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Friday, October 16, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Vanderbilt Commodores

As we've done each week, we spend Friday chatting with a beat writer from Georgia's opponent for the week, and today we were lucky enough to hear from The Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge.

Jeff has been covering Vandy all season, and while Georgia fans are probably hoping for some good news, I must say, his answers should probably create a bit more concern than confidence. From special teams to the passing game, Vandy looks like it might match up well with the struggling Dawgs, even if they don't match up particularly well against anyone else.

David Hale: Vandy has been among the worst passing teams in the country -- averaging just 146 yards per game through the air. We heard this about
Tennessee last week, too, though, and the Vols killed Georgia on play-action and bootlegs. Larry Smith has the arm and athleticism to do some similar things, so what's the offensive plan this week? Does Vandy think it can exploit many of the same defensive problems for Georgia that Tennessee did last week?

Jeff Lockridge: Vanderbilt is putting in a couple of offensive wrinkles this week, but don't look for that to have a large impact in the total passing yards. Larry Smith is not getting great protection, his targets in the passing game are limited and the offense is making a lot of silly penalties to stall drives. The Commodores will run some "Stallion" -- their version of the Wildcat -- with true freshman tailbacks Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Both have shown flashes of brilliance in their first seasons and will anchor the running game.

DH: Tennessee did a nice job of shutting down Georgia's big-play attack last week, and Vandy has an exceptional corner in Myron Lewis. How is he approaching taking on A.J. Green this week?

JL: Lewis is a savvy veteran in this league, so while taking on a future NFL player like Green is a huge task, it's not the type of assignment he's going to lose sleep over. Vanderbilt's cornerbacks had to deal with Army's 6-foot-10 receiver Alejandro Villanueva last week and held him without a catch. Ole Miss' Shay Hodge is the only receiver that has really torched the Vanderbilt secondary this year, and a big chunk of his 122 yards came after his eight catches. Hardly any of that was against Lewis.

DH: The Commodores' D has probably been overlooked quite a bit given the team's overall performance, but they really haven't allowed many long, sustained drives. Given Georgia's struggling offense, what will be the approach defensively for the 'Dores this week?

JL: Given the amount of time Vanderbilt's defense has been on the field because of this offense's struggles, the strategy is to get stops on third downs and create turnovers when possible. The defense will give some different looks to Georgia, but it's still going to rely on its front four to get penetration and create pressure most of the time. There are guys on that line like DE Tim Fugger and DT T.J. Greenstone who have played bigger roles than anyone expected. Middle linebacker Chris Marve is a heck of a talent.

DH: Georgia is among the best punting teams in the country. Vandy ranks near the bottom in both net punting and punt returns. In a game with two struggling offenses, how important could the field-position game be in this matchup, and is there much Vandy has done to try to improve its numbers?

JL: That was another of the odd and disturbing trends we saw last week when Vanderbilt lost at Army. The punt returners caught the ball and ran backwards trying to avoid tackles. It doesn't work. That particular Vanderbilt unit is a problem right now. On the flip side, the kickoff returns have been great thanks to Warren Norman -- he brought one back for a touchdown last week, the Commodores' first in 11 years. Brett Upson, a senior punter, has been steady since a rocky start to the season. He should be fine.

DH: Both of these teams are pretty desperate for a win right now. What's the confidence level in Nashville? Are they shaken following the loss to Army or are they looking at Georgia as ripe for the picking -- similar to what happened in 2006?

JL: Confidence has dipped severely among the fans. For the most part, hopes of back-to-back bowl games went out the window with the loss to Army -- if they hadn't already after the Mississippi State and Ole Miss losses. The dejection on players' faces was very telling coming out of the locker room at West Point. If there is a rallying point, it's that Vanderbilt beat Georgia in 2006, should have won in 2007 (if not for a late fumble) and played the Bulldogs competitively last year. So this is not a team that scares the Commodores.

Big thanks to Jeff for his time. You can read his Vandy coverage HERE or check out his blog HERE.

2 comments:

Dawg Stephen said...

Just be careful how you pronounce the Defensive Ends last name right David?? Sorry I couldnt resist. keep up the good work

Yodi said...

I was reading this Behind Enemy Lines thing and I immediately had to stop reading and come to the comment section when I saw this guy mention a 6'10 receiver from Army. LMAO!! This guy lost all credibility with that one. There's a good reason why you don't see many 6'10 wideouts in the college game or the NFL. Will AJ be shut down??? I have no clue, but to suggest that shutting down a 6'10 receiver, one that I'm willing to bet doesn't have nearly the speed or athletic ability of Green, has anything to do with Green is a joke.