Monday, April 2, 2007

10 Things I Thought While I Was Sweating Alcohol at the Black and Gold Game

By some sort of miracle, I managed to wake up early on Saturday after having gone to bed at 6 AM. I am going to go ahead and take this as a sign for the upcoming Vanderbilt season, because had I been more hungover and incapable of attending, I feel as though I would have missed what I considered to be a very, very promising indication of good things to come. In trying to come up with the best way to relate my notes and opinions to you, I decided that it was most prudent and entertaining to write in the style of SI's Peter King regarding what I saw. So without further ado:

These are 10 things I think about the Black and Gold Scrimmage:

1. I think the University is doing a marvelous job of marketing their athletic programs now. I was rather impressed with the turnout at the scrimmage. By no means was Vanderbilt Stadium a packed house, but it certainly had its fair share of onlookers, cheering enthusiastically for big plays made during the scrimmage. Couple that with everyone's excitement about the basketball team and I'd say things are about 51231291231 times better than they were 5 years ago.

2. I think Chris Nickson is going to be an absolute stud next year. I sat and watched him throw in warm-ups first and got a glimpse of just how hard the kid can throw. Then I watched him lead two excellent 70 yard drives both with his arm and his legs. What impressed me most is the poise he has in the pocket and his awareness of the pressure, as well as the use of his legs only when things broke down. He does a great job of checking all his reads and not getting giddy, a neccessity in the SEC where defensive ends are always breathing down your neck.

a) I think, however, should Nickson go down at any point, we're not going to be as bad off as people think. Our depth at quarterback is vastly underrated. Jared Funk looked good, MacKenzie Adams was ok, and Richard Kovalcheck needed a couple of plays to settle down, but then proceeded to direct his offensive unit on 3 seperate touchdown drives (3 TD passes for him). We want Nickson on the field, but I don't think it'll be utterly devastating if the other guys get some snaps.

3. I don't think any of the running backs have really distinguished themselves. Cassen Jackson-Garrison is the obvious starter, but expect Jeff Jennings to get 30-40% of the carries at least. It's early to tell, but they both looked fairly similar (though Jennings looked solid even coming off an ACL injury). Also, look for Kennard Reeves to factor in the mix in the fall. The redshirt freshman looked very good when he was on the field.

4. I think George Smith is going to turn some heads as an impressive number two receiver aside Bennett. On the rare occasion Nickson made a wild throw, Smith made a nice shoestring catch. I was also surprised by how tall he is and his speed for a larger receiver. He's gonna make some plays next year, no doubt about it. Going along with that, I think our receiving corps is going to have 4 reliable receivers. That's a lot of depth for anyone.

5. We know about Goff and Bennett obviously, but here are a list of players to really keep your ears open for.

a) Quavian Lewis, DE- I have wow scratched all over my friggin' notepad after watching this kid. Not only did he have three sacks and a pass deflection in one series, he single-handedly forced a three and out on the second offensive posession. All in all, 6 tackles, three sacks, and a pass knocked down for the sophomore. He was unstoppable.

b) Marcus Buggs, Patrick Benoist, and Brandon Bryant LB- Buggs will be starting at outside linebacker next to Goff next year, and he helps to form what will be an extremely under-rated and deep linebacking corp. Benoist and Bryant both had great scrimmages.

c) Brandon Holmes, DT- 6-3 295 and very tough, Holmes will be a solid stop-gap for us in the middle.

d) Curtis Gatewood, DE- Gatewood is going to be a force as the starting DE this coming season. Though he didn't get much time on the field (not many of the starters did), he contributed with a big tackle for loss on the second drive and demonstrated that he has a solid amount of speed. Very impressive.

6. I think it alarmed me that Brian Stamper didn't play much and that he had a boot on his right foot. Granted it's the spring, but he's much more valuable on the field than he is when he's in the training room.

7. I think we've got some work to do as far as our safeties go. I think D.J. Moore, as I've said before, is going to emerge as a big time pass-stopper for us at corner. He had an impressive pick-six mid-way through the scrimmage that really showed his potential. Aside from that, those boys got beat deep and were out of position on too many occasions.

