Is Vandy Still Candy for Tennessee?

Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Saturday 19 November 2011 | 7:00 pm EST
Neyland Stadium (102,455) | Knoxville, TN | ESPNU/ESPN3.com.

Last week against Kentucky, Vanderbilt enjoyed its biggest SEC win in 40 years, a 38-8 thumping of Kentucky. Vandy did it despite squandering three different scoring opportunities in the first half, but also in part by holding the Wildcats to an 0-11 mark on third downs. That, of course, is perhaps more of a measure of how bad Kentucky was/is.

Nonetheless, in 11 months, head coach James Franklin has done more for Vandy football than anyone in decades. Perhaps keeping Franklin from being lured for a better gig is the school’s biggest near-term goal. But, based on Franklin’s premise that he’s in Nashville to thoroughly change a culture, perhaps he will be around a lot longer than Vandy fans fear, or Vol fans would care for.

If he defeats Dooley’s Vols, I would vote for Franklin to be SEC Coach of the Year, because after going 2-10 for two consecutive seasons, a bowl appearance would be an award-winning performance at a school more known for sports like cross-country running and baseball.

Tennessee and Vanderbilt — two programs seemingly heading in opposite directions. But things can turn on a dime. A Vandy loss on Saturday could lead to another at Wake Forest, putting the renaissance on pause. A Vol win on Saturday, followed by a streak-extending victory in Lexington, would send Tennessee bowling, and a win in a bowl game would give Dooley an even .500 record as the head of the Volunteers.

People would all of a sudden breathe a lot easier, most notably Dooley himself.

But before getting ahead of ourselves, here are a few things I’ll be looking at on Saturday.

***

The chippy factor

Largely driven by their amp meter reading in the red zone, the Commodores gave up over 100 yards in penalties against Florida. But the red-ass factor really got going earlier against Georgia. Franklin and Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham got into a heated shouting match when the sidelines came onto the field as the game ended. It was all started by Franklin shouting at Georgia DB Shawn Williams, reportedly because the game was a chippy affair with a host of cheap shots. Tennessee is about the quietest squad I’ve ever seen wear the orange jersey. Some Vol swagger would be nice to see on Saturday, especially if it could goad Vandy into stupid infractions. But that kind of thing, especially against a club that feeds off of the emotion factor, could backfire against the Vols in a big way.

This is the post-game body posture I'm looking for from the Commodores this Saturday.

Coming from behind

Vanderbilt has proven to be a very resilient team when the chips are down, especially against Georgia and Florida. A 17-0 first-half deficit at The Swamp didn’t seem to faze the Commodores. Outscoring the Gators 21-9 the rest of the way, although not enough in their 26-21 loss, should send shivers up the spines of the Volunteer faithful. Based on our 2011 play, Tennessee would have wilted under a 17-point deficit in Gainesville (actually I think we did something like that). Vandy also came back from the dead in the second half against Georgia and nearly upset the Dawgs. Tennessee’s performance when trailing this season is dismal, the early 7-0 deficit against Cincinnati notwithstanding.

Secondary differences

One of the strong points of the Commodores’ play has been their secondary. Before the Arkansas game a couple of weeks ago, the Vandy defense led the SEC with 15 interceptions. It has only been the last four weeks that the Vols have been able to steal some opponents’ passes. Presuming that Justin Worley starts (seems that he will at the time of this writing), he’s got a challenge that must be overcome, because the alternative — the running game — is not helping the cause.

Fundamentals

Vandy’s defensive line has shown problems finishing tackles. This was especially true at Florida. Such a tendency could really help a struggling Vol running game. As for Tennessee, one look at the Joe Adams’ pinball-esque punt return for a TD is all you need to know about Tennessee’s problems with fundamentals like tackling.

Wide right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The elusive quarterback factor

Vandy’s QB is not the one who started the season. Jordan Rogers, making his first start at QB against Army during the middle of the season, passed for 186 yards and also ran for 96 yards. His predecessor, Larry started the first six games of the season, but finished only one of them. An example, against Georgia, Rogers replaced Smith and led the Commodores to three second-half scoring drives to bring Vandy back from the dead and nearly upset the Bulldogs. Rogers has evolved into a very good player, elusive in the pocket and making good decisions. Smith was criticized for holding onto the ball too long and getting sacked too often. Whether it’s Bray or Worley, or both on Saturday, neither are known for being especially mobile in or out of the pocket.

