Thursday, September 11, 2014

Swapping questions with Anchor of Gold

Over the last two meetings between UMass and Vanderbilt I've swapped questions with the long-Anchor of Gold". Today Christian D'Andrea answers some questions about Vanderbilt. Check out his blog for my responses to his inquiries.
running Vanderbilt Blog "

 There's an old football saying “Teams with two quarterbacks don't have any.” The Commodores have played three QB's so far. Who should Minutemen fans expect to see Saturday and why?

That's an excellent question. We have no idea. The most recent Vandy depth chart has four (four!!!) quarterbacks listed, each with the "-or-" designation that suggests that there is no starter right now. Stephen Rivers started the last game and completed a blistering 24% of his passes. Patton Robinette started the season opener and looked solid in spurts but ultimately slower than the speed of the game (rumor has it that he's hurt, as well). Johnny McCrary has completed two passes in his college career so far and both were to the same Temple cornerback. And Wade Freebeck is a true freshman who might see his redshirt get burned because his coaching staff can't make up their minds.

So, one of those guys. But I can't guarantee that. 

 The Commodores seem to have some talented running backs. Can you tell us about them and how you expect them to be used against the Minutemen?

Redshirt freshman Ralph Webb won the starting role this summer and he has shined on the field in limited action so far. Vandy hasn't chosen to incorporate him as much as fans would like, but a big part of that is because this team has been playing from behind in the majority of their time on the field. He'll get the start on Saturday and he'll be the team's all-purpose back. Expect to see him take the bulk of the carries.

Backing up Webb so far has been true freshman Dallas Rivers. Rivers isn't as elusive as Webb has been, but he's a bigger, stronger back (6'1", 225 lbs) who gets work done between the tackles. It's early, but Rivers looks like he could be a major contributor alongside Webb in his career.

The X-factor will be Jerron Seymour. The junior has yet to play this season due to a knee injury that limited him in summer practices as well. The coaching staff has suggested that he's close to a return for about two weeks now, but there has been no definitive word. He ran for 716 yards last season but was most effective in the red zone, scoring on 8.5 percent of his carries. Getting him back would be a huge boost for this anemic offense.

    Like UMass, Vanderbilt was supposed to switch to a 3-4 defense this year. You also lost at least seven starters from last year's defense, including the entire secondary. What should UMass see from the Commodores defense? Who's been impressive so far on defense?

The Vandy D has been in flux all season. Losing every starter from the secondary has hurt, and there have been a lot of growing pains on that side of the ball. However, those pains have also led to some improvements, and I think they should be proficient enough to give UMass a hard time in the passing game on Saturday.

The 'Dores have gotten some impressive performances on the defensive line and up the middle. Caleb Azubike and Vince Taylor are big, mobile pass rushers who can collapse the pocket around Blake Frohnapfel and force him into bad passes. Brand new starters Oren Burks (FS) and Nigel Bowden (ILB) have also been solid in identifying plays and getting to the ball in order to shut down big gains before they can develop.

    All the turnovers against Temple were a surprise. Ole Miss looked scary big. How much of Vanderbilt's slow start is do to circumstances or to real deficiencies?

Circumstances certainly played a role - Vanderbilt won't turn the ball over seven times in a single game again - but this team deserved to lose both of those games, and badly. This team's inability to sustain drives or score points has worn down an inexperienced defense and forced tired players to rely on instincts they have yet to develop at an NCAA level. I'm not ready to dismiss the shift to the 3-4 - I think it can work very well for this team - but I am starting to believe that OC Karl Dorrell's spread offense is a philosophy that can't work with this team's inexperience and lack of accuracy at quarterback and wide receiver.

    When Franklin defected to Penn State he took a good number of Vanderbilt recruits with him. Has that affected this year's Commodore squad?

It's tough to say. Derek Mason has already inserted several of his own recruits as true freshmen (Rivers, Nifae Lealao, Hawkins Mann) but he's also a coach who values the system over the player. Who knows if Franklin's highly-rated recruits were players who would have grasped Mason's 3-4 schemes between last spring and this fall? We'll know more as those players matriculate up in Happy Valley.

    I'll close with a philosophical question. Is there a down side to Power Five breaking away from the rest of the football world? Are fans and alumni of a very good academic school like Vanderbilt comfortable about fitting in with paid players and all that implies?

As a school founded by a robber baron, there may be a little bit of historical bias against player unionization and a revenue-sharing model for student-athletes. However, I don't think that a player-pay model would necessarily have to work counter to the athletic culture that Vanderbilt has created. In fact, as a private institution, an expanded highest-bidder program for recruiting/attracting talent could actually benefit an school that doesn't have to clear their spending with a state board or government - but that's still a far cry away from the modest payments that may be immediately down the road.

In terms of being a Power Five conference, we're mostly just remaining thankful that we're a founding member of the SEC and that no one takes Paul Finebaum seriously enough to act on his calls to kick Vandy out of the conference.

Be sure to check out Anchor of Gold for news about the Commodores for the rest of the season. Win or lose, you want the team you played to do well (except for BC maybe).

Thanks to Andrea for keeping the contact with the UMass Football Blog and the Anchor of Gold alive.

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