Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vandy's Franklin is playing to win

I like the call on fourth and 3, when Zac Stacy ran toward the line and threw a jump pass to Brandon Barden who was turned the other way and missed the catch.

Cincy scored right before the half, but I still like the call. Franklin's playing to win, and we're having trouble stopping the run and moving the ball.

I look forward to seeing how we adjust. Sure, it would be nice to win and have a winning season, but our ultimate goal is not 7-6 seasons. We're building to something bigger.

Well, as long as Eric Samuels doesn't keep returning kicks. We start the second half in a huge hole after Samuels' fumble.

Go Dores.

Checking in at kickoff of the Liberty Bowl

Checking back in after a long winter's nap.

Looking forward to watching Vandy play in a bowl, and expecting our offense to be much better than it was three years ago in the Music City Bowl.

While Cincy has a pretty good run defense, it shouldn't be anywhere as stout as the Boston College front line in 2008, which was anchored by B.J. Raji.

Glad we're getting to face Cincy's normal starting quarterback.

Not so concerned about this game or the matchups, but am mainly focused on the positive direction in which our program's headed.

The thing I'm most excited about is our recruiting, which is shaping up nicely. Lots of sharp prospects visiting campus in the next three weeks, and in some cases Coach Franklin and our coaches will have their pick between a couple of prospects at key positions like receiver and linebacker. Word is that Franklin's still looking to recruit a quarterback, probably somebody who's verbally committed somewhere else.

As for Gunner Keil, it's a positive that the nation's No. 1 quarterback had Vandy in his top three. Some Vandy fans thought we didn't need a quarterback, and others thought Kiel had made a bad decision by choosing the Tigers over VU, which by all accounts is academically superior.

I disagree with both positions. Vandy still needs another quarterback, and still has a long way to go with its passing game. And if my kid's a quarterback with NFL potential, I'd rather he be playing behind 330-pound linemen, and heck, it'd be fun to go watch him play in front of crowds of 100,000. And as for education, you can get a good education anywhere, even Tennessee, especially if you know what you want to study. And sure, James Franklin's a great teacher, but so is Steve Kragthorpe at LSU.

So I'm not bitter at all. I wish Kiel the best, and I look forward to seeing who we sign. I'll have more on that later.

Go Dores!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Vandy's ranked a lot lower than Cincy, but still favored to win the Liberty Bowl

Vandy is a 3-point favorite over Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, which is kind of interesting because the Bearcats are ranked No. 27 in the BCS, 21 points higher in the BCS than the No. 48 Commodores.

No other team outranked by that much is favored to win. And only seven other matchups out of the 33 other bowls features a lower ranked team that’s favored in the opening line. Here are those seven matchups:

• No. 72 Utah State favored by 3.5 over No. 64 Ohio in the Potato Bowl.
• No. 74 Florida International favored by 4.5 over No. 60 Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
• No. 55 North Carolina State favored by 1.5 over No. 38 Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
• No. 61 Illinois favored by 3 over No. 54 UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
• No. 13 Michigan favored by 1.5 over No. 11 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
• No. 62 Pittsburgh favored by 5.5 over No. 57 SMU in the Compass Bowl.
• No. 35 Arkansas State favored by 1 over No. 34 Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy Bowl.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vanderbilt's Lafonte Thourogood no longer a quarterback - making room for Gunner Kiel?

Lafonte Thourogood, the four-star athlete that Vandy stole from Virginia Tech on signing day, practiced last night at running back and will make the move from quarterback.

Thourogood was one of three players – Josh Grady and Kris Kentera being the others – to sign in February as a quarterback. Coach James Franklin emphatically stated on signing day that all three were quarterbacks.

That’s because he’d promised all of them the opportunity to compete for the quarterback job.

At the same time, he was telling reporters that Lafonte could change positions anytime Lafonte wanted. In other words, Lafonte came to Vanderbilt because he wanted to play quarterback, not because Vanderbilt wanted him to play quarterback.

Franklin said after last night’s practice that Thourogood came into his office and asked to change positions, but that it was something he wanted too.

“He wants an opportunity to play next year,” Franklin said, “and looking at our situation at quarterback he didn’t think that was going to happen.”

Smart kid. Jordan Rodgers grabbed the starting job this year and will only get better. Austyn Carta-Samuels, the transfer from Wyoming who was MVP of the New Mexico Bowl as a freshman and captain of the Cowboys as a sophomore, has been sharp on the scout team this year and will push Rodgers in the spring.

In fact, Grady and Kentera have been lining up at scout team receiver to catch passes from Carta-Samuels. But Grady is an impressive leader and continues to show potential to be a dual-threat quarterback in the SEC. Kentera, a wing-T quarterback in high school whose only major offer was from Vandy, is considered a project. Both will get some more time to develop as a signal-caller.

How much time?

It depends. For 2012, Vandy is set with Rodgers as its quarterback, with Carta-Samuels and Grady competing for the backup job as well as the starting job for 2013. Meanwhile, Kentera gets more time to develop as a quarterback.

But if Gunner Kiel, the nation’s No. 1 QB who by the way attended Vandy’s Liberty Bowl announcement party on Sunday night, shocks the world and signs with Vandy, then he’ll likely enroll early and play in the spring. That means everybody, even Rodgers, will feel the heat. Rodgers would likely start, but how sincere is Franklin’s sales pitch to “Come to Vanderbilt and play right away” if the nation’s No. 1 quarterback redshirts?

If Kiel did redshirt, he’d be groomed as a four-year starter, and suddenly Carta-Samuels is looking at finishing his career as a backup and Grady is switching to receiver or defensive back. Meanwhile, Kentera would likely fit whatever role – backup quarterback or maybe receiver or safety – in which he could most help the team.

Franklin is proving himself to be a shrewd collector of talent. We’ve said all along that he’s going to eventually get a blue chip quarterback to develop. It takes time to get one of those, and if he doesn’t get Kiel then Carta-Samuels and Grady will man the fort while Franklin keeps recruiting.

Neither Thourogood, Grady or Kentera was his quarterback of the future. As he said last night: “It wasn’t like we recruited three guys who could only play quarterback. We knew they’re athletic enough to play other positions and help us in other areas. You’re not gonna sign three drop-back quarterbacks where that’s the only position they can play.”

In other words, these guys can play quarterback if we don’t get our superstar drop-back passer, and they can change positions if we do.

Gunner Kiel would not be moving to wide receiver or safety. Ever.

As for Thourogood, Franklin said after practice that “he came out here and did a great job and the guys were very supportive of him and excited about watching him do some things… Instead of waiting till spring ball, I thought it was great on his part from a maturity standpoint to realize this is an opportunity to get some work in so when spring ball comes he’s further ahead.”

Now think about our running back situation for next year. We’ll have:

• Zac Stacy, senior, a 1,000-yard rusher and All-SEC performer
• Warren Norman, redshirt junior, former SEC freshman of the year who started his first two seasons ahead of Stacy
• Jerron Seymour, sophomore, who showed flashes of brilliance while rotating with Stacy
• Brian Kimbrow, freshman, the fastest man in high school football who’ll likely start his career as a return specialist and an all-purpose back for the Commodores
• Mitchell Hester, redshirt freshman, another speedster who was impressive in preseason camp
• Jaborian McKenzie, freshman, another solid recruit with speed and ball skills

Oh, and Thourogood, a big, strong athlete. And right now we’re the front-runner for Wes Brown, a big (at least by our standards) four-star running back.

Not all these guys will play running back, but they’ll play somewhere. Will Lafonte stick at quarterback? Who knows? Maybe he'll line up next year at wide receiver. Lots of folks think he'd make an outstanding outside linebacker. Can you imagine him at safety? The point is, Lafonte's position is now "not a quarterback," which means he's free to move around and find a home. He's a stud, and he's going to play somewhere.

Go back and watch Franklin’s signing day press conference and you’ll notice that he keeps repeating the word “flexible.” He wants athletes he can move around the field.

It’ll be fun to watch where all these guys play.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Vanderbilt's James Franklin records biggest first-season turnaround among current SEC football coaches

So James Franklin has a new contract and he’s getting new turf, a Jumbotron, and a 120-yard indoor facility.


While we celebrate the fact that we’ve held on to our head coach for at least another season – do you really believe anybody pays attention to contracts anymore? – let’s also celebrate the job he’s doing this season by looking at how his first year compares to that of current SEC head coaches.

Of the 10 other coaches currently in the SEC with at least one year under their belts (still waiting on Houston Nutt’s replacement), they inherited teams with an average of six wins, and they took their teams and they were able to improve their teams’ regular season records by an average of…

Well, actually, they didn’t improve at all. They took teams with an average of six wins and they won an average of six games.

Do you realize that James Franklin’s six wins in his first season surpasses the first-year records of Dan Mullen and Bobby Petrino (five wins each), and equals the six-win first seasons of Will Muschamp, Derek Dooley and – yes – Nick Saban.

But Franklin didn’t win six games with the talent, resources and winning history of Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas or even Mississippi State. He inherited a Vanderbilt team that, as he is quick to remind us, had won two games in each of the past two seasons.

Here’s how Franklin ranks among current SEC coaches for team improvement in his first regular season:

1. James Franklin, Vanderbilt: +4 (6 wins with a two-win team)
2. Gene Chizik, Auburn: +2 (7 wins with a 5-win team)
3. Dan Mullen, Miss State: +1 (5 wins with a 4-win team)
4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: +1 (7 wins with a 6-win team)
5. Mark Richt, Georgia: +1 (8 wins with a 7-win team)
6. Les Miles, LSU: +1 (10 wins with a 9-win team)
7. Nick Saban, Alabama: Even (6 wins with a 6-win team)
8. Joker Phillips, Kentucky: -1 (6 wins with a 7-win team)
9. Derek Dooley, Tennessee: -1 (6 wins with a 7-win team)
10. Will Muschamp, Florida: -1 (6 wins with a 7-win team)
11. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas: -3 (5 wins with an 8-win team)

James Franklin stockpiles talent, but talent isn't everything - just ask Kevin Stallings

Remember all the pleasant surprises we got the week leading up to James Franklin's first signing day? Remember all the kids who'd made commitments to places like Virginia Tech who suddenly decided to commit to Vanderbilt?

