Christian D'Andrea over at Anchor of Gold (who is one of the world's greats at Space Invaders, provided he has a 2 liter Shasta and his all Rush mix tape) was kind enough to answer a few questions about this weekend's opponent, Vanderbilt. My answers to his questions are over on the Anchor.
We all remember James Franklin bringing out the wrath of the Grantham, his "men of honor" quip after OLB Josh Dawson chose to stay close to home, and his method for selecting assistants. But none of that matters when these teams take the field Saturday night. So, I asked him some questions about the Commodores, and he graciously answered them, after the jump....
Coach Franklin has spoken about changing the culture at Vandy. Is this simply coach speak, or are there tangible changes on going? What kind of on field successes does the fanbase need to see to feel like that goal is legitimately being met?
It's definitely tangible. His promises have been backed up by the administration, and you can see that in the facilities upgrades that have been going on in Nashville. Indoor practice facilities, remodeled locker rooms, a new scoreboard - Vanderbilt is starting to almost look like a SEC school these days. Hell, we even have an athletic director now!
On top of that, the culture shift is beginning behind Franklin, and that has started with the players. The team has bought in to the "Brand New Vandy" approach, and the most tangible evidence of that is on the recruiting trail. Vanderbilt is getting players to choose Nashville that never would have even opened our letters in the past. However, the fans are a bit slower to fully commit - we've been burned before, and like spurned ex-girlfriends, we're just not ready to jump in full force just yet. Nashville is still an orange and white city, but the 'Dores are slowly building new fans. The thing that will help the most there are wins, and last year's Liberty Bowl bid was a good step forward. However, it may take another bowl appearance to keep that momentum moving in the right direction.
Being Franklin's second year in Music City, how well have the Commodores taken to his preferred styles of offense and defense? Does he have the players he needs yet to play the style he wants Vanderbilt to be playing?
The defense has remained relatively static in the transition from Bobby Johnson to Robbie Caldwell to James Franklin. However, the 'Dores have exciting and athletic new recruits coming in that could change that. Two guys to watch on Saturday are good examples of that - true freshmen Caleb Azubike and Darreon Herring.
As far as the offense and personnel, Franklin's style at Maryland has already taken root - the 'Dores use a lot of bubble screens and rely on upfield blocking to create plays rather than deep passes. That last part is pretty frustrating, and it's also a narrative on the team's trust in its quarterbacks. Vanderbilt has the personnel to stretch the field; Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd are two All-SEC caliber players. Unfortunately, the team is too cautious to air the ball out much. A developing offensive line hinders their ability to take chances downfield as well.
We know RB Zac Stacy can make things happen, other than him, who is one to watch offensively? How about defensively?
I'd keep an eye on Matthews and Boyd at wideout. Matthews is a home run threat at WR, and Boyd is an excellent complement as a big target who can shed defenders in the end zone. The big question will be who can get the ball to them. Jordan Rodgers has a great rapport with Matthews, while Austyn Carta-Samuels targeted Boyd regularly in his first start as a Commodore last week. If either QB can remain upright, they'll have two very good targets to latch onto downfield.
On defense, I'd expect Chase Garnham to continue his progression as a high caliber linebacker for the Commodores. Kenny Ladler (if he's recovered from his chest injury), Andre Hal, and Trey Wilson are all defensive backs who can pull off big plays as well.
Do you expect any of the bad blood and chippiness of last year to carry over to this year?
James Franklin keeps preaching professionalism and taking the season "one game at a time." If that's the case, then there shouldn't be an issue...at least publicly. I'm sure that Vanderbilt will have a little extra motivation for this game after last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the 'Dores offensive line got one of their trademark, hot-headed unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at some key point in Saturday's game.
When that happens, Vanderbilt fans will bust out a little move better known as "the Caldwell," where we let out an annoyed sigh and then finish our drinks before angrily pouring more Old Grand-Dad into our tumblers.
With 19 players on the roster who played high school ball in Georgia, how important is recruiting the Peach State for the Commodores and thus their annual matchup with the Dawgs to those efforts? Do the Georgia-bred players for Vandy treat this game differently than others?
Georgia became an unexpected pipeline for the Commodores' recruiting, and it has worked out well for the team. Barron Dixon, Darreon Herring, Jake Sealand, Paris Head, and Stephen Weatherly are just some of the young players that have come to Nashville from UGA territory. Seven more players who are currently committed to the 'Dores for 2013 are also Georgia natives, so a big win on Saturday would go a long way in helping to keep their commitments secure until Signing Day. As for the current players with Peachtree roots on the Vandy roster - I'm sure they've got plenty to focus on for Saturday between their return home(ish) and the way last year's matchup may have left a bad taste in their mouths.
Final score prediction.
Georgia looks great this year. Vanderbilt...not as much. The 'Dores have been unable to get their offense going, and I can see that leading to a worn down defense as the game goes on. That's a bad thing against a Georgia team that has played better in the second half all season. I think Vandy keeps it close early, but the Bulldogs eventually pull away. Georgia 31, Vanderbilt 20.
Again, much thanks to Christian D'Andrea and Anchor of Gold.