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Speaking with the Enemy: Q&A with Christian D'Andrea of Anchor of Gold

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As we do from time to time, we like to let our readers know what others are thinking about upcoming games.  For this week, we had the pleasure of exchanging thoughts with Christian D'Andrea of Anchor of Gold.  He's a nice guy, and funny sometimes, so we appreciated getting his thoughts on the Commodores as they continue to adjust to life with Derek Mason.  Without further ado, let's get to the asking and responded words...

1) So, um, about Western Kentucky, do you even want to talk about it?

Hey, there were actually a lot of good things in that game. Vanderbilt ditched 2014 defensive coordinator David Kotulski and made Derek Mason the head playcaller on that side of the ball, and his young team shut down an otherwise prolific WKU offense. The offense, which was abysmal last year, actually sustained drives - drives that ended in red zone abortions, but still, drives! The mistakes and the jitters were there, but many of the problems that this team had were fixable, short-term issues.

But there were still larger concerns. WKU snuffed out Vandy's potential game-tying 2 pt conversion because they knew exactly what Andy Ludwig was going to call, and that's apparently one of his calling cards as a coordinator. Johnny McCrary looked more mobile than he did in 2014 and made some great passes, but he still failed to check down his receivers and forced throws into bad situations. This team's offensive line play ranged from average to terrible all night. Those are the things that could haunt this team well into November.

2) Why have the wheels seemingly fallen off the program under Mason after Franklin had things going? And with Franklin having supposedly upgraded recruiting in the last few years of his tenure, where is that talent now with Mason calling the shots just a little more than one year in?

Franklin left Vanderbilt at the exact right time. The team he was leaving behind had graduated its starting quarterback, the best WR in school history, its best offensive linemen, and the entire starting secondary. 2014 was going to be a rebuilding year no matter what, and when Franklin departed he took a handful of recruits with him. Combine those losses with a handful of recruiting classes that have looked better on paper than they have on the field, and you've got a nightmare situation for any coach. It just so happened that it fell on Mason, an "aw shucks" defensive coordinator who was in way over his head as the leader of an SEC program last fall.

Let's look back at Franklin's three classes at Vandy. According to ESPN, he lured 16 4-star recruits to campus in 2012 and 2013. Nine are still with the program and six are starters. That includes standouts like Stephen Weatherly, Darreon Herring, and Jay Woods - but it also includes a whole bunch of players who have been beaten out by two- and three-star players in Mason's system. There's still time for these guys to come into their own - Johnny McCrary, for instance, is just a redshirt sophomore - but many of these players either failed to see the field early on when Franklin was coach or failed to fit in the system that Mason brought over from Stanford. It's been a much larger rebuilding process than it seemed back in 2014.

3) How does the offense look under new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig? Who should Georgia fans be aware of as offensive threats?

Last year, Vanderbilt's offense looked something like

run middle
run middle
deep ball
scream expletives at OC Karl Dorrell

While we're only one game in, things look much better for Andy Ludwig. Ludwig has tailored his playcalling to this team's talent, springing McCrary on designed quarterback runs and finding ways to get the ball to playmakers like Trent Sherfield and Darrius Sims. He'll have to prove that he can create space for this team's running game - Ralph Webb is a very talented back who could break Zac Stacy's rushing records in Nashville - but you'd imagine that won't be too much of a problem for a guy who called Wisconsin's plays over the last two seasons. I'm much more concerned about his ability to develop quarterbacks, as Joel Stave regressed back to fetal form while Ludwig was calling his plays.

4) How important is senior DL Caleb Azubike to the success of the Vanderbilt D this season?

Azubike is a key player, but he seems to draw all of the accolades when his supporting cast on the defensive line is similarly disruptive. Adam Butler, Jay Woods, and Nifae Lealao help make up the most underrated front line in the SEC. Azubike is actually one of this team's most frustrating players. He's a strong pass rusher, but he hasn't really been able to live up to the heavy expectations placed on him after he burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2012. Part of that has been due to coaching changes - Mason has shifted him from DE to OLB a handful of times - but it's still clear that the young Nigerian could be a truly special player if he ever found a way to put it all together on every down. He's a freight train in the trenches, but part of his value is creating space for guys like Butler and Woods to be similarly effective.

5) How have expectations around the program changed under Mason?

It's been a weird ride. Part of the debate about Mason's performance is whether or not James Franklin's 24 wins over three years was evidence that down years would a) be few and far between and b) rarely, if ever, sink to the depths of 2014's debacle of a season. Some fans are happy just to see progress this season, while others are calling for Mason's head if he doesn't steer the team back to a bowl game. As always the extremes tend to cancel each other out and most of us sit in the middle, where we're patient enough to sit through a losing season if it means that a young roster begins to grow - but also not willing to return to the days of moral victories, 2-10 seasons, and a world where October is used for counting the days until basketball season. Franklin didn't stick around long enough to change the culture outright, but he did enough in his three years to show us what this team can be. That doesn't happen overnight - even Franklin succeeded because Bobby Johnson stocked the cupboard with Jordan Rodgers, Jordan Matthews, and Zac Stacy - but there needs to be a tangible sign of progress or else Mason will be back to a coordinator job in 2016.

Bonus question: Score prediction, and baseball season was a lot of fun, wasn't it?

Georgia 24, Vanderbilt 17. I liked what I saw from this defense and I think they can limit the Bulldogs to a few long drives and maybe one or two demoralizing big plays. The offense will be the biggest question mark, especially after scoring only 12 points against a bad WKU unit, but terrible endzone interceptions, a dropped TD pass, and a botched 28-yard field goal makes that final score much worse than it actually was. I think the 'Dores have enough fixable problems to make this close - but ultimately they're still too inexperienced to get a win here.

And we're fully embracing our role as a baseball school now. It was nice to add another national title banner right next to the "2007 Women's Bowling" one. We're also a tennis school now, apparently, but I don't want to live in a world where Vanderbilt doesn't excel at country club sports.

Thanks to Christian, and good luck to the Commodores AFTER Saturday ends.

Post Script: My answers to Christian's questions about the Dawgscan be found here.