Just wait to see what happens these next two months leading up to signing day. James Franklin is on a roll. The guy gets blown out by Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and on the way home he's calling recruits to ask them if they have what it takes to beat the Tide. Then he starts going toe-to-toe with Georgia and Arkansas and beating teams he should beat (Army) and walloping teams he's supposedly dead-even with (Kentucky and Wake Forest). He even turns a potentially demoralizing loss in Knoxville into a motivational tool.

Yes, he's leaving wounds open. No, this isn't the same old Vandy. Yes, he's staying in Nashville because he's creating a winning culture here and he loves his players.

Bobby Johnson steadily improved the quality and depth of talent at Vandy, and then Franklin arrived and said it wasn't good enough and now he's competing for players we never dreamed of getting, including the No. 1 quarterback in America.

And the exciting thing is, we believe he'll know what to do with all this talent when he gets it. Yes, it takes more than talent to win. Just ask the Vanderbilt basketball team, which is loaded with four- and five-star talent and doesn't know how to finish games, rise to the occasion, make clutch plays, or beat teams they're supposed to beat.

But that's another subject. There are no moral victories in Vanderbilt basketball, just like there will soon be no moral victories in Vanderbilt football.

(Sure, James Franklin says there are no moral victories, but the day he stops talking about how his margin of loss against top teams is getting smaller is the day when there are no more moral victories in Vanderbilt football, which will also be the day we'll need to reconsider the name of our blog.)

Anyway, we've got a big-league recruiter who plays to win. Is this a great time to be a Vandy football fan or what?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

James Franklin to Penn State rumors are good news for Vanderbilt

If you're freaking out over rumors of James Franklin jumping ship to Penn State, just stop it right now.

We want these rumors to heat up, and we want Penn State and any other powerhouse programs with coaching vacancies to think they have a shot at Franklin — why would they think otherwise? — and to come calling.

Why? Because it puts Vanderbilt and Franklin in the national spotlight. All those four-star verbal commitments suddenly want to know if Franklin's staying, because they're not signing with the Commodores if he's not. And all the other blue chippers that Franklin's trying to woo suddenly want to know the same thing.

I bet the kids are Twittering up a storm about now. Sure, kids are saying they'll de-commit if he leaves. But at the same time, I guarantee you that kids are deciding they'll commit if he stays. It's great publicity, and we want the rumors to run wild.

That's because I believe Franklin stays. For the past year, he's been doing a lot of talking about how he's changing the culture at Vanderbilt and especially how much he loves his players. A coach who leaves after one year hasn't changed the culture and he doesn't love his players. But if James Franklin is a legitimate candidate for one of the best jobs in college football — and in his home state, no less — and he stays, then he's sending a message that:

1. He's staying in Nashville for the foreseeable future, and he believes he can win here.
2. He believes he is changing the culture at Vanderbilt.
3. He does love his players.
4. Some of the best players in America will realize that and will sign with Vandy.
5. He's the real deal.

I believe Franklin is the real deal. Of course, the administration has to pony up with an indoor practice facility, stadium improvements and a new football marketing plan to send HIM the message that they're serious about winning. I believe it will do that.

Might we be having this same discussion in four years, which happens to be the same amount of time it took Jim Harbaugh to turn Stanford into a national contender? Absolutely. I think Franklin will eventually be an NFL head coach. But if we are having this same discussion in four years, then Franklin has proven that Vanderbilt can win big, and he'll be leaving the program in good shape and in good hands.

So rest easy. And if Franklin does jump ship, then those comparisons to Lane Kiffin (young guy who'll promise you everything and then leave in the night) are justified and we didn't want him anyway.

That's not the case, as we're about to find out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What are your thoughts on the bowl-bound Commodores?

So we just destroyed Wake Forest 41-7 and are likely headed to either the Liberty Bowl or Music City Bowl.

This time last year, with two victories and no head coach and smarting from a blowout at the hands of the Demon Deacs, who'd have thought we'd be headed to a bowl.

We've got a heck of a head coach. Oh, and we've got a 1,000-yard rusher in Zac Stacy. And blue-chip recruits lining up to play for us. And we finished with an impressive road victory.

And did we mention that Tennessee is staying home?

What are your thoughts on this special season?

Donkeys fly, hell freezes over, UK beats UT and...

Vanderbilt just made a field goal.

We're leading Wake Forest 3-0 after forcing a Wake fumble on the game's opening possession.

James Franklin's being saying all week that Carey Spear would be our field goal kicker this week but then Ryan Fowler appeared on the field to boot the 33-yarder.

I'm sure that really tricked the Demon Deacs. But hey, maybe the best way to take pressure off our kicker is to make him think he's not kicking.

Yep, Tennessee always beats the you-know-what out of Kentucky!

Well, Derek Dooley's not celebrating today like he just won the Super Bowl. He's not saying that his team always beats the you-know-what out of Kentucky. Oh, and he's not making hotel reservations for late December in Nashville or Memphis.

Know why?

Because Mr. Orange Pants just led the Vols to their first LOSS TO KENTUCKY IN 25 YEARS.


Vanderbilt's future's bright regardless of how the Wake Forest game turns out

About 30 minutes from kickoff in Winston-Salem and I'm pulling for the Wildcats over the Vols in Lexington.

Yeah, it would be nice for the Commodores to play a bowl game in either Nashville or Memphis, and for the Vols to play in a bowl game, well, nowhere.

Of course, while the Cats just forced a punt and are trying their best to take care of business, the Commodores must take care of business too.

I'm not nervous about this one, though. I think we've got a decent chance to beat Wake Forest and I believe we'll play much better than we did last week. But I also believe that we don't need to win this game for the season to be a success. Sure, it'd be really nice to get another month of practice.

But I'm not going to freak out if we lose. Think what we've learned about this team since September:

1. We've found us an outstanding head coach.
2. We've got an offense that can find a way to move the ball and score against top-flight SEC defenses.
3. We've found a quarterback, we've developed a decent offensive line, and our receivers are making tough catches in traffic against SEC defensive backs.
4. We're getting commitments in droves from SEC-caliber players.
5. We're taking Top 5 teams to the wire.
6. We're nearly unstoppable on our home turf.
7. The future has never been brighter if you're a Commodore fan.

None of this changes if we lose today, but heck, let's top it off with a something we haven't done this season (win a road game) and do something nobody thought we could do (win six games and go to a bowl.

Let's do it!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vandy likely bowling in Birmingham if it beats Wake Forest

At last night’s press conference, James Franklin finally made reference to a bowl berth, without saying the “B” word. He said, “I love these guys and I want to play with them as long as I can, and the only way I can do this is to win this week.”

If Vandy does beat Wake Forest to become bowl eligible, he’d likely get six full weeks to prepare for a bowl game. That’s because, with the loss to UT, Vandy likely fell to No. 10 in the bowl order.

Here’s the order of bowls with SEC tie-ins by payout:

1. BCS Championship Game: Jan. 9, New Orleans, La.
2. Sugar Bowl: Jan. 3, New Orleans, La.
3. Capital One Bowl: Jan. 2, Orlando, Fla.
4. Cotton Bowl: Jan. 6, Arlington, Texas
5. Outback Bowl: Jan. 2, Tampa, Fla.
6. Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Dec. 31, Atlanta, Ga.
7. Gator Bowl: Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Fla.
8. Music City Bowl: Dec. 30, Nashville, Tenn.
9. Liberty Bowl: Dec. 31, Memphis, Tenn.
10. Compass Bowl: Jan. 7, Birmingham, Ala.

If Vandy had won Saturday, it would have bounced UT from the bowl picture, leaving nine SEC teams and lining up the Commodores for a berth in either the Music City Bowl or Liberty Bowl. And if Florida had lost next week to FSU, and Vandy had beaten Wake Forest, then at 7-5 Vandy would have likely garnered a Chick-Fil-A Bowl berth over a 6-6 Florida team.

Instead, we collapsed in Knoxville. Now if Vandy wins in Winston-Salem on Saturday, which is a shaky thing to count on, then the Commodores will likely land a bid in the Compass Bowl, which plays on Jan. 7 and gives James Franklin lots of practice time. I can think of much better places to spend the first Saturday in January than ancient Legion Field in Birmingham, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Unless Tennessee loses to Kentucky, which would likely send Vandy to replace the Vols in the Liberty Bowl.

Unless Mississippi State somehow loses to Ole Miss in Houston Nutt’s finale, which would likely send the Commodores back to the Music City Bowl.

I know, I know. We’ve got to beat Wake Forest, and that won’t be easy.

James Franklin: "Wait till we've been here two years"

Listen to what James Franklin said in his postgame press conference when a reporter asked why Vandy can’t get over the hump:

“We’ve won 5 games — we’ve won 4 games in the last two years combined. Our kids fight and compete every single week. We’re recruiting better than ever. The culture’s been changed.

“We still got steps to take like everybody in the country but the culture has changed. These kids have invested, the coaches have invested, we’ve competed and played against everybody, everybody in the league, and we’ve been here 11 months.

“Wait till we’ve been here two years. You’ll see real culture change, I can guarantee you that.”

He did mention “obscure calls” from officials and injuries to the offensive line but his message was that his team played “awful” in the first half and still found a way to compete, and that he takes full responsibility and that “I’m gonna get it fixed.” When somebody asked what Tennessee did to stop his offense, he said: “They didn’t. It was us. We didn’t play well. You’ve got to run the offense, you can’t turn the ball over.”

As he left the field last night, Franklin yelled to the UT fans. “We’ll be back,” he said.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

So where's James Franklin's press conference?

I was particularly interested to hear Franklin's press conference after the game. But right now the official Vandy athletic site only has some postgame quotes from him.

No video, which usually pops up within an hour of the final horn.

