With Saturday's mildly disappointing performance against Washington, suddenly the Vandy game looms large. It almost seems like a second season-opener, as if we are saying, "OK, that wasn't how we're supposed to so it, but at least we got the win; now let's see what we can do here." Vandy, for what it's worth, stomped Western Carolina by a score of 45-0. Sure, it's Western Carolina, but they did to that team exactly what they were supposed to do to them. We didn't. Advantage Vandy.
Vanderbilt has won games the last couple years despite having an anemic offense. In fact, they have been routinely outgained offensively only to come up with wins through turnovers or some other saving grace. Vanderbilt still sports a pretty solid defense led by cornerback Myron Lewis, who is DJ Moore's heir apparent as a playmaking corner. To go along with a pretty solid defense, Vandy might now have a decent offense.
True freshmen running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy each rushed for over 100 yards against Western Carolina. New starting quarterback Larry Smith had a pretty nice night too, going 10 of 18 for 153 yards and a touchdown, and adding 66 yards rushing on 11 carries, before leaving the game in the 3rd quarter with cramps.
Please keep in mind, this is the hardest sort of team to do a preview of. It's not preseason so we don't have the excuse of going by last year's results. We're only one game into this season, so there's limited data. The data we have is from a game against an FCS team (and not even a good FCS team; the Catamounts were 3-9 last year), so it's not exactly reliable data. And finally, they have a bunch of new players in key positions so last year's data is probably close to worthless.
One thing we know is that Vandy was counting on defensive end Steven Stone, who was Vandy's only returning starter on the defensive line. He is out with a broken foot and will not play in the first month of the season. The loss did not seem to affect them against the Catamounts.
I said in our Roundtable discussion that it would be panic time if we can't execute the power running game against Vandy. I'm not kidding. This is not a knock against Vandy, who actually has a pretty solid defensive line and linebacking corps. It's not like these guys are pushovers, but if we are going to consider the Washington game to be an out-of-sync aberration, it has to start correcting itself here. And while Vandy has a solid line, we are supposed to be able to run with power on anyone. It's supposed to be the thing we do best offensively.
As much as I'd like to get the downfield passing game going, we are probably not going to be at our best challenging Myron Lewis. He's Vandy's best player, and we would probably be well-served going to receivers over the middle or to the other side of the field from Lewis. There should be a pretty substantial drop-off on the other side.
Our defense will once again have its hands full with a mobile quarterback. Larry Smith is inexperienced, but he can move. He's a lot like a Jordan Jefferson in that respect. I can't name any playmaker they have at the wide receiver spot, but you have to be wary of the two freshman tailbacks, especially since we do not really know anything about them and they have been productive so far (against W. Carolina at least).
Vandy is not exactly known for having great offensive line play, but they bring an experienced unit. All five starters return from last year's team. On the other hand, last year's team was terrible offensively.
This is not your father's Vandy. These guys are not pushovers. They aren't cannon fodder on the way to bigger games. They're a solid, legitimate football team, albeit one that we should be able to beat if we're as good as we thought we were 5 days ago. I hope our second season opener let's us see more intensity, more passion, and more of a chip on the shoulder than we saw in Seattle.