple digits nationally after playing nationally ranked teams, then we need to celebrate Vandy for dramatically improving in all those statistical areas after playing the kind of crappy non-conference teams that Kentucky and Florida and everybody else uses to pad their stats.

So today, after its 52-6 victory over EMU, Vandy has the nation's No. 79 offense — ahead of LSU (87), Florida (96) and Tennessee (97).

Oh, and Larry Smith is no longer the nation's 98th most efficient passer. He's No. 75.

And Vandy's passing offense is no longer No. 111. It's No. 91, its best ranking in the past four years.

And our run defense is no longer No. 105. It's No. 79.

Thanks, Eagles!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mission accomplished against EMU: Vandy airs it out and a bunch of youngsters play their positions

Well, we got our blowout, which was good because (1) it feels good to beat somebody, anybody by the score of 52-6 and (2) we were able to open up the offense and get some young guys on the field.

I told you earlier today that I’d like to see redshirt freshman Walker May get some serious minutes, and for five true freshmen – corners Andre Hal and Steven Clarke, safeties Andre Simmons and Karl Butler, and linebacker Chase Garnham – all to venture beyond their special teams duties and get to play some D.

Mission accomplished. In fact, May led the team with six tackles. This crew looked really fast out there. Plus, true freshman Kenny Ladler got the start over Jay Fullam at free safety, and defensive tackle Jared Morse burned his redshirt. This was a bit of a surprise because Morse had told his Facebook friends before last week’s UConn game that he still had a lot to learn about college football and that he was going to redshirt.

Morse is a great prospect who had offers from Auburn and Florida State. The fact that he played tonight indicates that (1) Adam Smotherman may not be fully recovered from injury, (2) T.J. Greenstone’s injury might be more serious than we thought, and (3) the D-line’s poor showing at UConn may have left the coaches feeling they need something more than the four redshirt sophomores – starters Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter and backups Josh Jelesky and Taylor Loftley.

Also, redshirt freshmen Thad McHaney, a defensive end, and Javon Marshall, a defensive back, saw the first action of their careers.

On offense, only one of the five guys on my playing time wish list even got on the field. That was Jordan Matthews, who recovered an accidental onside kick (you know things are going your way when you miss the ball and kick it onsides and then recover) and hauled in the first reception of his career, a nice 35-yarder from Jared Funk.

James Kittredge, who burned his redshirt last week, didn’t get on the field, but Logan Stewart did, burning his redshirt to work a full series at center. The coaches seem settled on starters Bailey, Johnson, Seymour, Welchans and Fischer, with Burrow, Brown, Stewart and Kittredge available in relief. Don’t expect any more offensive linemen to see the field this season, unless senior Chris Aaron returns from his inner ear problem to get a few snaps.

Also, Charlie Goro stayed on the bench. As much as I’d like to see him play, I’m fine with Funk getting as much time as he did. If Larry goes down, he’s our best bet right now, and you can’t argue with 3-4 passing for 100 yards and a TD.

Chris Boyd didn’t play, which leads me to think he’s not ready yet and will almost certainly redshirt. Also, Brady Brown didn’t play either and still hasn’t seen the field this season despite being a preseason favorite to start. Our go-to receivers down the stretch are going to come from Umoh, Cole, Krause, Wimberly, Matthews and Herndon.

We’ve now had 13 of our 24 February signees see playing time this season. Expect the remaining 11 — receivers Boyd and Trent Pruitt; offensive linemen Andrew Bridges, Grant Ramsay and Chase White; defensive linemen Thomas Ryan, Vince Taylor and Kyle Woestmann; linebacker/snapper Andrew East; quarterback Jordan Rodgers; and H-back Blake Gowder – to redshirt unless we get plagued by injuries on the offensive or defensive lines.

Brown and Goro are the only scholarship players on the team not eligible to redshirt and apparently uninjured who haven’t played this season. (Chris Aaron, Justin Cabbagestalk, Adam Smotherman and Austin Monahan have been injured since the preseason.)

Other firsts on offense included Mason Johnston’s first catch, a 1-yard TD from Larry Smith, and Jared Funk’s first completion and first TD, both on a 57-yard pass to John Cole.

Speaking of John Cole, the man really turns it on against weaker competition. Remember his TD run last season against Rice? Tonight, he had a 54-yard punt return that came inches short of a score, as well as four catches for 103 yards, including the 57-yard TD.

