28 July 2008
We'll be working through the SEC east for the next few days from bottom to top. We'll start with the 6th place Vanderbilt Commodores and move through the division from there.
SEC East Preview - 6th Place: Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt had every opportunity last year to break a 25 year bowl-free streak. Coach Bobby Johnson led them out of the gate 5-3 behind two of the best ever to don the black and gold - WR Earl Bennett and LT Chris Williams. Then, just one tantalizing win short of bowl eligibility, it all fell apart.
Drilled in the swamp by Florida, the Dores needed only to eke one of their final three out: vs. Kentucky, at Tennessee, Wake Forest in Nashville.
Kentucky slipped out of town a single touchdown victor. Tennessee was dominated the entire way before a late Vandy fold. The Demon Deacons feasted on the remains of a lost season. And just like that, Vanderbilt was Vanderbilt again.
This season will be a bigger challenge. All 5 offensive line starters must be replaced. The lion's share of the defensive front will be as well. Bennett represented most of the receiving yards last year - he's now a Chicago Bear
The scheduling gods
have not smiled on the Dores either. This year includes travel to Miami of Ohio and Wake Forest out of conference. Trips to Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Kentucky make three usually winnable conference games much tougher.
On the offensive side of the ball, Chris Nickson and the unfortunately named Mackenzi Adams will battle for the starting QB role. Both are experienced and are able runners (a requirement for running Vandy's offense). Nickson is more experienced, and was expected to be a big performer going into last season - injuries slowed his progress significantly.
The running backs include Junior Jared Hawkins - a fan favorite and a big back that will likely get most of the carries in this offense. Shifty "scat" back Gaston Miller (5'7" in cleats) will share the load and try to add some explosiveness.
Receiver is a bit of a question mark - in addition to Bennett, the Commodores will miss WR Alex Washington who tore his ACL in the spring. Sixth year senior George Smith is the leading returning receiver - he missed all of 2004 with transverse myelitis
, which is even scarier than it sounds.
The good news starts at offensive line. While none of last year's starter return, they're surprisingly experienced. They're fairly large and athletic (especially by Vanderbilt standards). Look for a not terrible crew here to provide decent protection.
On the defensive side of the ball, the discussion begins and ends with Vanderbilt's defensive secondary. D.J. Moore is the lone ‘Dore on the All-SEC team - he's a first team DB from his corner spot. The balance of the secondary (including the nickel back) return from last year's standout squad.
The front seven is a bit of a sore spot. Standing in stark contrast to the secondary, Vanderbilt only returns 2 of their front 7. Steven Stone (DE) and Patrick Benoist (MLB) will need to be big against the run for Vanderbilt to be competitive.
Vanderbilt must open well. The game at Miami of Ohio and South Carolina in Nashville are critical to their success. The schedule late is just too much for a lesser talented Vanderbilt squad.
The prescription to beating Vanderbilt is relatively simple: run ‘em over. Inexperienced and undersized up front, Vandy will depend too heavily on run stoppers in the secondary - 6 or 7 yards downfield. That spells trouble.
If Vanderbilt stumbles out of the gate against relatively weak competition, this could be a very
long season. The first 4 games could all be won - at Miami (Ohio), South Carolina and Rice at home, then on to Oxford. However, if they don't run the table in September, it'll be another holiday season at home for Vandy. There's too much trouble late in the schedule to recover.
: 2-10 (0-8)
The Commodores don't have enough this season to compete. Bobby Johnson has made huge improvements in Nashville, but this is a rebuilding year. Any SEC wins will be upsets.