Meanwhile, video from Dooley's entire postgame press conference is posted on the Vol's site. Plus, Houston Nutt and Joker Phillips both sat and talked about blowout losses to the Commodores while they were separated by only a flimsy wall from the Vandy locker room, which was rocking with noisy celebration, and those rather painful interviews were posted on their school's sites soon after they were taken.

Three thoughts on yet another Vandy nightmare

1. We played terrible, took the lead and then found a way to lose.
2. The refs did blow the whistle to kill the play. No way a referee was going to turn on his microphone in Neyland Stadium and say the touchdown was nullified because they blew the whistle. But they did blow the whistle.
3. Same old Vanderbilt. What else can you say? A pick six to lose in overtime? It could only happen to Vanderbilt. Yeah, we've found a great coach, but we're still inventing new ways to lose.

Archibald Barnes! Archibald Barnes! Archibald Barnes!

We'd be dead in the water without Archie, who has two interceptions and 128 return yards. With UT driving for another score and a 21-7 lead, Archie grabbed a Tyler Bray pass and sped 100 yards for a touchdown.

His legs were moving so fast his No. 15 looked like No. 16 and for a second I thought it was Eddie Foster, a former starting cornerback who's one of the fastest guys on the team but has been relegated to special teams.

With all the redshirt juniors screwing up for so far, Archibald's one redshirt who I guarantee you will be welcomed with open arms next season.

Let's get this win!

In the past, we've played great and then blown the game in the end. Today, we're playing terrible and we're tied with the Vols and have the moment.

We'll take it.


Good Lord.

With Vandy down 14-7 at the start of the second half, Jordan Rodgers hits Chris Boyd for a 72-yard pass play. Boyd's tackled on the Vol 1-yard line.

But while Chris is battling toward the goal line, Josh Jelesky is clipping a Tennessee defender. And after Jordan had made the throw.

It's one thing to miss a field goal or trip over your own feet, but it's quite another to do something that freaking stupid.

We've been giddily declaring for weeks that this isn't the Same Old Vandy. It make take a bit longer to be sure of that. In the past 15 years or so, we've finished plenty of seasons with five victories.

If we don't pull our head out, that just may happen again.

By the way, UT's about to score again.

Hey Colby Cooke, can you enroll at Vandy right away?

Meet our next field goal kicker. His name’s Colby Cooke, and sure, he looks like a computer programmer, but he can’t be any worse than Carey Spear, who missed two first-half kicks against Bama and shanked a game-tying kick at the buzzer against Arkansas, or Ryan Fowler, who just missed two field goals in the first half against Tennessee.

Cooke’s supposed to grayshirt because Spear’s returning next season and Fowler will be a redshirt senior who may or may not be invited to return. Hey, might want to call Colby and tell him he can go ahead and plan to enroll in the summer of 2012 instead of spring 2013 as planned.

At halftime, we have more yards than UT (175-126), four more first downs and nearly 10 more minutes of possession.

But Jordan Rodgers looks shaky, fumbling on the first possession, throwing an interception on the second, killing a drive by falling tripping on his own feet and falling down on third down, and missing a wide-open Chris Boyd in the end zone toward the end of the half, just before Fowler hooked a 34-field goal to the left.

On the bright side, we did actually score our first touchdown in the first half of a road game this season. Before this game, we’d been outscored 45-3 in the first half on the road.

We should be winning in Knoxville right now. We shot ourselves in the foot just like we did in the first half in Gainesville. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Vandy locker room right now.

Give ’em hell, Coach.

Don't chalk up a Vanderbilt victory over Tennessee yet

You can feel everybody in Knoxville, including fans, media and especially a certain head coach fond of wearing orange pants, preparing themselves for a loss to Vandy.

The Vols, the story goes, are far less experienced than the Commodores, and thanks to the nefarious Lane Kiffin have been stripped of talent. It’ll take a couple of years at least to rebuild.

Meanwhile, James Franklin, who seems more grounded to his home planet than does Derek “Feed the Orange Dog” Dooley, has inherited an experienced and surprisingly talented team.

There’s an element of truth to all of this, and some Vandy fans are already celebrating what they think is an inevitable victory in Knoxville, and some Vols season ticket holders are planning to sit this one out.

But the truth remains that Tennessee has no business losing to Vandy. I love it when people ask James Franklin about the “rivalry” with Tennessee. After repeating his well-known philosophy about six seconds and one game at a time, he says that it may be a rivalry for Vanderbilt but it’s not much of a rivalry for Tennessee.

Think about it. Who are Tennessee’s rivals? Alabama and Florida. And they now finish their season with Kentucky, which has been much more competitive than we have over the past decade.

Would Vols fans be poor-mouthing their team if they were 1-point underdogs to Alabama or Florida? No way. They’d have started tailgating days ago.

So is Vandy more experienced than Tennessee? Yes. Vandy starters, on average, are redshirt juniors, while the Vols are redshirt sophomores. The Commodores have eight senior starters to the Vols four, while the Vols have six true freshman starters to zero for the Dores.

Now what about talent? Despite all the talent that’s either transferred from Knoxville or been removed by the long arm of the law, the Vols starters had an average of 3.3 stars from Scouts when they were being recruitied, while the Vandy starters had an average of 2.2 stars. In fact, UT has more 4 and 5 star starters than Vandy has 3 star starters.

Sure, stars don’t matter much. Just don’t try to say that Vandy has the same caliber of talent as the Vols. We’re improving our talent at a rapid rate, and yes, Franklin has a far more talented team than the one Bobby Johnson inherited in 2002. But Tennessee is still bigger, faster, stronger and has more playmakers on both sides of the ball than we do.

Just look at the offensive lines. Vandy’s O-line averages 290 pounds. UT’s averages 320 pounds.

Can we win this game? Absolutely. But as game time approaches, we need to keep things in perspective. Tennessee has far more talent than any team we’ve beaten this year, and we’re playing them on the road, where James Franklin has never won a game as a head coach.

The Vols could have a breakout game and easily win this thing. At least, that’s what a student of history would say. But it appears that Franklin’s Commodores are having the kind of year that laughs in the face of history.

My point is, it’s not a done deal. We’re going to have to wait until it happens, and hopefully it will happen tonight.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's not even close: Franklin closes the gap at Vandy

This time last year, David Williams was trying to decide whether to retain Robbie Caldwell, and we here at Moral Victory! were wondering if it mattered that Vanderbilt under Caldwell was losing every game by four or five touchdowns, compared to the days when Bobby Johnson was losing the same number of games, but losing them by one touchdown.

Of course, it did matter to Williams, who after last season’s home loss to Florida said, "There's losing and there's losing. To be down 41-0 at halftime that wasn't one of my happiest days."

Happy days are here again.

So far, James Franklin has won half his games in his first season, and his most of his losses have been close ones — painfully close.

Last year, we calculated how Vandy coaches since Watson Brown rank in winning percentage, and, just for kicks, if you spot them a field goal and a touchdown. Here are the rankings with Franklin’s results so far this year:

1. Franklin: 5-5 (50%)
2. DiNardo: 19-25 (43.2%), never bowl eligible
3. Johnson: 29-66 (30.5%), bowl eligible once, one bowl victory
4. Widenhofer: 15-40 (27.3%), never bowl eligible
5. Dowhower: 4-18 (18.9%), never bowl eligible
6. Brown 10-45 (18.9%), never bowl eligible
7. Caldwell: 2-10 (16.7%), never bowl eligible

1. Franklin: 6-4 (60%)
2. DiNardo: 22-22 (50%), twice bowl eligible
3. Johnson: 45-50 (47.4%), bowl eligible five times
4. Widenhofer: 23-32 (41.8%), bowl eligible once
5. Brown 17-38 (30.9%), bowl eligible once
6. Caldwell: 3-9 (25%), never bowl eligible
7. Dowhower: 4-18 (18.9%), never bowl eligible

1. Franklin: 8-2 (80%)
2. DiNardo: 27-17 (61.4%), four times bowl eligible (in four seasons)
3. Johnson: 56-39 (59%), six times bowl eligible (in eight seasons)
4. Widenhofer: 26-29 (47.3%), bowl eligible twice (in five seasons)
5. Brown 25-30 (45.5%), bowl eligible twice (in five seasons)
6. Dowhower: 8-14 (36.4%), never bowl eligible
7. Caldwell: 3-9 (25%), never bowl eligible

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Simmons arrest has nothing to do with James Franklin's new culture of winning at Vanderbilt

The Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge is reporting that sophomore safety Andre Simmons has been arrested and is being held on $100,000 after allegedly being involved in the armed robbery of $5,000 cash from a safe in another Vandy student's dorm room.

When I was a Vandy student, I always took precautions and never kept more than a couple grand in my safe. Also, I never told anybody I had a safe. Not even myself. In fact, I don't think I even had a safe.

Anyway, the Vol fan base is naturally equating the fact that the Commodores are favored to beat Tennessee (something that most Vol fans seem to believe) with the news that Vandy quite possibly has a thug on their team.

Which leads to the assumption that James Franklin has relaxed recruiting standards and is now signing players who lack the character and the intellect of past Vandy players, all in the name of winning.

But who recruited Andre Simmons?

It was Bobby Johnson, not Franklin. But even then, Simmons, a three-star player from Lorton, Va., was a member of the National Honor Society and not the kind of kid you'd expect to get into a scrape with the law.

Vols fans are talking like we're going to just sweep this under the rug. I guarantee you that Franklin kicks him off the team if he's guilty of the charges. Simmons has already been suspended indefinitely.

Sure, it's not that big of a loss. Simmons played in only one game all season, on special teams against Elon. We've got three other sophomore safeties who are better — Kenny Ladler, Javon Marshall and Karl Butler (who's currently listed as a backup linebacker). And we've got junior Eric Samuels and a bunch of promising freshmen who are redshirting — Larry Franklin, Jahmel McIntosh and Andrew Williamson.

And sure, we could use the scholarship to sign another receiver or offensive lineman.