8. I think part of Earl Bennett's skill-set that is very valuable is his ability to find the hole in the zone and exploit it. He runs excellent routes and he does a great job of providing his QBs with throwing lanes, even when the defense is lined up well. If this game was any indication of next year's team, he's going to have a big year.

9. I think our offensive line is nicely-sized and experienced, but I would have liked to see a few more holes open up for the running backs. There were very few successful plays up the middle from our first team O, and while they looked better getting outside the tackles, we really need to be able to run the ball well between them. By the same token, I thought the first team did very well in pass protection. I do think that depth is going to be a concern for this unit.

10. I think we're an 8-4 team. O'Shea and I debated this before but after watching this scrimmage and knowing our schedule, there really is no reason why we shouldn't finally get over the cusp against some of the struggling SEC programs. I think we might have two upsets in us this year, given our solid front seven on defense and the capability we have on offense.

All in all, Vandy football has a lot to look forward to next year. The team was very spirited on the field and there was a confident air about them. We've gradually gotten better over the past 3 seasons and there's every indication that this is the year we get over the bowl hump.

(Photo courtesy of


Seamus O'Toole said...

"I think we're an 8-4 team."

You heard it here, ladies and gents. The Stanimal is calling for 8 wins from our beloved Commies next season. I'd go nuts if we won 8 games and played in the...hmm, Independence Bowl? Peach Bowl? Outback? COTTON??? (OK, maybe not at 8-4...)

I love the thought of 8 wins but don't want to get carried away. That would mean we won all the "should-wins" AND a few upsets. Richmond, Ole Miss, E. Michigan, Kent, and MAYBE Kentucky are the only "gimmes" I begin to see on the schedule.

So my question to Stanimal: Where do you see the other wins coming? Home against Bama? Home against Wake? At South Carolina?

Wow I want a bowl game.

Bobby O'Shea said...

The question was posed to Stanimal, but I personally think the games Seamus highlighted are the most likely places for us to get a win. We almost beat Alabama last year, with a QB playing in his second game, at THEIR place. We always play Bama tough, I don't think Nick Saban can make up for a Tide team that is down. Don't be shocked if Vanderbilt can't steal one somewhere else as well (Auburn or Florida, yes, I said it, Florida).

My question to Stanimal is, should we expect Vanderbilt to get anything on the ground beyond what Nickson can do? You said the RB's didn't distinguish themselves, but with the O-line we have, and the offensive weapons on the ends, will we be able to get anything between the tackles?

Stanimal said...

I personally have never been big on Wake, so that's where one of the wins comes from. I also think that we can take Bama at home, if they are anything remotely like they were last year (though Saban will make that team better).

If I had to list, I guess I'd say this is where our 8 wins come from:

Richmond, Bama, Ole Miss, E. Michigan, South Carolina, Miami (OH), Kentucky, Wake.

That's just on teams I think we match up with, not even factoring in the fact that we can catch, and have in the past caught, a couple of the giants at the top of each division sleeping.

Stanimal said...

To answer Bobby's question: I think that will most certainly be our greatest struggle, though I think we have potential to be middle of the road on the ground.

We have a lot of running backs who are capable at the position, but no real studs or workhorses. Our first team offensive line did a good job, but our second team line especially got pushed around by the second team defense. I'm concerned about our depth across the o-line. In my opinion, don't expect massive rushing numbers from this team, but I think 130-140 a game is reasonable considering we have a lot of players to distribute yards across. That all depends on how healthy the o-line remains.

Douglas James said...

Unlike Stanimal i was not able to get my ass out of bed for the scrimmage. Instead I watched it from JT $'s hotel room. My only question is why if the practice is supposed to be "Black and Gold" does one team where White?

Take that back I have a 2nd question: Without a running game do you think people will focus on Earl and take out our best offensive weapon? Or do you think Earl will be able to fight off double teams and further weaken oppossing team's run defens by dropping guys out of the box?

Seamus O'Toole said...

Hang on a sec. I think we need to be sure the predictions don't overlook a few key facts:

1) Alabama will not be down this year and they won't be anything remotely like last year's team. They'll most likely be a preseason top 25 team.

