[su_spacer size=”20″] The Vanderbilt Commodores are looking for a silver lining after struggling mightily in 2014 under then first-year head coach Derek Mason.
[su_spacer size=”20″] Following on the heels of consecutive nine-win seasons under James Franklin, now the head coach at Penn State, the Commodores could post only a 3-9 won-loss mark (lone wins over Massachusetts, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion) last fall, while going winless in the Southeastern Conference at 0-8. But now, with 18 starters returning from the 2014 squad, Vanderbilt is hoping to climb back on the road to respectability in the new 2015 campaign.
But get off to a better start this season, the Commodores couldn’t do that as they were upended by Western Kentucky by 14-12 this past Thursday night in Nashville, coming up short on a two-point PAT attempt after tallying a touchdown with just 33 seconds left. Now, it’s the 1-0 Georgia Bulldogs who come to town Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS TV) for both teams’ SEC opener.
[su_spacer size=”40″] The Commodores boast nine returning regulars on the defensive side of the ball, which will be coordinated this season by the head coach himself. Mason’s leading stoppers include junior outside linebacker Stephen Weatherly (6-5, 250) — a potential All-SEC candidate from Snellville, Ga. — junior tackle Adam Butler (6,4, 305) and sophomore inside linebacker Nigel Bowden (6-1, 240), who led the team with 78 tackles as a redshirt freshman last season.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Offensively, Vanderbilt has eight starters back including sophomore running back Ralph Webb (5¬10, 200), who ran for 912 yards as a redshirt freshman, and senior tight end Steven Scheu (6-5, 245), who sustained a leg injury in the spring. Redshirt sophomore Johnny McCrary (6-4, 224), from Decatur, Ga., assumed the starting role at quarterback in the opening loss to the Hilltoppers and finished 18-of-34 for 217 yards while being intercepted twice in the end zone. Webb rushed for 70 yards on 18 carries.
The ‘Dores, of course, rate a solid underdog to invading Georgia on Saturday and if Vanderbilt is to pull off the big upset, here are the Big Five factors that must fall into place for the Commodores:
[su_spacer size=”40″] 1. Experienced Vandy defense, smother Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs’ run game
[su_spacer size=”20″] If the Commodores are to have any chance of winning this football game, the ‘Dores’ veteran defensive unit simply can’t allow Georgia to hog the ball all afternoon. Vanderbilt likely can’t stop Chubb and the other talented Bulldog backs but it must definitely force some three-and-outs and give the Vandy offense ample time to put some points on the board.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 2. Play much better offensively than against Western Kentucky
[su_spacer size=”20″] The Commodores were very sporadic in their opening game and to avoid a blowout against Georgia must simply have a big improvement in all facets of their offensive game. They moved the ball well against Western but 12 points isn’t going to win many games these days.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 3. Make something happen early on
[su_spacer size=”20″] Vanderbilt needs to have a big play — a long touchdown pass or run or, a pick six — in the game’s opening minutes. That would not only ignite the ‘Dores’ offense but the home fans as well. Conversely, falling into an early hole could spell a long afternoon for Vandy against the Bulldogs.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 4. Maybe catch Georgia looking ahead to South Carolina
[su_spacer size=”20″] Yes, the Bulldogs rate a big favorite but longtime Georgia fans are well aware of how their team has struggled in Nashville down through the years. There’s a difference in confidence and cockiness and if the Bulldogs’ thoughts are already on the big Sept. 19 meeting with the Gamecocks while thinking this one is going to be easy, the Commodores are capable of getting Georgia in another dogfight.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 5. Most of all, Dores, have the confidence you can play with the Bulldogs
[su_spacer size=”20″] Confidence in the Vandy camp has dipped severely the past two seasons. Somehow, this brand of Commodores must regain the confidence and swagger that James Franklin’s Vanderbilt teams boasted in his coaching tenure in Nashville. That’s what it will take to man up with SEC powers like Georgia.
[su_spacer size=”40″] For more articles like this, including player and fan photos as well as videos, check out Bulldawg Illustrated’s latest issue online:
[su_spacer size=”40″] Bulldawg Illustrated