But I believe James Franklin would boot anybody off the team who did what Simmons is alleged to have done. No question.

Sure, this is not the Same Old Vandy. But that's because we're about to win three consecutive games in November, not because we just had a kid apparently go astray, which could have happened on any past Vandy team and on any college campus in America.

Franklin will deal with it swiftly, and I don't expect this to become a trend comparable to those in other SEC football programs.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Derek Dooley prepares for Vandy by feeding his team's spirit

James Franklin has his team focusing on doing the best job they can for six seconds at a time, and taking one opponent at a time. Week after week, he sounds like a broken record, but the Commodores are getting better every Saturday.

And Derek Dooley? What’s he telling the media?

Check out these quotes from Monday’s press conference:

• “We’re on the ropes — we’re not out yet.”

• “It’s so important that our team feeds their spirit with some positive thoughts.”

• He said his team needs to be “solution-oriented” not “results-focused.”

• On Vandy: “Nobody can never pull away from them.”

• On what he’ll tell his team if the Vols don’t make it to a bowl this year: “We need to stay on Vandy. We’ll get through the Vandy game and see how we perform there.”

• “This one game is not going to impact our entire program the next 3 years, I’m not approaching it that way. It’s a big game for this season. If we don’t win we don’t go to a bowl.”

Wow. Sounds like he’s preparing his fan base for a loss. He knows this is going to be a tough game against a well-prepared team that’s feeling confident.

Remember, it’s so important that his team feeds their spirit with some positive thoughts.

Still, Tennessee has the 4- and 5-star athletes and we don’t. Tennessee has the tradition and we don’t. Tennessee has 100,000 screaming fans and we don’t. I’m looking forward to Saturday and I hope we win, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.

For Vanderbilt, a slightly better offense yields dramatically different results

For the first time in five years, Vanderbilt has a double-digit ranking for total offense. Right now, the Commodores are No. 99.

Here's our total offense ranking for the four previous seasons:
• 2010: No. 110
• 2009: No. 110
• 2008: No. 117
• 2007: No. 103

It's amazing to think we had a winning season in 2008 with such a terrible offense. This season, we're gaining per game about 30 more yards on the ground, 50 more yards in the air, and seven more points a game than we did in 2008.

And while we're only gaining about 35 more yards per game than we did last season, we're scoring 10 more points a game.

Here's how our stats compare to last season:
• Rushing offense: 162.2 ypg (No. 59), up from 138.8 ypg (80)in 2010
• Passing offense: 172.5 ypg (100), up from 159.4 ypg (105)
• Total offense: 334.9 ypg (99), up from 298.3 ypg (110)
• Scoring offense: 26.1 ppg (68), up from 16.9 ppg (112)

No, our offense isn't dramatically better in yards gained, but we've taken risks to break long plays (Franklin calls them "explosive plays") when we can't move the ball consistently. Lately, though, we've started moving the ball consistently, at least consistently for us. That's why we had fewer explosive plays against Kentucky in one of our most dominating offensive performances of the season.

The key to our offensive improvement has been our wide receivers. Sure, the offensive line has improved by leaps and bounds, and in Rodgers we found the quarterback we've been looking for. But the biggest difference is that we've found two legitimate receiving threats in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Since the Arkansas game, those guys have been making tough grabs in traffic. Watching the Kentucky game on Saturday, as Boyd and then Matthews made big catches to set up another big run by Zac Stacy, I thought how far we've come since last season, when our two top receiving threats were John Cole and Udom Umoh.

And this better offense has made our defense, which was already much improved, dramatically better because it's kept them off the field. Here's how our defense compares to last year's:
• Rushing defense: 122.9 ypg (No. 32), compared to 193.0 ypg (100) in 2010
• Passing defense: 204.7 ypg (39), compared to 226.3 ypg (75)
• Total defense: 327.6 ypg (22), compared to 419.2 ypg (93)
• Scoring defense: 21.6 ppg (31), compared to 31.2 ppg (94)

This year, we're scoring 10 more points a game and we're allowing 10 fewer points a game.

And we're hitting our stride. When's the last time a Vanderbilt team was better in November than it was in September or October?

This team is better. Now let's go beat the Vols in Knoxville!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Franklin expands Vandy senior day, boosts level of competition

In years past, senior day at Vanderbilt has always been interesting because the redshirt juniors who are definitely graduating and leaving school are honored, and the ones who are probably staying with the team for another year are not.

James Franklin has changed this. On Saturday, every player who's on campus for his fourth year (or in the case of JC transfers like Jordan Rodgers, his second year) will be honored on senior day.

I love it. At this point, with three games remaining to be played and with the staff working on more big recruiting commitments, it would be impossible to know who's staying and who's not. Franklin said that some guys might be honored again next year "if they choose to do that," saying again that "they have the choice to do that."

I guarantee you he doesn't mean that every redshirt junior on scholarship will have the option of returning next year, though he worded it vaguely to avoid questions — and the media obliged by nodding like sheep and moving on to the next question.

This time last year, we honored only two redshirt juniors, Ryan van Rensburg and Tray Herndon, on senior day. Of the redshirt juniors not honored, only Jamie Graham eventually left the team, graduating and choosing to play out his last year of eligibility at UCLA, where he went to graduate school. The other seven (Barden, Fischer, Umoh, Marve, Fugger, Smith and Monahan) have been pillars of the team this season. Monahan, by the way, has since been granted another year of eligibility and is once again listed as a redshirt junior.

After Franklin arrived and signed his first class, we had 90 scholarships tied up, which meant we needed to part with five players. By the time preseason camp rolled around, we'd parted ways with:
• R-SR defensive back Jamie Graham, who graduated and went to UCLA.
• R-SO quarterback Charlie Goro, who transferred to South Dakota after apparently falling out of favor with Franklin who when asked about Goro's departure talked about his expectations for players on and off the field.
• R-SO offensive lineman Justin Cabbagestalk, with a career-ending injury
• SO offensive lineman James Kittredge, who was suspended and then transferred to Michigan State
• R-SO safety Jay Fullam, who transferred to the Air Force Academy to follow his dreams of becoming a fighter pilot.

Since then, two more players — redshirt freshmen Blake Southerland, a fullback, and Blake Gowder, a linebacker — have vanished from the roster. Southerland apparently suffered a career-ending injury but not sure about Gowder, other than it wasn't a good year to be named Blake and play for Vandy.

Which brings us to this year. We currently have 20 verbal commitments, if you count Wyoming transfer Austin Carta-Samuels, who's already enrolled in school. That means if nobody on our current roster left school early, we'd need to part with eight of this year's redshirt juniors.

Let's break the current class of redshirt juniors into groups to see where the eight bodies might come from:

• PK Ryan Fowler: Sure, it's nice to have three scholarship kickers, but Carey Spear has hopefully worked out the kinks and can handle the kickoffs and placekicking next season. Plus, another all-purpose kicker, Colby Cooke, has verbally committed to the next signing class.
• WR John Cole: A tough player for us before his injury, if not a legitimate SEC receiver, but we'll be adding four-star Andre McDonald and local star Corey Batey to a solid rotation of Matthews/Boyd/Tate/Krause.
• RB Micah Powell: A special teams performer who'll be easily replaced.
• WR Akeem Dunham: A raw athlete who climbed to second team before injury.
• DE Dexter Daniels: Moved to end this year but has been relegated to special teams.
• DT Taylor Loftley: His fate was sealed when T.J. Greenstone was injured and the staff burned a redshirt off Barron Dixon to fill out the rotation.

• QB Jordan Rodgers: Duh
• OL Ryan Seymour: Duh
• DT Rob Lohr: Duh
• LB Archibald Barnes: A versatile linebacker who's been slow to develop, but with our shallow depth at linebacker will be needed next season.
• DT Colt Nichter: Has started every game this season.

• DE Johnell Thomas: Even with five commitments at defensive end, many of those guys are going to take time to develop; Thomas is battle-tested and has had a solid season.
• LB Tristan Strong: A solid starter until his injury after the fourth game; will return for sure if he recovers.
• P Richard Kent: Should punt again next year, unless true frosh Colby Cooke takes his place, but there's word that Cooke may be a grayshirt.

• OL Josh Jelesky: A little used defensive end, he was a shoo-in to leave at the end of this season until a last-minute move to the O-line breathed new life into his collegiate career. Now he's a starter at guard.
• OL Caleb Welchans: The former starter has been strictly a backup this season despite a number of unforeseen openings on the offensive line. He could be replaced as a backup by a redshirt freshman like James Lewis or Jake Bernstein, though it would be ideal to keep a big body with his experience on the roster.
• LB DeAndre Jones: He could step into the middle backer job vacated by Chris Marve, especially if true freshman Jacob Sealand, who plans to enroll in January, isn't ready. Still, if you take away the injury to Tristan Strong, so far he's been the least important of the four redshirt junior linebackers.
• LB Al Owens: He started the season as the most likely redshirt junior to be four and done, but he's starting right now in place of Chase Garnham. His fate could depend on the development of true freshmen Darreon Herring and Stephen Weatherly, and whether Barnes, Jones or Strong leave early.
• TE Austin Monahan: He turns 24 at the end of this season, and next season would be his sixth in black and gold. Vandy has a bunch of tight ends (Lassing, van der Wal, Johnston, Scheu and Bryant) but nobody with Monahan's experience. It'll likely be his call.

Of course, with the way Franklin finishes strong in recruiting, we could add another five players to our recruiting class. If that happens, we'll have to cut deep into our redshirt juniors or experience some turnover among underclassmen and juniors.

Some possibilities:
• R-FR offensive lineman Grant Ramsay: He's the only one of five offensive linemen from the signing class of 2010 not to play in a game, and he's buried beneath true freshmen Pulley and Townsend on the depth chart.
• R-FR receiver Trent Pruitt: A John Cole clone, he was played special teams the first three games. Not sure if he's injured, but he doesn't look like an SEC-caliber receiver, especially compared to our latest recruits.
• R-FR defensive end Thomas Ryan: He's played in only one game this season, in mop-up duty, and it doesn't look any better with five ends planning to commit in February. He'll likely try a new position in the spring, either DT, OG or even TE.
• R-SO receiver Brady Brown: Once an impressive recruit from Texas, he's played once in three years, and that was during his redshirt year! His future doesn't look bright.

