Thursday, July 19, 2012
SEC East Preview: Vanderbilt
No team in the SEC has had quite the history of failure as the Vanderbilt Commodores. But with head coach James Franklin's first year, the Dores went 6-7 with a Liberty Bowl appearance giving them only their 5th bowl appearance in their history. James Franklin has a lot of people talking about Vanderbilt and with starters coming back on both sides of the ball, the Dores look to be a team that makes an impact on the SEC East. While I'm not saying that Vanderbilt will win it all, I am saying that they will surprise a team or two and work their way into a better bowl than the Liberty.
The Vanderbilt Commodores return 9 starters on an offense that ranked 98th in total offense, 47th in rushing offense, and 97th in passing offense. Jordan Rogers will be the full time starter for the Dores after splitting time with Larry Smith last year. In Rogers' first year in the SEC he threw for 1,524 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He will need to get this passing game going if the Dores will live up to expectations this year but he does have a good group of receivers coming back. All three wide receivers were starters last year at Vanderbilt and Chris Boyd, Jordan Matthews, and Wesley Tate look to improve on their numbers from last year. Boyd had 31 receptions for 473 yards and led the team with 8 touchdowns while Matthews led the team in receptions and yards with 41 receptions for 778 yards and 5 touchdowns. Tate had 22 receptions for 187 yards. One of the biggest reasons people are so high on Vanderbilt is due to the return of Zac Stacy. Stacy is an underrated running back that is starting to get his due respect. Last year, Stacy ran for 1,193 yards on 201 carries for an average of 5.9 yards a carry and had 14 touchdowns. Look for him to improve on those numbers as the passing game opens up more space for him to run. The offensive line returns 4 starters in Wesley Johnson who is moving from center to left tackle, Anderew Bridges at right tackle, Josh Jelesky at right guard, and Ryan Seymour at left guard. Newcomer Spencer Pulley will start at center. If Jordan Rogers can help spread the field with accurate passes, the Dores will be able to open up the running game more allowing Zac Stacy to put up great numbers. The success of this team hinges on the passing game.
Vanderbilt's defense returns 7 starters on a unit that ranked 18th in total defense, 36th in rushing defense, and 18th in passing defense. This unit was a big reason for the success of James Franklin last year. The defensive line returns 3 starters and the fourth starter has experience. Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter return as defensive tackles while Walker May returns at defensive end. Lohr had 41 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks while fellow tackle Nichter had 26 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack. May had 30 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. Johnell Thomas had some experience last year and registered 26 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. The linebacking corps will really miss Chris Marve but Tristan Strong will try to fill that role. Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes return as starters for the linebackers. Garnham had 51 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks while Barnes had 59 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. Strong had 16 tackles and .5 a tackle for loss in his limited playing time last year. The secondary returns 2 starters in cornerback Trey Wilson and free safety Kenny Ladler. Wilson had 30 tackles and 3 interceptions with two of them returned for touchdowns while Ladler 53 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 interception. Andre Hal looks to be the starter at the other corner while Javon Marshall looks to be the starter at strong safety. Hal had 21 tackles and 1 interception and Marshall had 42 tackles, .5 a tackle for a loss and 2 interceptions. This unit will need to work on improving against the run if they want to see a New Year's Day bowl. I really think that they will make a big step this year and finish in the top four on defense for the SEC.
The Dores schedule is very front loaded this year and if they can get by that, they have smooth sailing the second half of the season. Vandy opens up in a Thursday night showdown on national television against South Carolina. After that game, the Dores head up to Northwestern before another home game against lowly Presbyterian. A road trip to Georgia precedes the bye week. Vanderbilt then starts an SEC stretch that will determine the success of their season by going to Missouri and then coming home for back to back games against Florida and Auburn. Homecoming brings UMASS before back to back road trips to Kentucky and Ole Miss. The Dores host Tennessee and look to avenge last year's loss to the Vols before wrapping up the season at Wake Forest. I really like the way the schedule shapes up for the Dores and think that the four game stretch of at Georgia, at Missouri, and home for Florida and Auburn will make or break their season. I can easily see them going 2-2 here with losses to Florida and Georgia. I think overall Vanderbilt goes 9-3 this year with losses to South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The Dores would probably end up in the Gator or Outback if they manage to get that and James Franklin will be living up to turning Vanderbilt into the Stanford of the South.
Also make sure to check out the other SEC East Previews with Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.