It's a big, big week in Bulldog Nation, as the Classic City Canines prepare for a showdown in Baton Rouge with Les Miles' LSU Tigers. There's a lot to say about that game, but first let's take a look back at what I thought you'd see this past Saturday in Sanford Stadium:
1) Knowshon Rockwell Moreno rushing for 125 yards or more. "Vandy beats teams by intercepting the ball, winning the field position battle, and not giving up big plays. A big game from Knowshon could prevent a lot of that."
While it didn't exactly take Nostradamus to suss this one out, like Mark Richt I'll take a win however I can get one. Knowshon was quietly effective, going for 10 or 12 yards a pop with regularity. At one point I thought we could have told Vandy we would be going toss sweep left on the next play and still gained five yards. I don't know if we'll be able to do the same against LSU, but I take last week's performance as a positive sign for this offensive line. 231 rushing yards against an SEC defense, any SEC defense, is no small task.
2) Two Mackenzi Adams turnovers. "Adams is going to have the ball in his hands a lot. If he doesn't take care of it, he'll make Willie Martinez's job much easier." Adams did in fact turn it over two times. The real story however is that he tried diligently to turn it over 4-6 more times and we simply refused to allow it. I'm not sure I've ever seen that many legitimately dropped interceptions in one game, though a couple of them were not easy catches. This is significant because LSU's two-headed quarterback rotation will also throw a bad ball or two. While a team can win at home against Vandy while giving back gift interceptions, doing so against the Bayou Bengals on the road is very risky.
3) Richard Samuel. "As I mentioned on Cocktail Thursday, Coach Richt has hinted that the freshman tailback deserves more touches than he's getting. My guess is that Samuel gets at least five offensive touches today, in addition to his special teams duties." Well, nobody is perfect. I was surprised we didn't see more Samuel, and I'm not really sure why he didn't get any carries. Caleb King however picked up 40 yards on 11 carries, including 3 or 4 late in the game when it seemed that even your grandmother knew what was coming. He's quietly becoming an effective part of our offense, which is a good sign for the future.
4) A.J. Green catching a touchdown. "While I really like Vanderbilt's secondary, and think they present a stout challenge, I just don't think they can blank A.J. for a complete game. The big freshman from South Carolina is a matchup problem, plain and simple." Nowhere was this more apparent than on his first quarter touchdown catch, in which a big corner had good coverage on A.J. and still couldn't stop him. A receiver of A.J. 's size with his hands and body control is just impossible to cover 100% of the time. By way of foreshadowing, I think A.J. presents a matchup problem for LSU as well. More on that later this week. . .
5) UGA 34, Vandy 20. Hey,three out of five ain't bad.
All in all, the 'Dawgs continue to dominate weaker competition without actually putting up dominating scores. That worries me a little. But I am heartened by the fact that LSU likely won't beat us if they play the way they did against South Carolina. And the fact that Florida surely won't beat anybody if they again play the way they did against Ole Miss (of course the Gators also won't lose to anybody if they play the way they did against LSU, but let's not dwell on that just yet . . .). That's life in the SEC. Every team has the potential to beat every other given a couple of bounces, a sound gameplan, and proper effort.
While we're still not "there", this team has shown all the moving parts to put together a dominant performance. To put things in automotive parlance, we need a tuneup, not a new engine. This time out the penalties dropped precipitously, the receivers caught the balls thrown to them and there appeared to be an occasional pass rush. We continued to tackle well (thereby avoiding one of the hobgoblins which has stalked Willie Martinez defenses in the past) and didn't give up a single offensive play of over 20 yards (thus avoiding the other hobgoblin of the Willie Martinez method).
While Blair Walsh missed two makable field goals, his kickoffs, Brian Mimbs' punts and the coverage of both were quietly excellent. Vanderbilt had 13 possessions, only 2 of which started outside the Vandy 30 yardline, none of which started outside their 40. When you make a team go 70 yards+ essentially every time they touch it, you won't give up a lot of points. Again, I can't overstate the importance of that stat: 13 drives, almost all of them from deep in Vandy territory. That's nice.
So, if you're uneasy about this weekend's road date in Baton Rouge, that's OK. You should be. I sure as heck am. But the pieces are there for this puzzle to come together, especially given Mark Richt's penchant for making business trips a pleasurable experience. I'll be back on tomorrow evening to help you get to know . . . Les Miles. Until then,