I'm not saying Franklin kicks these guys off the team. He first moves them to another position to give them another chance and then if they see no playing time in sight and want to play at a lower level, maybe they transfer.

And there's always the guys who fail out of school or suffer injuries. We won't try to predict that.

Guys with remaining eligibility also being honored on Saturday: Jabo Burrow, who suffered a career-ending injury, and three walk-ons (Jeff Gendelman, Bobby Jewell and Jamison Sackey).

It's obvious why all the redshirt juniors will be honored on Saturday: Because they're going to have to compete in the spring in order to stay another year. As Franklin said on signing day, he wants to create the most competitive environment in the nation where nobody's job is safe. He's well on his way to doing just that.

Injuries and senior day change Vandy starting lineup

Here's a look at some highlights of the depth chart for the Kentucky game:

• Starting receivers are Chris Boyd or Jordan Matthews at one receiver, and Matthews or Jonathan Krause at another. Last week at Florida, Boyd and Matthews appeared together in the starting lineup for the first time. They've been listed as co-starters at the x-receiver on game week depth charts in nearly every game this season. Matthews has started seven games this season, with Boyd starting four. Krause has started five games, while Udom Umoh and Wesley Tate have started two apiece.

• Likewise, Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler are listed as co-starters opposite Sean Richardson at safety once again this week.

• Redshirt senior Udom Umoh is listed as the third starter at wide receiver. James Franklin said he plans to start some seniors on or use them in key plays on Saturday, which is senior day, in recognition of their contributions to the team but that they wouldn't necessarily be in the main rotation for the duration of the game.

• Same for T.J. Greenstone at defensive tackle, who's listed ahead of Colt Nichter as a starter. Expect to see Greenstone start the game and play the first series and then give way to Nichter, Vince Taylor and Barron Dixon.

• Surprisingly, nobody asked if Larry Smith was going to start, though I fully expect to see Larry in the game for at least a couple of plays, hopefully not as a wide receiver. But Rodgers is clearly our quarterback, and despite the fact that we're a double-digit favorite, we could easily lose this game.

• Guard Ryan Seymour, who's started all nine games this year, is listed as a co-starter with redshirt freshman Chase White, which is Franklin's way of saying that Seymour will probably miss the game because of injury.

• Likewise, Chase Garnham is once again listed as a co-starter with Al Owens, which means that Garnham is likely not ready to return from injury.

• Guard Josh Jelesky is listed as the sole starter at right guard and barring injury appears to have won the job for the rest of the year over Mylon Brown, who will continue to see action. Franklin said he had to move a D-lineman over to offense in the preseason because of Stewart's mononucleosis, Kittredge's departure and maybe even Burrow's head injuries, which I believe started early in the preseason, and that the staff considered Walker May (too slight) and Vince Taylor (too short) before settling on Jelesky, whose development has been nothing short of remarkable considering he'd never played O-line in his life. This would be Jelesky's second start.

• Walker May is listed as the sole starter at defensive end opposite Tim Fugger, who's started all nine games this year. May's started four, with junior Johnell Thomas starting five.

• At placekicker, Ryan Fowler and Carey Spear are listed as co-starters.

Twelve players have started every game for the Commodores this season. They are:
• Zac Stacy, RB
• Ryan Seymour, OL
• Wesley Johnson, OL
• Kyle Fischer, OL
• Rob Lohr, DT
• Colt Nichter, DT
• Tim Fugger, DE
• Chris Marve, LB
• Casey Hayward, CB
• Trey Wilson, CB
• Sean Richardson, S

In addition to the above players, these guys have played in every game this season:
• QB: Jordan Rodgers
• RB: Jerron Seymour
• WR: Jordan Matthews, Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd, Wes Tate, Udom Umoh
• TE: Austin Monahan
• FB: Fitz Lassing
• OL: Mylon Brown, Andrew Bridges, Caleb Welchans
• DT: Jared Morse
• DE: Walker May, Thad McHaney
• LB: Archibald Barnes, Al Owens, DeAndre Jones
• CB: Andre Hal, Stephen Clarke, Eddie Foster
• S: Javon Marshall, Kenny Ladler, Eric Samuels, Karl Butler
• Special teams: Carey Spear, Richard Kent, Micah Powell, Andrew East

Monday, October 31, 2011

James Franklin tallies explosive plays, Josh Jelesky makes his move, and Andrew Bridges wears a running back number

It’s time once again to review some highlights from the latest Monday press conference and depth chart.


• Explosive plays: James Franklin said he was pleased with the offense, which had 11 explosive plays compared to its goal of eight. He said the difference in the offense this week was the ability of Vandy’s receivers to catch balls in traffic. Remember, he’s said all along that if our wideouts can’t separate from SEC DBs, he at least expects them to make tough catches while being heavily defended. Matthews and Boyd did just that on Saturday. He also praised Krause for returning to the game as a punt returner after nearly getting his head knocked off a quarter earlier.

• Defending explosive plays: Franklin said the defense held Arkansas to four explosive plays, above the team’s goal of only two. No mention of a certain 96-yard explosive play from the Razorback defense.

• Something to work on: He said he’s concerned about the defense’s inability to stop drives at the end of the half. Here, here.

• Something to feel good about: He reminded everybody that Arkansas was “the same team we lost 49-14 to last year.” But he was quick to add: “We gave it away… We got to learn to win.”

• Something else to feel good about: He pointed out that Florida is dead last in the nation in fewest penalties and is last in the SEC in worst turnover margin.

• Looking ahead to the future: Franklin said this spring he plans to meet with Commodores currently playing in the NFL to get them involved in the program and make sure they’re happy with the direction of the program.


• Receivers: As usually, Boyd and Matthews are listed as co-starters at the x-receiver, but in the latest depth chart Matthews is also listed as a co-starter with Krause at the y-receiver. So maybe we’ll see Boyd and Matthews in the game at the same time. Kind of makes sense, huh? Wesley Tate is still listed as the z-receiver, but lately we’ve been starting FB Fitz Lassing instead. So far, Matthews has started six games, Krause five, Boyd three and Tate two. Udom Umoh’s also started two games, but his playing time at receiver has diminished.

• Offensive line: Looks like redshirt junior Josh Jelesky, who moved from defensive end in the preseason, will get his first career start at any position on Saturday, beating out right guard Mylon Brown. Franklin said Brown has made huge strides since the winter, but that Jelesky, whose playing time has increased over the past two games, has passed big Mylon for now on the depth chart. He would be the ninth O-lineman to start for the Commodores this season, joining Ryan Seymour, Kyle Fischer, Wesley Johnson, Chase White, Logan Stewart, Andrew Bridges and Jabo Burrow.

• Freshmen on the depth chart: The emergence of Jelesky, the return of Stewart, and the fact that redshirt junior Caleb Welchans is now listed at both backup center and right tackle has led to the disappearance of true freshmen linemen Joe Townsend and Spencer Pulley from the depth chart. That leaves RB Jerrod Seymour and DT Barron Dixon as the only true freshmen on the depth chart. Mitchell Hester made a brief appearance as a backup punt returner a few weeks ago but has yet to enter a game. Another true frosh, Dillon van der Wal, is seeing action at tight end and on special teams.

• Mr. Versatile: Speaking of tight ends, have you noticed that Andrew Bridges, who’s 6-6, 270 pounds and who started at tackle against Army, was playing tight end and wearing No. 43 in goal line situations against Arkansas? Cool, huh? And on at least one play, guard Ryan Seymour, who’s 6-6 and 300, lined up wide at tight end in the same formation as Bridges. Now if we could just get Vince Taylor to line up in the wildcat.

• Defensive end: Walker May is listed as a starter at defensive end over Johnell Thomas who’s started five games to May’s three.

• Strongside backer: Chase Garnham, who sat out Saturday’s game with injury, is listed as a co-starter with redshirt junior Al Owen, who started the first game of his career against Arkansas. Safety Karl Butler is listed as their backup.

• Safety: Javon Marshall, who’s started five games at free safety, is listed as the sole starter though Kenny Ladler’s started three games and has been listed as the co-starter in the past.

• Kicker: Carey Spear and Ryan Fowler are both listed as the No. 1 placekicker.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

November the bleakest month for Vanderbilt football

James Franklin swears this isn’t the Same Old Vanderbilt. I believe him, and I understand why it makes him angry to hear people say this, and why he wants to shelter his players from the idea that Vandy is forever cursed, and why he basically ordered the media not to write or report that this was the SOV.

(Word of advice to Coach Franklin: The best way to get the media to write something is to tell them not to write it.)

But Franklin hasn’t been around for all the pain and suffering. While he considers this a different team because he wasn’t affiliated with any of the other ones, it was impossible for a longtime Vandy fan to watch Zac Stacy’s fumble or Carey Spears' botched field goal attempt and not flash back to a thousand moments when a Commodore team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now Franklin has an incredible opportunity to prove that this isn’t the same old Vanderbilt.

He can beat Florida in the Swamp, something Vandy hasn’t done since 1949.

And he can win two SEC games in November, something Vandy hasn’t done since 1975.

Speaking of November, did you know:

• In the past 25 years, Vandy has won 31 percent of its games before November, but only 19 percent during November. It needs to win 50 percent this year to go bowling.

• In the past 25 years, Vandy has played 46 games in November against SEC teams not named Kentucky and has won only once, against Tennessee in 2005? This year in November, Vandy gets two shots, playing Florida and UT in addition to Kentucky.

• In the six times over the past 25 years that Vandy has entered November with four or more wins — including four straight years under Bobby Johnson – it has won only three times in 20 games, beating Tennessee in 2005 and Kentucky in 1994 and 2008.

