Welcome back Christian. This time, we’re a little less friendly then we were when you paid a visit with us back in May for the way-too-early season preview. We now have a full one game to try and extract relevant takeaways, extrapolate the infamous “we all improve most from week one to week two'” and apply it to the very much anticipated home opener under the lights (7pm ct, BTN) on our very own network at Ryan Field this Saturday. Night games for the ‘Cats have been pretty darn awesome environments with flat out lousy results (NU is 0-4 under the lights in the Fitz era). Let’s not waste any more time and dive right in to it.
LTP: Clearly the loss to South Carolina hurt, badly, especially considering the blatant missed PI call on the potential game-winning drive. What were the top three takeaways from that game that give you confidence you’ll beat Northwestern Saturday night?
CD: 1. Vanderbilt’s defense hasn’t fallen off. There was a big question about how these guys would perform after losing their best four defenders from 2011. The secondary proved that they’ve reloaded rather than rebuilt, and the defensive line had a strong push against the Gamecock O-Line all game.
2. Jordan Matthews won’t be getting off to a slow start this year. Matthews broke out towards the end of his freshman season in 2010, but still struggled thanks to QB issues in the beginning of 2011. His eight catch, 147 yard performance on Thursday suggests that his preseason camp performance was the precursor to an All-SEC season.
3. We can kick field goals again! If not for a slightly shady false start call, Carey Spear would have gone 3-3 on field goals, with two of those coming from 40 yards or more. Last season, Spear Tin Cup’ped his way into the yips and made even chip shot kicks an adventure. If he can maintain this consistency, it’ll be a huge relief for Vandy fans.
LTP: Clearly Jordan Matthews had a monster game(as you mentioned) and NU fans’ hunch is that after watching tape of Ryan Nassib shred apart out “D” for a career day that QB Jordan Rodgers will be going deep quite a bit (Fitz has said the same and said “Bring It”). Assume Nick VanHoose, who played great in game one as one starting CB is in lockdown on Matthews (with help from the safety), who do you think Franklin will be scheming to use to get the rock to through the air?
CD: The Jordan Squared connection has a great rapport, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Matthews got about a dozen targets during the game – or even more – even with VanHoose playing tight defense. Otherwise, the ‘Dores have one of their strongest cadres of wideouts in a long, long time. Chris Boyd was quiet on Thursday, but he put together a strong freshman season last year and was the team’s biggest touchdown threat on the wings. Wesley Tate and Jonathan Krause are also solid receivers who would have been offensive centerpieces on previous editions of the Commodore offense. Finally, Josh Grady is a wideout/quarterback/tailback who could be used in gadget plays, wildcat formations, and a handful of other crazy crap to get the ball downfield.
While Matthews is assuredly the biggest threat to the NU secondary, this team has come a long way since the days where teams just needed to stop Earl Bennett to shut down Vandy’s offense.
LTP: Zac Stacy is clearly your #1 RB and your 4-star freshman made a few cameos. However, 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year RB Warren Norman was AWOL in the opener. What gives? Do you expect to see a 3-headed RB monster against NU?
CD: Norman’s absence was conspicuous, and James Franklin’s comments about him after the game made it seem like the former standout’s presence in the doghouse was performance related. Franklin’s words basically boiled down to “if he does well in practice, he’ll play.” That’s not exactly encouraging for a player who had been the team’s primary tailback for three(-ish) seasons.
Norman’s lack of playing time wasn’t the only weird staple for the ‘Dores. Wesley Tate was converted from RB to WR in 2011, but he still finished 2nd on the team in carries last week. Jerron Seymour was listed as the 2nd starting RB on the team’s depth chart but didn’t see a single carry. Behind Stacy, there are no givens when it comes to Vanderbilt’s tailbacks. It may take a few more games for that talented crew to sort themselves out.
LTP: What gives you concern after watching Northwestern (assuming you caught some of it)? Which units do you fear present the biggest challenge for Vandy?
CD: Venric Mark isn’t Marcus Lattimore, but he’s a versatile runner who could give a rebuilding Commodore defense fits. The Vandy linebacking corps are still a bit untested, and the only solace there is that Mark doesn’t necessarily have the size to wear down a smaller-than-desired LB unit.
Otherwise, we haven’t faced a team with a quarterback that could lift his throwing arm over his shoulder yet this season. If Kain Colter is healthy, he’s definitely a concern. Siemian is as well, but to be honest I don’t know enough about him to be too scared…yet.
LTP: It seems that most Vandy fans are pretty darn confident about this game (as are the betting folk, who have Vandy -3 as of today). Is this transitive property theory – “we lost closely to a top ten team and NU barely beat a middling Big East team” – or is there some other force at work here? Vandy’s one year under Franklin, while good by Commodores fans standards was riddled with an inability to find that killer instinct and put teams away. Where is the fan confidence coming from?