He’s a tough, smart kid who simply doesn’t have the talent to get open consistently against SEC corners. Same for Turner Wimberly, who looked like old-school T.O. in the open field against Eastern Michigan.

Well, that’s about it. Don’t expect us to amass 558 yards of total offense again this season, but at least it should get us out of the triple-digit rankings for passing offense and total offense.

Vandy can still win six games... here's how

We'd predicted Vandy to be 2-2 right now, but the UConn pick, which was wishful thinking to begin with, didn't work out. So now we're 1-3.

Can we still finish 6-6?


Our forecast hinges on everything clicking at the end of the season and us finishing the season with an uncharacteristic three victories, over Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest, all games that appeared and still appear to be possibly winnable.

All we need is to enter that stretch at 3-6, which means we must pick up two wins in our next five games:

• Eastern Michigan
• At Georgia
• South Carolina
• At Arkansas
• Florida

Obviously, we've got to take care of business against EMU, which mainly involves not telling ourselves that their uniforms make them look an awful lot like unbeaten Michigan State.

That would make us 2-3. Our best bet to pick up another win before the final stretch would be to upset either Georgia on the road or South Carolina at home. If we're headed to Arkansas needing to win four of our last five games to become bowl eligible, then we're cooked and we'll need to pull Woody Widenhofer out of his toll booth in Destin to give us one of his "Have fun and expect to win" pep talks.

Speaking of expecting to win, I'm looking forward to playing a team we're supposed to beat. Enjoy it, because it's the only time this season we're playing somebody we're supposed to beat.

Let's win!

Eleven players we'd like to see play tonight

So we're supposed to kill EMU tonight. Last I saw it, the spread was up to 26, which begs the question, "Has Vanderbilt ever been a 26-point favorite over ANYBODY?

Remember, we're a 26-point favorite not because we're good but because EMU is so stinking bad.

I don't think we'll cover. In the preseason, I predicted 30-10 and I'll stick with that. Hopefully, we smash them in the mouth early and take a four touchdown lead and put all those freshmen who are playing special teams onto offense and defense.

I'd like to see these guys get some meaningful minutes on offense:

• QB Charlie Goro, R-Fr.
• C James Kittredge, Fr.
• WR Jordan Matthews, Fr.
• WR Brady Brown, R-Fr.
• WR Chris Boyd, Fr.

And on defense:

• DE Walker May, R-Fr.
• CB Andre Hal, Fr.
• CB Steven Clarke, Fr.
• S Andre Simmons, Fr
• S Karl Butler, Fr.
• LB Chase Garnham, Fr.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wish list for Vanderbilt's game with Eastern Michigan

Vandy's a 23.5-point favorite in this one. So we're better than EMU and we should win handily, right? So what do we hope to accomplish?

1. Win the game. Caldwell needs to play to win. How many times have we seen Vandy play not to lose against the likes of the Citadel or Army or another one of the rare teams we're supposed to beat. On offense, let's come out on every drive like we're down three points and let's take the ball down the field and score. It would be bitterly disappointing to me and many other fans if we took a 10-0 lead and sat on it.

2. Play our game, then work on our game. Our strength: Warren Norman and Zac Stacy and even Tate and Reeves. Let's get the ball to those guys. Our weakness: Our passing game. Let's get the game under control and then let's start working on the passing game.

3. Play Charlie Goro. Yes, Jared Funk has faithfully practiced and held a clipboard for five years and has an NFL arm and all that. He's also thrown one pass for one of the worst offenses in college football. Time to move on. If we have a handy lead in the third quarter and want to give Funk a series, great. But let's get Charlie some work. Look what Randy Edsell's been doing with his QBs at UConn. Before the Vandy game, he replaced his No. 1 quarterback, a senior, with his No. 3 quarterback, a junior. But his No. 2 quarterback, a redshirt freshman, kept his job as the top backup.

4. Play all three freshman receivers at the same time. Get Chris Boyd into the game and let him run with Krause and Matthews and get those guys some catches.

5. Get James Kittredge and Logan Stewart some snaps. We're going to need more than six regular offensive linemen during our stretch run in the SEC. Those guys shouldn't see their first significant action against Florida or Arkansas. Let's get them some PT now.