• In the past 25 years, Vandy has won only seven times in 42 road games — once in Knoxville, once in Annapolis, once at West Point, and four time in Lexington — or 17 percent. (Thank God for Kentucky.) Three of Vandy’s four November games this year are on the road — against Florida in Gainesville, against Tennessee in Knoxville and against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

Since the advent of the 12-game season, Vandy has never won more than one game during November. I believe James Franklin will eventually convince everybody that this isn’t the same old Vanderbilt, but if he wants to do it this year, he’s got to win twice in November, win on the road, and beat somebody not named Kentucky.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No, this is not the same old Vanderbilt

I loved James Frankin's comments in the postgame press conference.

This team is not snakebit. This team is not still under a curse. And no, this is not the same old Vanderbilt.

We lost because we didn't play well enough, and we're working to get better. Here are some of the highlights:

• "We’re light years ahead of where we were when I arrived on this campus. This is not the same old Vanderbilt. This is not the same old Vanderbilt. I’m not going to allow anybody to write anything or report anything different. We are going to find ways real soon how to finish those games like that and we’re not going to make those mistakes much longer, I can guarantee you that."

• "I thought we played hard, I didn’t think we played smart. You can’t beat yourself."

• "I appreciate all the fans that showed up."

• "We've got to allow other teams to beat themselves, we can’t beat ourselves."

• "We’re not defeated. (The players) understand this is a step in the right direction. No one’s going to give you anything. You've got to go out and take it."

• On Carey Spear: "He's going to make kicks to win games this year and throughout his career. He’s a big-time kicker and we still believe in him."

• "You can learn lessons and win. You don’t have to lose to win lessons."

So how is this game any different from past Vandy heartbreakers?:

"We had a chance after those huge momentum plays in the other direction, and we stole it back."

Nothing we haven't seen before, huh?

Even if Spear hits that kick, I find it hard to believe we'd have won in overtime. We had to score a touchdown down there, and I'm disappointed that Rodgers just chunked the ball out of bounds on third down.

This is a bitter pill to swallow, and hearkens back the ghosts of so many games past. I don't blame anybody for saying "Same old Vanderbilt" after this one. We took control of the game and then we gave it away.

Oh yeah, we hadn't beaten a Top 10 team in our stadium since the 1930s.

Right now, I'm having flashbacks to our missed kick to tie the LSU game in the late 1990s. I'm also having flashbacks to Warren Norman's goal-line fumble against Army two years ago.

Can you believe that the Arkansas offense scored only two touchdowns in the game, and none in the second half?

But can you believe that the difference in the game was a goal-line fumble by Zac Stacy that in 10 seconds led to a 15-point turnaround?

I think it's great that our field goal kicker makes tackles on kickoffs. It would also be nice if he could hit chip-shot field goals.

This team's learning how to find ways to win. We've also got to stop finding ways to lose.

Peace out.

Not same old Vandy?

We fumble the ball on the Razorback 1, Arkansas returns it all the way for a touchdown.

Now instead of leading by 15, the game is tied.


We either fold here like we've done for the last 40 years, or we dig deep and take it back.


Zac Stacy is a stud.

We hadn't gotten a first down on four drives in the third quarter until Jordan Matthews made a huge grab on third down to convert. On the next play, Stacy ripped off a 62-yard TD run.

Vandy 28-17.

Now let's get the ball back!


Let's get this straight:

Marquel Wade of Arkansas just nearly killed a defenseless Jonathan Krause with a helmet to helmet hit while Jon was fielding a punt.

Wade gets thrown out of the game, and he starts screaming and the crowd's booing and he's shaking his fists at the crowd.

Dude, get off our field.

With 7 minutes remaining in the second half, we still haven't gotten a first down.

Unfortunately, we have to play the second half

Here's what's happened since the second half started:

• We throw an interception in our own territory.
• We somehow force Arkansas to kick a field goal; hanging on to a 4-point lead.
• We go three and out and punt.
• We miss a tackle on the punt returner and now the Razorbacks have great field position.

Arkansas is starting to get some swagger, like they always do in the second half. We're gonna need to grab the momentum back like we did against Georgia. The difference, of course, is that we've got a lead.

Hopefully, we can wear Tyler Wilson down. That guy's a warrior.

Archibald Barnes just dropped a pick six. That's the fourth INT we've dropped today — Hayward has three.

But now Arkansas is punting. We're hanging on.

Halftime report: Vandy looking good against Arkansas

Whether we win this game or not, we've got to feel good about the rest of our season. Arkansas is by far the best opponent remaining on our schedule, and we're leading 21-14 at halftime.

Rodgers continues to improve and is definitely a keeper at QB, and we look good at O-line, D-line and pretty much all areas.

Whoops. The half just started and Stacy threw a pick on a halfback pass and now the Razorbacks are driving.

It'll still be amazing if we win this game, but we just continue to get better. If you're a Vandy fan, you've got to be excited about this team.

Now our fans need to actually attend our games.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jordan Rodgers the lone QB, and other Vandy depth chart notes

Here are some observations from the depth chart for this week’s Arkansas game, along with some other stuff:

• Jordan Rodgers is listed as the sole starter at quarterback.
• Caleb Welchans is now listed as the backup at both right tackle, his usual position, and center. It’s the first week that a true freshman is missing from the two-deep for the O-line. Gone are Spencer Pulley, who played Saturday, and Joe Townsend, who’s been the backup center for most of the year.
• Walker May is listed as a starting defensive end, with Johnell Thomas dropping to second team. May got his second start of the year against Army.
• Karl Butler, a safety who was pressed into duty at outside linebacker against Army, is now listed as the backup to Chase Garnham at strongside linebacker.
• Casey Hayward is now listed as a co-starter at kick.

• Once again, Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews are listed as co-starters at the x-receiver position. Jonathan Krause and Wesley Tate are listed as the other starters at receiver. Last week, Boyd and Matthews were in the starting lineup together for the first time, with Vandy starting the game with two tight ends.
• Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler are co-starters at free safety. Marshall started against Army and has four starts on the season to Ladler’s three.
• For another week, Richard Kent and Ryan Fowler are listed as co-starters at punter.

Here’s the different starting offensive sets that Vandy’s thrown at opponents, with Zac Stacy the lone running back:
• Elon: Two tight ends (Barden & Monahan, with WRs Umoh & Matthews
• UConn: Fullback (Lassing, with TE Barden and WRs Boyd & Krause)
• Ole Miss: Three receivers (Matthews, Tate & Krause, with TE Johnston)
• South Carolina: Fullback (Lassing, with TE Monahan and WRs Matthews & Umoh)
• Alabama: Fullback (Lassing, with TE Barden and WRs Matthews & Krause)
• Georgia: Three receivers (Matthews, Tate & Krause, with TE Barden)
• Army: Two tight ends (Barden & Monahan, with WRs Matthews & Boyd)

Here are Commodores who’ve gained the most yards this season, including on turnovers and special teams:
1. RB Zac Stacy, JR: 640 yards (579 rush + 43 pass +18 catch), 6 TDs
2. QB Jordan Rodgers, R-JR: 612 yards (190 rush + 422 pass), 3 TDs
3. QB Larry Smith, R-SR: 463 yards (-18 rush + 481 pass), 5 TDs
4. CB/KR Andre Hal, SO: 436 yards (all kick return), 1 TD
5. RB Jerron Seymour, FR: 315 yards (207 rush + 108 catch), 4 TDs
6. WR/PR Jonathan Krause, SO: 246 yards (50 rush + 149 catch + 47 punt return)
7. WR Chris Boyd, R-FR: 218 yards (all catches), 4 TDs
8. CB/RB/PR Casey Hayward, SR: 176 yards (57 rush + 12 punt return + 96 int. return + 11 kick return), 1 TD
9. S/KR Eric Samuels, JR: 159 yards (all kick returns)
10. WR Wesley Tate, R-SO: 143 yards (23 rush + 120 catch), 1 TD

• Tight end was supposed to be one of Vandy’s best positions, but it hasn’t generated many yards so far this season. Brandon Barden has gained 78 yards all season, followed by Fitz Lassing with 54 and Austin Monahan with 9 yards. Lassing is the only tight end to score, against Elon.
• At wide receiver, Jordan Matthews has only 117 yards receiving in seven games. Senior Udom Umoh, a returning starter, has 16 yards receiving and 34 total yards, counting a run and some returns.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vandy fans shouldn't make bowl reservations just yet

Nice game against Army.

We've got our starter at quarterback, and he thinks well on his feet and can tuck and run with the best of them. I've got some concerns about his arm strength. He threw some decent long balls but he didn't have much zip on his intermediate stuff. He's our best bet for the rest of the season, though I think we'd have blown out Army with Larry behind center too.

The O-line keeps getting better and better, Zac Stacy is the man, and Chris Boyd is emerging as our go-to receiver while Jordan Matthews look timid against Army and continues to be a disappointment.

Our depth at linebacker is a huge concern with Garnham ailing and Strong possibly out for the season, and junior Al Owens hurt too. Barnes looked confused on Saturday night, but he won't be defending the option much anymore, thank goodness. Karl Butler filled in nicely for Garnham at linebacker. We may be burning the redshirt off at least one guy who can play linebacker, which may be a true safety like Andrew Williamson or Larry Franklin or an athlete like Darien Bryant or Jimmy Stewart searching for a position.

Also, we've got to be concerned about facing a quarterback as accurate as Wilson of Arkansas. Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron looked like All-Americans against us, and they're not.

Anyway, looking at the new BCS standings gives us a good idea about our best bets to win six games and become bowl eligible or even capture more wins.

Here's how we rank among our remaining opponents:

1. Arkansas (6-1, 2-1), No. 10 BCS
2. Florida (4-3, 2-3), No. 34
3. Wake Forest (5-2, 4-1), No. 39
4. Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3), No. 48
5. Tennessee (3-4, 0-4), No. 57
6. Kentucky (3-4, 0-3), No. 80

Watching Arkansas struggle in Oxford last week, we may have a shot at upsetting the Razorbacks. I wouldn't bet on it, but I'm starting to get the feeling we're a much better team at home, even with our continuing problems filling our own stadium with our own fans.