2) Wake is also going to be preseason top 25 and they return most of their key players from an ACC championship team as well as a coach that many thought would be gone by now.

3) If we're talking about teams we traditionally play tough, let's not forget the team that's been tripping us up the past few years: Kentucky. If we could snag 2 of 3 from Bama, UK, and Wake, we'd have done VERY well for ourselves.

4) Florida is going to be ridiculous.

5) It sounds like the offense is in decent shape despite the lack of a clear-cut force coming out of the backfield, but same old story in the defensive secondary. People are saying that may continue to be the Achilles heel that keeps us out of the postseason.

Given all this, would it be more reasonable to predict 6-6 or 7-5 and hope for 8-4?

Stanimal said...

1. Don't over-estimate Wake Forest, they played well in a bad conference and I'd argue that we are not far off of their caliber.

2. Do you think Bama is going to be pre-season top 25 simply because they hired Nick Saban? They were 6-7 last year. Spurrier certainly didn't make South Carolina top 25 simply by getting hired.

3. We return A LOT of people from a team that had an equal output as Jay Cutler's squad against squads that were much better than he faced. Our secondary is a weak point, absolutely, but I don't see it being as weak this year as it was last year. We have a star in the making at corner, and if we can just get our safeties straight I think we'll be well off.

4. Believe it or not Florida isn't going to blow everyone out in the SEC this year and I don't think Tim Tebow is going to be as good as everyone thinks, at least not in his first year running the entire offense.

5. Yes, our running game is a concern, but I think our offensive line is much improved, and Nickson's athletic ability on breakdowns should add to a lot more opportunities on offense.

6. To address the concerns regarding Kentucky: They currently have 4 of 5 linemen recovering from surgery and one who's out with academic violations. Andre Woodson's going to have a lot of running to do this year.

Granted, any Vanderbilt fan has to view us an say that 6-6 or 7-5 is the best we can hope for. But I personally think given what we have coming back that we can win that 8th game. I wish I could confidentally say that its a lock, but the SEC is wild as you know. The important point is we have enough talent to run with the big boys now, and to shock a few people along the way.

Stanimal said...

Also, Douglas James, teams have been focusing on Earl for the majority of the time and he still makes plays. He's the only receiver in SEC history to record back to back 70 reception seasons. Of the 8 teams I mentioned as possible victories, I can't think of one linebacking corps so dominant it can run a nickel on us and stop us from running the ball.

Seamus O'Toole said...

I hope that's right. I think we can surprise a lot of people. I just hope we're not overlooking some very good teams.

Alabama will be top 25 preseason because they have a ton of talent, returning the best of it, and a coach who's proven he can get it done. Why do you think they'll be down?

I agree Wake may not be able to repeat all of the magic of last season, but what puts us over the edge against them? Athleticism? Defense? Earl Bennett?

Regardless of what issues they're facing in spring ball, UK has got Woodson returning on an 8-5 team and cannot be overlooked.

The other team I forgot to mention that's going to be a brutal matchup is South Carolina. They basically return everybody on a team that played all the best SEC teams right to the wire. One-touchdown losses to Auburn, Arkansas, and UT, and who can forget that Florida game?

My point is the schedule is brutal and I don't want to get nuts with the predictions.

Anonymous said...

My schedule is brutal and I don't want to get nuts with the American Idol.

Bobby O'Shea said...

Annoyomous = not funny

Seamus O'Toole said...

Stanimal -

What about this kid Nate Campbell (LB)? I've heard some chatter about him being a rising star to watch out for. What's the latest on him? Did you see him in the scrimmage?

Stanimal said...


Admittedly I haven't heard much about Nathan Campbell in what I've been reading and I didn't recognize him out there playing. He's a redshirt freshmen so he's got a lot of people to jump if he's going to land high on the depth chart (as I said, we're pretty deep at linebacker).

As a recruit, ESPN ranked him at the #55 OLB prospect in the country and has very good things to say about him. He was also pursued by several other SEC teams, so I don't think there's any doubt he's got potential. I think we have a lot of depth at linebacker though, so don't expect him to fill much more than a support role at this point.