6. Sit Zac and Warren. If we get a lead, let's go with Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate. Reeves is a tough runner and is one guy who deserves to tote the rock. And let's show off some of Wes' versatility. Isn't he more than just a short yardage back?

Go Dores.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vandy has a much bigger problem than Larry Smith

OK, so everybody’s screaming for Larry Smith to be benched. And they have a point:

Larry is the nation’s 98th most efficient passer, and the leader of the 111th – or ninth worst – yardage-generating passing offense in the nation. No way any SEC team could overcome that kind of miserable quarterback play, right?

Um, wrong.

Statistically speaking, Larry is not even the worst quarterback in the SEC.

LSU’s Jordan Jefferson has a passing efficiency rating of 111 – an 88.0 compared to Larry’s 109.0 – and is the leader of the 112th – or eighth worst – yardage-generating passing attack in the nation.

But maybe you’ve noticed that the Bayou Bengals are 5-0 and ranked in the Top 10. So what’s the difference?

While Jordan and the LSU passing attack are even worse than Smith and Vandy, LSU has this going for it:

• A ground game that generates 196 yards/game and ranks fourth in the SEC and 33rd in the nation (compared to Vandy’s 163 yards, which ranks eighth in the SEC and 58th in the nation.

• The SEC’s best and nation’s sixth-best run defense at 79 yards/game (compared to Vandy’s 203.5 yards, which is No. 105 in the nation and by far the SEC’s worst).

• The SEC’s best and nation’s sixth-best total defense at 247 yards/game (compared to Vandy’s 379 yards/game, which is dead last in the SEC).

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Jordan Jefferson has been truly awful while operating behind a mammoth, 5-star offensive line and throwing to three potential first-round draft picks in receivers Reuben Randle, Terrence Tolliver and Russell Shepard.

But LSU can grind it out with a prototypical NFL tailback, something other teams can’t do against them because of their killer run defense.

Meanwhile, Larry Smith operates behind an undersized, inexperienced offensive line with one or two guys who got 3 stars in high school, throwing to a receiving corps whose veterans couldn’t play for any other SEC teams and whose best players are brand-new freshmen.

Oh, and Vandy can’t grind it out with its offensive line and small, shifty backs. But other teams can grind it out against them because Vandy has the nation’s 105th best run defense.

Sure, we have the SEC’s fourth best passing defense, good for No. 30 in the nation, but how much of that is because teams don’t throw much against us because they know they can pound it down our throats?

Did Larry beat us on Saturday?

No. Husky running back Jordan Todman and the UConn offensive line beat us.

If you’re looking for a scapegoat, you can start with our defensive front, which started two sophomores because both of the preseason starters – Adam Smotherman and T.J. Greenstone – were out with injuries.

I don't recommend it, because it's not a matter of effort on the part of our D-line, which has never boasted a 300+ pound talent like every other team in the SEC does.

(Speaking of which, fans have been screaming for the true freshmen wide receivers but it’s interesting that nobody seems to be asking about our true freshmen defensive linemen, one of the true strengths of the 2010 signing class. Bobby Johnson said it was the best, most game-ready group of D-linemen he’d ever signed. Remember that?)

The strength of recent Vandy teams, including the Music City Bowl champs, has been a talented back seven. Those guys — which include Jonathan Goff and Patrick Benoist and Chris Marve and D.J. Moore and Casey Hayward and Eddie Foster — are easier to find and develop than, say, mammoth defensive linemen.

Or quarterbacks.

LSU, with a cup running over at every position but quarterback, has no excuse.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, does.

I know you're tired of excuses, but today — with a 1-3 record and the SEC's worst total offense and worst total defense — that's kind of what we've got.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

So we're not much different from Buffalo after all

Ouch. So after a promising first half we get pulverized by UConn. Just like Buffalo had a promising first half against the Huskies and got pulverized.

A bowl bid has been a pipe dream since the beginning of the season but it's really starting to look out of reach, huh?

Meanwhile, Tennessee is leading LSU 14-10 late in the game in Baton Rouge.

The big question now is whether we keep Coach Caldwell. You'll hear lots of people screaming for Mike Leach and Tony Dungy and the ghost of Vince Lombardi and all sorts of options. We'll certainly give you our opinion as we go along. Have a good Saturday night. Go Gators.

