Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Austyn Carta-Samuels started against Presbyterian

So why did Jordan Rodgers stay on the sidelines Saturday against Presbyterian?

First of all, it's not necessarily a slap in Rodgers' face. Think Eric Kresser. In 1995, when Florida was steamrolling to an SEC championship and a berth in the national title game, Kresser started against Northern Illinois — and Danny Wuerffel, an All-American and eventual Heisman trophy winner, didn't take a snap.

Kresser set a Gator record that day with six touchdown passes. What did Spurrier accomplish by playing Kresser and sitting Wuerffel? Well, he let an inexperienced backup run the team in a game the Gators couldn't lose, which protected Wuerffel from injury and prepared Kresser in case he was needed later in the season. (He wasn't. Kresser transferred to Marshall for his senior season, led the Thundering Herd to a national championship and played three seasons in the NFL.)

Maybe Franklin called Austyn Carta-Samuels' number because he's seen enough of Rodgers and he wants ACS, the Wyoming transfer, to run the team for the rest of the season.

I doubt it. He wanted ACS to get some experience because Vandy's going to need him at some point. Remember how Franklin gave Rodgers some limited reps in our first four games last season so that he was ready to run the team when Larry Smith faltered? Now Rodgers is struggling to get on track, and Franklin needs a second option. The Presbyterian game was the perfect opportunity to start developing a Plan B. (It was also a great chance to get walk-on John Townsley into a game.)

Franklin is looking to the future. If he really wanted to get the maximum number of wins this season, he'd have let Rodgers get a confidence booster against Presbyterian and he'd have burned the redshirts off a bunch of freshmen. You know, the Robbie Caldwell method. (Instead of starting Jared Funk in a blowout of Eastern Michigan, Caldwell decided to insert him in the game when Vandy had a 14-0 first half lead on the road against Arkansas and Larry Smith looked like RG3.)

Sure, Franklin wants to win now, but in the big picture he wants to build a solid program capable of consistently winning future games and even championships.

In his first season, he inherited an embattled quarterback whose backup was a transfer with no experience. This season, he inherited an embattled quarterback whose backup was a transfer with no experience.

Next season, his most experienced quarterback will once again be a senior transfer with only one partial season of SEC play under his belt. But here's the difference: He'll also have highly regarded redshirt freshman Patton Robinette, as well as a pair of four-star true freshmen quarterbacks, Johnathan McCrary and Chad Kanoff, to groom.

Finally, he'll have something to build on. It will take a couple of years, of course, but by that time our young offensive line, the best class of prospects we've ever signed, will be hitting their stride. Throw in a couple of four-star receivers, a couple of gifted young tight ends, a terrific class of linebackers, a stable of cornerbacks, and some talented edge-rushers and you've got something to work with.

In the meantime, Franklin has the mission of building a winning culture, staying in games against the SEC big boys and hopefully pulling an upset or two, and holding onto all these blue-chip recruits who've verbally committed to him.

As history constantly has shown, as the Vandy coach he'll need more than one experienced quarterback to do that. I think Rodgers gets the start against Georgia. If he does well, and continues to look sharp, then ACS may not be needed the rest of the season. But you can bet we'll need him, at least a little bit, next year. And odds are, we'll need him this year too, and sooner rather than later. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Northwestern game a must-win for Vandy

Tonight's Northwestern game will be James Franklin's 15th as a head coach, and it's the closest thing yet he's had to a must-win game. 

You could argue that last season's Wake Forest game was a must-win because we needed a sixth win to become bowl eligible. But Franklin already had one more victory than the two previous seasons combined, and he'd secured a positive job evaluation and was building a solid recruiting base. A bowl berth was icing on the cake, but he didn't need it to show he was doing a good job. What he really needs is to show improvement year over year, and now the bar is raised to seven wins.

To get there, conventional wisdom says he must do what he did last season — win all four non-conference games and two SEC games — and then win the bowl game.

With the Presbyterian Blue Hose coming to Nashville next week, UMass entering its first season in the FBS, and Wake Forest squeaking by Liberty 20-17 last week, Northwestern appears by far to be Vandy's toughest non-conference opponent.

Northwestern can beat Vandy. The Wildcats have solid talent, great coaching and they have a way of winning close games regardless of the opponent, something we're still working on.

Right now, Vandy fans are talking about seven or eight wins. We're taking for granted that we beat Kentucky and Ole Miss as we did last year, and that we beat Northwestern and the other three non-cons. And then, because we had so many SEC teams on the ropes last year, we figure we'll get over the hump and beat one or two of our opponents ranked ahead of us in the current polls (including votes received): Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Missouri and Tennessee. (Thank God we don't play LSU, Alabama or Arkansas.)

Picking up these wins is not impossible. We believe those wins will come. But we need them to build on a 4-0 non-conference record and help us move up in the bowl pecking order. And with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the conference, we may need seven wins to even get a bowl bid. Do you really think bowl selection committees are going to take a 6-6 Vandy over a 6-6 Tennessee, 6-6 Florida or 6-6 Auburn, even if we beat them head to head?

Losing to Northwestern puts us in the position of needing one of those signature SEC upsets just to get six wins and then maybe needing another one just to get a bowl bid. 

I believe we win tonight, and when we look back on the season, the Northwestern game will be like last year's UConn game, one we had to dig deep to win, and one that enabled us to gain the momentum and confidence we needed to accomplish our goals.

Let's say Vandy 31, Northwestern 27.

Go Dores!