Finding new ways to lose

Down a TD, Vandy looked ready to score against Arkansas. Instead, Commodore RB Zac Stacy fumbled the football — his first fumble lost this season — and could do nothing but watch as it was run back for a Razorback score. Instead of an even game, Vandy found itself down 35-20. Of course they battled back, and at the very end had a chance to send the game into OT with a 22-yard FG. But PK Carey Spear missed waaaaay right. Game-losing f*ck-ups are a Vandy tradition. Let’s hope the cause is in the team’s electrolyte solution bottles and not something that Franklin and his bunch can know about. As far as the Vols are concerned, this hasn’t been a problem. Tennessee just doesn’t show up for the second half and gets destroyed.

Distractions

It seems so Vandy-esque that one of their players would pick the week before the biggest game of the season to get suspended for being involved in an armed robbery. Well, that’s exactly what happened. Sophomore safety Andre Simmons is suspected of being a party to an armed robbery which occurred on campus (in Lupton Hall). He has been charged with felony counts of burglary and robbery. Simmons has only played in one game this season, on special teams. But Franklin doesn’t need this kind of issue to arise as a potential distraction when they are favored to win in Neyland Stadium for probably the first time in a half-century. So improbable, yet so Vanderbilt. Nice job, ‘Dores.

***

For the previous 10 games this season, I haven’t had to navel-gaze too much to predict the outcome (yes, I’m 10-0, but we’ve been SOOOOO predictable). But this game against our in-state enemy is a tough one. It’s a real tug-of-war between personal emotion and realism. As Rocktop78 calls it, the “left-brain vs right-brain battle.”

Nothing like jumping in the deep end and just trusting your gut.

Or not.

Tennessee 17 Vanderbilt 14

PLEASE LET ME NOT BE INSANE

Go Vols!

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12 responses to “Is Vandy Still Candy for Tennessee?”

  1. bert says :

    not feelin’ it…

    vandy 24
    ut 14

  2. Bryant Denny says :

    Is Bray playing? If so, a nod to the Vols.

    • Norcalvol says :

      Probably. For sure he will be less than 100 percent.

      • Bryant Denny says :

        Do you see this as a must win for Dooley? This game just seems like two programs headed in opposite directions and it will surely make Dooley look bad if they lose…and fall out of bowl contention.

        • norcalvol says :

          I wouldn’t label it a ‘must win’, meaning that he would get fired after the season if he were to lose. That would not happen. But a loss would be a miserable outcome: it would be the first time a Tenn team ever lost 7 conference games, and of course it would ensure a losing season.
          And it would put huge pressure on the 2012 season. Huge.

  3. DW says :

    I’ve been out of touch this season and haven’t watched much of the Vols — that’s probably the reason why I still have a touch of optimism. I think it’s time a few of these young Orange’s find out what it feels like to make a big play. And I want Fred to continue his perfect season too:
    UT 23 – Vandy 17

  4. TK says :

    you know im experiencing something new. i cant wait till this football season is over!!. its worn me out. plus not having bobber or bert or dw here on a regular basis either makes it so much dulller than usual. as the pure enjoyment of watching games go, this one coming up may be spectacular. the one thing that could make it better would be if it was played during the DAY!!! anyway here it goes for the last home game of a long season
    VOLUNTEERS 28-COMMODORES-25……………and this may be overtime

  5. rockytop78 says :

    I share bert’s sentiments above: I’m just not feeling it, either.

    Vandy 27, UT 17.

    I almost wish that Franklin would try to do something like Gerry DiNardo did once when he brought Vandy over to play the Vols back in the early 90s: Have the Commodores come out before the game and jump all over the “T” in the middle of the field, and try to scuff it up; as I recall, the Vols out there for pre-game warm-ups ran over en masse and mixed it up with the Commodore players to physicially stop the show of disrespect. Then once the game started, Tennessee kicked ass to the tune of 45-0, or something like that. (DiNardo deserved to get a game ball from Tennessee for his motivational efforts.) Franklin may be smarter than DiNardo was; if he is, I think we lose.

    • Norcalvol says :

      It was 1991. Vandy came to Knoxville with a 5-5 record (back in the days of 11 game schedules), and had won 4 straight. Vols 45 Dores 0.

    • Norcalvol says :

      Also, that Vandy game was preceded by a couple of weeks by the Miracle in South Bend. Finished that regular season 9-2; lost big to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

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