CD: The confidence is a new thing. I’m not sure that I would apply it so much to this year but rather to 2011. Vandy cleared out their 2011 OOC schedule by handling UConn, Wake Forest, Army, and Elon. That was a significant feat for the team, and I think a lot of fans are putting Northwestern in the UConn/Wake group (ed note: ugh, really?!!!).
Combine that with the enthusiasm that’s starting to grow around this team. It isn’t much by SEC standards, but it’s still the biggest buzz we’ve seen around this team in Nashville since…ever? Franklin’s done a great job of cultivating enthusiasm, and that’s grown from the players to the recruits and now to the fans. Rather than going into hiding after a tough loss, people seem to be doubling down on the NU game instead.
LTP: The D-line sure looked impressive in big chunks to me, containing Lattimore for significant stretches. Having seen the elusive and tough to contain Kain Colter, does it give you pause that you can contain him? What was the best surprise for you on “D” and the worst fear realized?
CD: You’d better believe that Franklin and his crew are preaching outside containment right now. Colter is the two-way threat that will really test just how well this team’s defense has regrouped. Unfortunately (for you), that rib injury suffered against Syracuse may inhibit that scrambling and force him to stay more in the pocket (ed note: frome what I’ve seen/heard – not concerned a bit – Colter is ready to go and has practiced all week). If Vandy is able to put Colter (or Siemian) into a position where the D-Line is making plays instead of the linebackers, then the Commodores will have an advantage.
Best defensive surprise? Karl Butler stepping up as a hybrid linebacker. He had been a safety through much of his Vanderbilt career and he was being counted on to fill a hole at OLB this season. He came through with some solid play against USCe and looks like he’ll be a staple there as the season wears on.
Worst fear? That Vandy can’t get stops when they most need them. Even after the uncalled pass interference gave the ball back to Carolina late in the fourth quarter, the ‘Dores had three timeouts and a chance to get the ball back with about a minute remaining in the game. Instead, Vandy gave up the first down on three straight runs and the Gamecocks ran out the clock. It was a big series at the end of the game and the Commodores came up short.
LTP: Jordan Rodgers. Is he a 3-step drop QB by nature or not? Nassib went 3-step on us which seemed to surprise us and it really caused issues. Curious if he is and if not, if he will be for Saturday?
CD: Vandy likes to deploy JR in several different sets behind center. He has worked primarily out of the shotgun in his time at VU, but he’ll also go behind center for a good number of snaps. From there, there are a lot of quick-drop passes that take advantage of Franklin’s bubble-screen style of play. He’s also effective out of the 3 or 5 step drop (if my memory serves, a bit stronger with a five-step drop), and given NU’s weakness last week, we could see him behind center more often than we did on Thursday.
LTP: Prediction time – lay it on us.
CD: I predicted a shootout for South Carolina and I was way off. I’m thinking that this could be another high scoring affair, but I won’t be as bold this time. Vanderbilt 24, Northwestern 17.
LTP: No offense, but I hope you’re way off again! Thanks for joining us though and I’m glad to hear you’re making the journey to Evanston. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Although, as I’m telling most opposing fans – just wait. When we get this revamp to our facilities done, it’s going to take the experience to a whole new level.
Fitz has been making the media rounds – Mike & Mike on ESPN on Monday, the Score on Tuesday, ESPN1000 yesterday and of course the WGN coverage and The Pat Fitzgerald Show as well. The consistent topic of conversation involves 3 things – some form or “why does the “D” continue to stink, tell us about the QB situation and good God, who is this guy named Venric Mark that had 281 all-purpose yards.
Well, we’ve beat the first two up pretty well this week. Now, thanks to Venric’s appearance on The Pat Fitzgerald Show (from the archives) and his interview on BTNLive, the BTN’s brand-spaking new radio show – click here and go to 26:00 -here are some really out there factoids about his personal life that just make him even that more endearing:
Venric’s “Get To Know You” segment is at 4:55 above. Must see stuff.
- He gets pumped up listening to Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA, before games.
- He’s the self-proclaimed best dancer on the team and will go to Dave & Buster’s and get “A”s on the Dance Dance Revolution game.
- His favorite movie that he watched over and over is Mary Poppins. He watched it twice a day.
- He claims to have averaged 2 PR for TDs per GAME in high school.
- Right before a catches a punt, he thinks about random things like the smell in the air and whether or not he likes it.
- He could eat shrimp all day long and loves to cook. He loves to sautee food, which, I think also applies to punt return defenses.
- His performance put him up on the Northwestern Family Wall, a new deal this year, where the NU player of the week gets his lifesize portrait placed on an interior wall of the lockerroom facility.
- He loves horses.