Today I swap questions and answers with Christian D'Andrea from "Anchor of Gold" a Vanderbilt blog. Check out my efforts to respond to a list of questions about UMass over on their site.
- Vanderbilt certainly seems to be a program on the rise. What has changed for Commodores football?
JamesFranklin’s tenure as head coach has been about as big of a change as we’ve ever seen at Vanderbilt. He came in and immediately worked to alter the culture and make Vandy a true SEC program. He got the players to buy in by challenging them to be better, and he used that tactic – essentially telling recruits that they can have it all at Vandy and comparing being a link in a chain at other schools versus starting a tradition in Nashville – on the recruiting trail.
The result has been significant. Vanderbilt is getting better recruits than they ever have before. More impressively, Franklin has taken a group of players that went 2-10 in consecutive years under Bobby Johnson and Robbie Caldwell and turned them into a bowl team. This team stands to improve in the future; hopefully that will create a rolling snowball of more recruiting momentum and bigger wins. The change is coming around, and the level of excitement revolving around this team is slowly starting to spread out to Nashville. The next step will be turning Tennessee fans into Commodore fans in the Music City.
- Could you tell us a little about Game Day traditions and atmosphere at Vanderbilt Stadium?
The team is working hard to introduce new traditions that shake off the apathy of the past. Before the game, the team will walk down the Star Walk – with the captains carrying the team’s anchor in the front of the group - from the locker rooms and into Vanderbilt Stadium. The team is also pushing new chants – like screaming “Anchor Down” on kickoffs and emphasizing the importance of some long running traditions like singing the Alma mater after games.
The atmosphere around the stadium is pretty laid back. Fans tailgate in a spot known as Vandyville, and you’ll find plenty of people grilling and drinking beers before the game. Fans are typically pretty friendly, so if you’re a Minuteman fan in town for a game, don’t be shy. Your 0-7 start to the season has been rough, but Vandy fans – especially the older ones – can relate.
- What kind of offense and defense does Vandy run? Zac Stacy seems to be a premier player. Who else should Minutemen fans be looking at?
Offense: Fairly straightforward. Lots of I-formation and shotgun sets. Zac Stacy will run the ball 20-25 times in tight games, but he may have a performance similar to his showing against Presbyterian this weekend. In that game, he only ran the ball eight times...but gained 174 yards on the ground.
If Stacy gets pulled early, expect to see guys like Wesley Tate, BrianKimbrow, and Warren Norman running the ball. All three are capable players, but the true freshman Kimbrow is the most explosive of the bunch. If he finds a gap, he’s gone.
Expect some looks downfield but a mostly conservative passing game that uses plenty of bubble screens as well. Also, if the Minutemen don’t double-cover Jordan Matthews from the start, they could be in for a long night. He and Chris Boyd make up the best Vanderbilt WR tandem since…well, let’s just say it’s been a while.
Defense: Lots of 4-3 looks and plenty of rotations across a deep defensive line corps. Vanderbilt’s defense has been improving all season, and they have a secondary that can make you pay. The ‘Dores have been very good against the pass this year, with the exception of a blowout loss to Georgia. They’ll make things tough for Mike Wegzyn all day.
- Barring a total collapse in the second half of the Commodores season, Vanderbilt looks to be a sure bet for a bowl game. Do Vanderbilt fans have any favorite that they would like the team to play in?
Well, first off, I have to exorcise my superstitious demons and knock on wood. We Vandy fans have been burned before, so we’re especially careful about getting our expectations up. So, this whole answer comes with a huge “if” caveat.
Vanderbilt played in the Music City Bowl after the 2007 season, and that one worked out pretty well for us. Playing at LP Field gave Vandy a strong home-crowd edge (although playing against Boston College and their six-member fanbase helped as well). The Liberty Bowl, which is just three hours away in Memphis, was a good fit for the team last year as well.
Ideally, I’d like to see Vandy get a little further away from the state of Tennessee if they qualify for a bowl this year. The Gator Bowl, for instance, would be a great honor for this team. However, I’m also partial to ESPN’s projection of an Independence Bowl matchup with Duke. Two nerd schools playing before a packed crowd of hundreds in Shreveport? Sign me up!
- Tell us how you think the UMass-Vanderbilt game will play out and your prediction for the score.
My prediction? Pain.
First, let me say that I’m pretty happy about the four-game UMass series. I think it’s a great thing for a Vandy team that needs out-of-conference wins. While the Minutemen are growing, I don’t think they’ll be able to compete with the Commodores over the span of this pact. If this were the Vandy of old, I would be much more concerned, but this team looks like it will only get better in the near future. Aside from the solid matchup for Vandy, it also gives me a chance to travel home (I grew up in Rhode Island) and see the new Gillette Stadium, but that’s a selfish reason.
Anyway, off-topic rambling aside, I think Vandy uses Saturday’s matchup to fine tune their offense. We’ll see plenty of quarterback AustynCarta-Samuels, who was a former Mountain West Freshman of the Year before transferring to Vanderbilt, along with young guys like Kimbrow, Josh Grady, Steven Scheu, Dillon van der Wal, and others getting reps. I’m not sold on UMass’s ability to stop Vanderbilt early, and I think that the Commodore defense is too solid to let them out of that hole later on.
I do think UMass gives us something to think about for future matchups, though.
Final score? Vanderbilt 34, UMass 9