If we did beat Arkansas, we'd be sky-high and might have a decent shot at running the table and going to a great bowl.

While it's nice to dream, that's unrealistic at this point. Going 6-6 would be a huge success. We should beat Kentucky, but even though we're a bit ahead of UT in the BCS standings, I never never never take the Vols for granted, especially if Bray returns.

While we've had Wake penciled in as a possible victory, and the Deacs struggled last week to beat Duke, they always play us tough, Grobe is a terrific coach, and they should be favored to beat us in Winston-Salem.

The guys at ESPN now have us tapped for the Liberty Bowl instead of the Compass Bowl. Don't know about you, but I'd much rather watch a game on New Year's Eve in Memphis than a game in Birmingham on Jan. 7.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

James Franklin aims to be first Vandy coach to win four non-conference games

Sure, James Franklin likes to say that the most important game is the one we’re playing this week. But today’s Army game is hugely important.

Vandy fans are already talking about making bowl plans and even extending Franklin’s contract to prevent him from jumping ship. Hopefully, we’ll be doing those things soon. But let’s don’t jump to conclusions.

While we’re excited about Franklin’s recruiting abilities and his helicopter and his postgame speeches about never backing down, it’s important to remember that this team hasn’t arrived yet. At this point, Franklin hasn’t done anything on the field that hasn’t been done in the past 10 years.

Bobby Johnson improved our talent base considerably and took us to wins over Top 10 teams and a bowl victory. Franklin’s Hail Mary recruiting class of last February was nothing short of stupendous, and he’s already gotten verbal commitments from seven four-star recruits for next year’s class. So far so good.

Franklin started 3-0, beating Elon, UConn and Ole Miss. We should have beaten Elon, we expected to beat UConn and got tons of help from their weak quarterback, and then we soundly beat Ole Miss, building on what Robbie Caldwell and his staff did last year.

Then we got worn down by South Carolina (Bobby Johnson beat ranked Gamecocks teams twice) and Alabama (George MacIntyre beat the Bear and Watson Brown took Bama to the wire twice), and then dang near beat Georgia (something Johnson did in Athens and Gerry DiNardo did twice in his four years at VU).

But here’s something Franklin could do that no Vandy coach in the modern era has ever done: Go 4-0 in out-of-conference play.

We’ve played a four-game OOC schedule seven times in the last nine years as we were phasing into a 12-game schedule:

2010: Beat Eastern Michigan; lost to Northwestern, UConn and Wake Forest
2009: Beat Western Carolina and Rice; lost to Army and Georgia Tech
2008: Beat Miami-Ohio and Rice; lost to Duke and Wake Forest
2007: Beat Richmond, Eastern Michigan and Miami-Ohio; lost to Wake Forest
2006: Beat Tennessee State, Temple and Duke; lost to Michigan
2005*: Three opponents (Beat Wake Forest and Richmond; lost to MTSU)
2004*: Three opponents (Beat Eastern Kentucky; lost to Navy and Rutgers)
2003: Beat Chattanooga; lost to TCU, Georgia Tech and Navy
2002: Beat Furman and UConn; lost to Georgia Tech and MTSU

(In case you’re wondering, before the advent of the 12-game season Woody Widenhofer did go undefeated against out-of-conference opponents in 1999, beating Northern Illinois, Duke and the Citadel.)

Of course, we’re all painfully aware that we’d have gone to a bowl in 2005 if we’d beaten MTSU. That was the biggest knock on Bobby Johnson. He wanted to overpower people. When he was overpowered in 2005, he figured out a way to outsmart and outlast Wake Forest, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and nearly Florida. In 2008, his Commodores outsmarted and outlasted South Carolina, Ole Miss, Auburn, Kentucky and even the rare scary Rice team.

But when he was favored to win, Johnson went conservative and got outsmarted and outlasted, by MTSU in 2005 and by Duke in 2008.

While wary of our past history against underdog opponents and particularly service academies, we’re excited about this Vandy team because so far it seems like Franklin plays to win instead of playing not to lose.

Our narrow loss to Georgia was not a rarity by any means, but it was unusual because of how we almost won. We didn’t take a huge lead and then blow it in the fourth quarter with a bone-headed fake punt or a fumble. No, we were getting manhandled, and Franklin somehow figured out a way to take control of the game. Though losing to UGA by five points wasn’t unusual, the difference is that Vandy fans were saying “Wow” and Georgia fans were stunned, as opposed to everybody in the stadium joining in a chorus of “Same Old Vandy.”

So we’re excited about our coach and our team. But he hasn’t done anything yet. It’ll be fun to watch him do it.

And does Franklin really have to go 4-0 against OOC opponents this year? No. Victories over Army, Kentucky and Tennessee and the resulting bowl berth would soothe the pain if we happened to lose our last game, on the road, to what’s shaping up to be another rock-solid Wake Forest team.

But right now, he absolutely must beat Army, which is no easy task. Vandy fans still feel the sting of the recent loss at West Point, and we also remember the time a quarterback who really wanted a Vanderbilt scholarship (Mike Bath at Miami-Ohio) led his team to a stunning upset in Nashville. Trent Steeleman, the Army QB who grew up in nearby Bowling Green, Ky., and otherwise known as the Man We Could Not Tackle, would like nothing more than to stick it to us tonight.

Here’s what I’d really like to see Franklin do: Make Vandy fans forget our past history. It could happen, but it’ll take some time.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vandy picks Rodgers as starting QB, breaks in new left tackle

Looks like Jordan Rodgers is our starting quarterback. He's been a step behind because of his injury. While all of Franklin's talk about Larry being our best option to win has scared Vandy fans, it's clear he's been grooming Jordan all along to have a clear shot at starting.

Because Rodgers missed spring practice because of injury, preseason was kind of like his spring, and his spot duty in the first half of the season has been like preseason. Now he's ready to take the reins and be our starter, very possibly for next season too.

With Stewart suspended for the first half against Army, Franklin said last night that Andrew Bridges will likely get the start at left tackle. That involves just one starter changing his position and it gets Bridges, a long athletic kid who is slowly putting on the weight he needs to play O-line, some prime time snaps against a lighter defense.

"He’s a big, physical guy getting bigger and stronger every day," Franklin said after last night's practice. "He moves extrememly well... This will give him an opportunity to step up — that's what this game is about, it gives us an opportunity to build some depth. It gives us an opportunity to give another guy a chance and he’s got to step up."

It's interesting that Caleb Welchans, a redshirt junior with starting experience in his first two seasons, hasn't gotten the nod yet this season though he's been a fixture on the depth chart and he's seen spot duty late in games and on special teams. That's a sign he may be four and done and not return for his redshirt senior year.

Anyway, after Army game we'll likely have had 21 guys on offense start games for us, compared to 14 on defense. Here's a breakdown:

Quarterback: Smith, Rodgers
Running back: Stacy
Receiver: Krause, Matthews, Boyd, Tate, Cole, Umoh
Tight end/fullback: Barden, Monahan, Lassing, Johnston
Offensive line: Burrow, Johnson, Brown, Stewart, Fischer, Seymour, White, Bridges

Defensive tackle: Lohr, Nichter
Defensive end: Fugger, Thomas, May
Linebacker: Marve, Garnham, Strong, Barnes
Cornerback: Hayward, Wilson
Safety: Richardson, Ladler, Marshall

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vandy-Georgia aftermath: No regrets for Franklin, Logan Stewart benched by SEC, 2 Dawgs suspended too

Logan Stewart has been suspended for the first half of Saturday's Army game for a flagrant personal foul, according to the SEC office.

In case you were wondering, Georgia's Kwame Geathers (the guy who punched Stewart) and Shawn Williams (the infamous No. 36) have been suspended for the first half of the Oct. 30 Florida game, Geathers for fighting and Williams for a flagrant personal foul.

We all saw Geathers punch Stewart and we saw Williams slap our kicker, the pesky Carey Spear, upside the head and draw another personal foul late in the game.

If you're tempted to feel slighted by Stewart's suspension, watch this video from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Stewart, our sophomore center, is a nasty player, which of course is a good thing in an offensive lineman, but here he crossed the line. I'm anticipating a long comment stream about cut blocks and chop blocks, but surely we don't teach our offensive linemen to tackle a defensive lineman in the back of the legs after getting a 20-yard head start.

While I'm delighted that Geathers punched Stewart and we got a first down out of it, in retrospect I can't say that I blame the big fella. It was a dirty play on Stewart's part. I wonder what James Franklin will say about it.

Speaking of Franklin, at Monday's press conference he was asked if he had any regrets. This is what he said: "I’m not a guy that has a whole lot of regrets. I’m pretty calculated, and I’m pretty well thought out with the things that I do for the most part. I am an emotional guy as you guys know as well. I would have liked the game to end differently. I would have liked to have won the game."

I'm not going to break this down, because it's a pretty unsatisfactory answer and I hope never to hear it again from him, in any situation. I do realize that he's not giving this explanation to his wife or his pastor, he's giving it to a bunch of sports writers, whom he doesn't particularly respect or feel like he needs to answer to. But if you don't think you did anything wrong, then just say so. That was the question. But don't say you don't have any regrets in life because you think everything through even though you're also an emotional person.

I really don't think he would have responded the same way if he had game-planned for that situation. His actions were fueled totally by emotion, which is understandable. He really, really wanted to win. Shawn Williams really, really acted like an ass. Franklin's a take-charge guy and he wanted to take-charge of the situation.

But after viewing several videoclips, it appears that Franklin sought out Grantham, who blew his stack and almost instigated a riot, then he found Richt, who wasn't far away to begin with, and quivering with anger he told Richt about Williams' inappropriate gestures and his exchange with Grantham, punctuating his explanation with a few choice words. Richt put his hand on Franklin's shoulder and nodded with understanding and then apologized. After Richt left, another Georgia assistant approached Franklin and shook his hand and Franklin took the opportunity to again complain about Williams and Grantham.

