Earlier this week I had the chance to swap a few questions about this weekend’s game with Tom Stephenson, my esteemed colleague from our SB Nation sister site, Anchor of Gold.
Tom is a straight shooter, as evidenced by an episode this summer in which Tom managed to get himself blocked on Twitter by Vandy’s star tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn for the sin of posting this game preview in which he picked the ‘Dawgs to win.
Gawd Tom you have no faith? You need to be writing for Georgia then https://t.co/2rYezoEbpM— Ke’Shawn Vaughn (@SneakVaughn5) July 1, 2019
He is also one of the most knowledgeable observers of the Commodores and someone outside Athens who has really done his homework on the Bulldogs. I hope you enjoy his insights as much as I did.
MD: Who will start at quarterback on Saturday for the Commodores? Is Derek Mason not saying because he wants to surprise us, or because he’s in denial that it isn’t Kyle Shurmur?
Tom: If you’re asking me, I think it will be Riley Neal, the Ball State graduate transfer who threw for over 7000 yards in the MAC, because that seems like the logical choice. Then again, some would argue that the reason they took a graduate transfer was because Deuce Wallace was not with the team last fall and therefore they had no idea how he had progressed or if he’d be a viable SEC quarterback when they made that decision -- and I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, either; his college experience consists mostly of garbage time in the 59-0 loss to Alabama in 2017, which I have completely erased from my memory. Didn’t happen. Derek Mason’s official line is that he respects both guys enough that he doesn’t want to say publicly that one of them lost the quarterback derby, which is fine, and I totally believe -- because this man won’t even publicly name a starting long snapper before the season. (And actually, now that I think about it, the only places on the depth chart where he actually named a starter were the places where last year’s starter Is returning.)
MD: How do you think the Vanderbilt offense will look different under Gerry Gdowski than Andy Ludwig?
Tom: I think it will look different, but I don’t think the change in coordinators is the reason -- after all, Gdowski has already been on the coaching staff for five years and was the quarterbacks coach last year. I’d argue the bigger reason the offense will look different is that the quarterback will be different. The strength of the offense this year is clearly the presence of Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield -- and, also, the receiving corps. In light of the latter, and with a retooled offensive line, I’d expect to see more quick passing to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers on the edge. Also, with the security blanket of Khari Blasingame gone, maybe we can get Vaughn more than 13 touches a game? Just a thought.
MD: On paper it looks like the Commodore defense sustained some significant losses this offseason. Where is that unit the most vulnerable? What position group will be the defense’s biggest strength?
Tom: The biggest question mark on the defense is the linebacking corps. The defensive line, for the first time in a few years, might actually be fine with three guys with starting experience and some newcomers with some beef -- like, I can’t remember the last time we had a true freshman defensive lineman who was already north of 300 pounds and that describes Daevion Davis. On the other hand, we lost three starting linebackers to graduation and that unit seems to be dealing with some injury issues. The defensive backfield is going to be breaking in a couple of new starting corners, but at least there the solutions are rather obvious with graduate transfer Cam Watkins and JUCO DC Williams.
MD: Fill in the blank: Vanderbilt pulls out a win in this one if _________.
Tom: Georgia makes a bunch of unforced errors. Really, that’s it. I can see how Vanderbilt can score points -- namely, Ke’Shawn Vaughn breaks off some big plays -- but I’m having a tough time seeing Vanderbilt’s retooled defense stopping Georgia unless Georgia is just doing a bunch of dumb.
MD: By now you may have read our semi-exhaustive preview of the 2019 Vanderbilt Commodores. Of all the things we got wrong, what about the ‘Dores did we get most wrong?
Tom: Well -- for starters, Jason Tarver took over the defensive playcalling duties from Derek Mason last year (Ed. note: Oops). We also only have one Odeyingbo on the defensive line (Dare graduated last year) (Ed. note: Double oops), and I think the players Vanderbilt has coming up to replace the departed are just better than you think. That’s not necessarily calling you out, since that seems to be a common opinion. I think the score will be closer than you have predicted; I see this as more of a 14-point spread just because I think Vandy’s offense can score more than 17 and it’s Week 1, meaning there’s going to be some sloppiness. I would predict a final of Georgia 38, Vanderbilt 24.
Thanks to Tom for taking the time. Be sure to check out Anchor of Gold for all of your Vanderbilt sporting needs, and...