Against UConn, Vanderbilt keeps producing big plays

It's halftime, we're tied 21-21, and already we've seen:

• A 66-yard kick return by Warren Norman that led to a TD.
• A 56-yard TD run by true freshman Jonathan Krause.
• A 44-yard TD pass from Larry Smith to Udom Umoh.
• A 57-yard run by Larry Smith.
• An 8-yard TD pass from Larry to Brandon Barden.

Last year, our big play capability seemed limited to Warren's kick returns. This year, we've got more weapons — or at least are using them.

We've got 253 yards of total offense at halftime. Take away the runs by Krause and Smith and the pass from Smith to Umoh and we'd have 96 yards of total offense. But hey, we'll take them any way we can get them.

And speaking of using our tools, we've had six guys (Smith, Stacy, Reeves, Norman, Tate, Krause) carry the ball 17 times for 139 yards, and five guys (Barden, Krause, Umoh, Wimberly) catch the ball eight times for 114 yards.

That's spreading it around. It's especially encouraging to see how we bounced back from a 14-0 deficit built largely on two plays — Krause's fumble on the first play of the game deep in VU territory and our failed fourth down conversion on the UConn 14 yard line after Larry's run had gotten us deep in Husky territory.

Should be a good second half. Nice to see us use big plays and a bunch of different guys to score 21 points in the first half.

Right now, a Vandy win is important, but doesn't mean everything

Before the season started, we told you Vandy would lose a close one to Northwestern, get spanked by LSU and then beat Ole Miss. We also told you that the Commodores would beat UConn by 10 points, 31-21.

So we might as well stick with what's working, right?

After all, at this point Vandy is exactly where we expected them to be, and UConn is even a bit behind where we expected them to be.

You can discount the Ole Miss win, but when we made our preseason predictions, we expected to beat the Rebels precisely because we expected them to take some time to adjust to personnel losses and a new, albeit talented, quarterback. To win in the SEC, Vandy has always needed to take advantage of teams when they're down.

This year, we've predicted six wins, expecting to overpower one team (EMU) and catch three teams when they're down (Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest).

The other two teams? UConn and Kentucky, both with less than stellar traditions but a nice run of bowl games accomplished by soundly beating the bad teams on their schedule and then using solid players and capitalizing on a couple of star athletes to beat some teams they shouldn't.

Nearly every Vandy site and fan I know is picking the Commodores to beat the Huskies today, just like they pick us to beat Kentucky every year because it's the team closest to ours in terms of talent and tradition and stadium size.

And a lot of Vandy fans are saying we're being disrespected because we're a 7 or 10 point underdog or whatever. Disrespected? We went 2-10 last season and don't have a proven track record in games like this. Remember the Rutgers game we had in hand several years ago on the road?

I even hear Vandy fans saying we're more talented than UConn. This is a UConn team with a running back who averages 150 yards a game running behind an offensive line led by players on the Outland and Remington award lists. Last year, the Husky defense held South Carolina to seven points in the Birmingham Pizza Internet Bowl and won its EIGHTH game of the season.

What I'm saying is this: Yes, I've already predicted Vandy to win by 10 points; I'm sticking with a win but I don't think it'll be easy. I realize, and I think you should remember, that this is a game Vanderbilt should NOT win. I think somehow we figure out a way to win but it's not the end of the world if we lose.

Everybody, even some of the players, are saying we've got to win this game to go to a bowl. Perhaps that's true. But the season is not over if we lose. It's important that we keep building to the future. If UConn plays a great game and beats us, but we improve offensively, get Krause and Matthews some nice catches, contain a running quarterback and continue to show we can stop big-time tailbacks, then we'll have hope for the future. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we could lose to UConn and then turn around and upset South Carolina or Georgia.

We've predicted six wins, which is incredibly optimistic. A four-win season would be a vast improvement and put us in a position to get bowl bids in 2011 and 2012. I'm not saying we should expect to lose. I still think we can win, and I think we'll hang with them like we hung with Northwestern. But let's keep the big picture in mind. We feel terrible when we play a ridiculously talented LSU team and lose, and we're giddy with excitement when we beat a struggling Ole Miss team that can't catch the ball.

Beating a UConn team that comes out and, say, fumbles five times or throws seven interceptions may not be as important as narrowly losing to a UConn team that clicks and plays its best game ever and pushes us to learn something important about ourselves that helps us upset some teams later this season.

OK, we'll take three fumbles and four interceptions. I'll revise my prediction to say Vandy, 20-16.

Go Commodores.