Why didn't Franklin just tell Richt? Why did he have to tell Grantham, a notorious hothead, first? And why did he keep complaining about it to another assistant after he talked to Richt?

Because he's human. Williams got under his skin, which is exactly what Williams was trying to do. Franklin let his emotions get the best of him, just like we all do. But in doing so, he let his players know he cared about them, and a few minutes later he gave his rousing "we will never back down ever because those days are over" speech.

These things happen in football. That was Franklin's sixth game as a head coach. You can bet he's going to learn from it, whether he admits it to the ink-stained wretches or not, and he's going to make the Bulldogs pay for it someday soon.

Back to Stewart, I hope Vandy starts Joe Townsend at center and leaves the rest of our lineup intact, instead of doing a fruit-basket turnover again and moving Wesley Johnson to center and Seymour to tackle and White or Jelesky to guard, and then moving everybody back when Stewart enters the game.

In review, here's our offensive line before and after Stewart's return from mono:

LT: Ryan Seymour, R-Jr
LG: Chase White, R-Fr
C: Wesley Johnson, R-So
RG: Mylon Brown, R-So
RT: Kyle Fischer, R-Sr

LT: Wesley Johnson, R-So
LG: Ryan Seymour, R-Jr
C: Logan Stewart, So
RG: Mylon Brown, R-So
RT: Kyle Fischer, R-Sr

It will be interesting to see the difference Stewart makes in our offensive line when he enters the game in the second half, if Franklin does put him in the game.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jordan Rodgers and Larry Smith still co-starters and other developments on the Vandy-Army depth chart

Let's take our weekly look at changes to the depth chart.


• Jordan Rodgers and Larry Smith are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the second straight week. Franklin said in his press conference today that he would prefer to play one quarterback. That bodes well for Rodgers, who has played in every game this season, seeing his playing time gradually increase.


• Redshirt freshman Vince Taylor and true freshman Barron Dixon are listed as backups to Colt Nichter at defensive tackle, forming a five-man rotation with Nichter, fellow starter Rob Lohr and sophomore Jared Morse. Dixon played in his first game against Georgia, replacing the injured T.J. Greenstone in the rotation. Taylor has been in the rotation since sitting out the opener against Elon, but this is his first week to be listed on the depth chart.

• Ryan Fowler is now listed as a co-starter at punter with fellow redshirt junior Richard Kent. Kent has started all season but was benched after dropping a snap that led to a Bulldog touchdown and was replaced by Fowler, who threw a long first-down strike to snapper Andrew East on a fourth down fake punt, but didn't appear to have Kent's power or hang time. Expect to see Kent return — Franklin has been calling him "Comeback Kent" in meetings.

• Cornerback Casey Hayward is listed as a backup to punt returner Jonathan Krause. The Commodores have struggled to break anything off a punt return, and Hayward could be just what the doctor ordered.

• Mylon Brown is listed as the sole starter at right guard, after being listed last week as a co-starter with redshirt junior Josh Jelesky, who's still learning the ropes since moving to offense late in the summer. Brown started against Georgia, and has started in every game so far this year.


• Five offensive players (running back Zac Stacy and linemen Ryan Seymour, Wesley Johnson, Kyle Fischer and Brown) and eight defensive players (end Tim Fugger, tackles Lohr and Nichter, linebackers Chris Marve and Chase Garnham, cornerbacks Hayward and Trey Wilson and safety Sean Richardson) are set to start their seventh game of the season.

• Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd continue to be listed as co-starters at wide receiver, but Matthews has gotten the nod over Boyd in five out of six games so far. Jonathan Krause, who had his bell rung in a dirty play by Georgia, is listed as the other starter, and Wesley Tate is listed as the third starter if Vandy goes with a three-receiver lineup, which it's done twice this season.

• Junior Al Owens is listed as the backup at both strongside and weakside linebacker but hasn't been seeing much big-game action at either position. With the injury to Tristan Strong, Vandy has serious problems with depth here. Also, I notice that redshirt freshman Blake Gowder is no longer on the roster. That frees up another scholarship. With the verbal commitment of mammoth Texas tackle Adam Butler, we've got one solid scholarship left but I expect us to clear out another 2-4 scholarships by the end of the season.

• For the second straight week, Kenny Ladler is listed as the solo starter at free safety after losing his starting position to redshirt sophomore Javon Marshall in preseason camp. Ladler and Marshall have each started three games this season.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vandy's future bright, Mark Richt's is cloudy after Georgia victory

Did Saturday's game feel like 2007 all over again or what? Remember in 2007, when Georgia was coming off a whipping in Knoxville and fans were screaming for Richt's head? Vandy had taken the lead over the Dawgs in Nashville and were driving for the touchdown that would put it away.

But Georgia recovered a fumble, drove into field goal range and then booted the game winner. The night ended with the Bulldogs dancing on the Vandy star in the middle of the field, Bobby Johnson showing his displeasure, and Richt grabbing his players and telling them to show the Commodores some respect.

The Bulldogs had a bye week and then headed down to the World's Largest Cocktail Party where they showed Florida some disrespect after their first touchdown when the entire Georgia team rushed the field and celebrated, drawing a penalty and firing up the team.

In other words, don't disrespect a team that you're supposed to beat handily but it's fine to disrespect the defending national champions. Anyway, Georgia ran the table after the Vandy win and looked like the best football team in America. If Vanderbilt had beaten Tennessee, Georgia would have gone to the SEC championship to play eventual national champion LSU, and I believe the Bulldogs, with a red-hot Matthew Stafford, plus Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green and a ton of other talent, would have won and then beaten Ohio State in the BCS Championship.

But Vandy squandered a lead in Knoxville, crumbling under the pressure of delivering a sixth win and becoming bowl-eligible, something they would finally — and barely — manage to do the following year after starting the season 5-0.

Georgia got another chance the following week, needing Kentucky — the same Wildcat team that beat No. 1 LSU — to beat Tennessee to send the Bulldogs to the Georgia Dome for the SEC title game.

Didn't happen. Fulmer's Vols beat Kentucky in about a thousand overtimes, tying the Bulldogs for the SEC East title but going to Atlanta because they won head-to-head. LSU won, and a two-loss Bayou Bengal team faced the two-loss Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS title game, leaving a two-loss Georgia team at No. 3.

Georgia began the following season at No. 1, but were destroyed by Alabama in Athens after Saban took Richt to school in the first half.

The Bulldogs haven't been the same since, raking in top talent but failing to meet the resulting high expectations on the field.

On Saturday, Mark Richt needed to beat Vanderbilt worse than he's ever needed to win a football game. Losing to Vandy has sealed the fate of many an SEC coach — one of Richt's predecessors, Ray Goff, among them — and he would have lost his job if Udom Umoh or Kenny Ladler could have evaded the Georgia punter and taken the ball into the end zone ("the football is not perfectly shaped," Coach James Franklin pointed out after the game) or if Chris Boyd could have hauled in the pass from Jordan Rodgers.

It didn't happen and the Bulldogs got their swag back. If Richt was canned, his jackass of a defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, would have gotten canned too, and when Coach Franklin crossed paths with Grantham while looking for Richt, who had mysteriously disappeared, Grantham in the euphoria of maintaining steady employment went nuts with self-righteous anger and all his players gathered round and appeared to have their swag back.

I was surprised they didn't run over and stomp on the star. In the press conference, Richt lamented that everybody couldn't have just shaken hands like gentlemen, and he confessed that he'd uttered some "choice words" during the game himself.

Yeah, those Dawgs were really blessed to win, gosh-darnit.

Did you see how much more talent Georgia has than we do? It was ridiculous. Jordan Rodgers played a gutsy game, but he lacks the arm strength to gun the ball in there — though Larry wouldn't have gotten rid of the ball or eluded the rush like Jordan did. Our offensive line played well, but was outmanned by Georgia's huge D-tackles. The big problem remains our wide receivers, who can't consistently make catches in traffic.

I take three things from our losses to SC, Bama and UGA:

1) Their receivers made tough catches in traffic on third down — or in the end zone — and ours didn't.

2) Their quarterbacks looked like All-Americans against our vaunted secondary, and that's because we couldn't put pressure on them. We've got a scrappy, technically sound defensive line but these guys are not prototypical SEC players and couldn't get by the mammoth O-lines of the Gamecocks, Tide or Bulldogs.

3) You can't defend the pass successfully when your only hope to score a touchdown is to get an interception and take it to the house. That's what was happening in the third quarter when Hayward was taking chances and trying to figure out where the ball was going and was out of position on almost every play.

But back to Georgia. They've got the athletes, but right now they lack the character, the coaching and the team chemistry to be an elite team. We lack the athletes, but Saturday we had the character, the coaching and the chemistry to hang with them, even when we were making a ton of mistakes. We should have lost that game by four touchdowns but our guys wouldn't let that happen.

That's the difference between this team and the one that lost to UGA in the final seconds in 2007. That team was playing not to lose, and all the fans left the stadium saying, "Same old Vanderbilt."

This team had no business being in the game, but they nearly pulled off a stunning upset. Did you see Georgia's fans after the game, their eyes dazed and their mouths agape as if they'd lost the game? These are the same fans who'd commented online earlier in the week that they expected to make short work of Vandy so they could watch the Bulldogs' second- and third-string quarterbacks play. I bet not many folks said, "Same old Vanderbilt" after the game.

If I'm one of the recruits from Georgia who were visiting the game or watching it on TV, and I was the kind of kid who likes to work and has a head on his shoulders, I'd be seriously considering the Commodores right now. Sure, I'd be concerned about all those red-clad fans in the stands. But I'd also want to play with a team that's doing something special, that's trying to make history, and that's not afraid to stand and fight when things aren't going their way.

Add to that the uncertainty surrounding Georgia's head coach, who had a bad feeling about this game like he always does when he goes up to Nashville, and whose only hope at the end was to pray for deliverance.

As Coach Franklin says, "there are no moral victories." But the future is brighter than I can remember it.