Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Auburn

Vanderbilt's 30-7 victory over Eastern Michigan last night in Nashville, like every Commie game so far this season, had its positives and negatives.

Positives:

1. Defense...and more defense.

Five interceptions, one forced fumble, seven points allowed, 173 total yards allowed (only 62 yards on the ground)...EMU didn't cross midfield until midway through the third quarter. Stout. War. 'Nuff said (unless you want to read the skinny from Maurice Patton or Jessica Hopp, who notes that this was the best scoring defense performance the Commodores have put on the field since 2004 against Eastern Kentucky).

2. Earl Bennett


On a night when Chris Nickson played like a mutt for much of the game, His Name still managed to pull down 9 catches for 93 yards and a TD. Brett Hait notes that his 47-yard touchdown catch early in the game was an "electrifying" spark from which we never looked back.

Negatives:

1. Nickson's decisions.

What in the world is going on here? He was 14 of 28 with 168 yards in the air and two touchdowns, but our man was picked off FOUR times (trust me, the EMU secondary is not that good). I realize that sometimes you're not on your game, and I know he's been banged up a bit, but something's got to change before we head to Auburn or the Tiger defense will pick him to shreds.

Also, note the following quote from Bobby Johnson in the post-game press conference: "Chris isn't happy with the way he played, and we're not either. But we're not going to throw him away. We're going to try to get him better."

What in Sam Hill is that supposed to mean? Way to show confidence in your QB, coach. Thank goodness we're not going to "throw him away." Bobby -- you're being very un-Bobby...

2. Penalties


For a coaching staff and team that have prided themselves on being disciplined and fundamentally sound, NINE penalties for 87 yards is atrocious. I hope the mental mistakes earned us some stadium stairs runs.

3. The Running Game

You know you've got problems when your starting running back nets 76 yards on 23 carries (and no scores) against a MAC opponent. Does the O-line bear some responsibility for this? Absolutely. Does Cassen Jackson-Garrison look schizophrenic when we compare this week's performance to his previous showing against Ole Miss? Yeah, pretty much. Am I relieved that Jeff Jennings is going to be back for the Auburn game? You better believe it.


As Chris Williams put it after the game, it's somewhat encouraging when you go out and play poorly and still come away with a convincing win. Still, I would've hoped for a little more coming off the bye-week. Let's hope Nickson and his line can get back into a rhythm this week in practice.

Which brings up the final point: Auburn is going to be a brutal matchup. Playing them in Jordan-Hare won't be a walk in the park. Matter of fact, if we play next Saturday like we played this Saturday, don't even think about walking out of there with a win. However...

On the plus side: Auburn just beat Florida. Coming off a massive and emotional win in the Swamp, the Tigers could be ripe for a let-down coming back home. Moreover (and unfortunately for me since I'm an Auburn fan in my SEC-West life) All-American DE Quentin Groves, one of the best pass rushers in the country, got hurt in the Florida game and is doubtful for next Saturday.

On the minus side: Auburn just beat Florida. Sure, they stumbled in an overtime loss to South Florida (who now stands at #6 in the AP poll) and against Mississippi State. They've been plagued by injuries and have an incredibly young team (particularly on the offensive line). Nonetheless, they proved to be capable of winning in one of the toughest places to play in the country, and are the only team who's beaten Florida in the past two seasons.

Auburn's defense is ridiculous. If you need proof, just go back and watch tape of the Florida fans' and coaches' faces when 235-pound bruiser Tim Tebow kept getting stuffed over and over at the goal line on QB draw plays that have been the bread and butter of that offense. With that said, the injury of Quentin Groves could make a big difference in what they're able to do. As for Auburn's offense, it's left quite a bit to be desired so far this season. And that's the key for the Commies: If we can put pressure on Brandon Cox and make him throw off his back foot, we can get turnovers (the Achilles heel of Auburn thus far) and make it a game on the plains. Given the defensive effort we've seen from Vanderbilt the past two games, I don't think that goal is anywhere near out of reach.

We're four games in and due to put all the pieces together for the first time this season.

9 comments:

papa o'shea said...

rumor has it...you have become a boston fan??

the red soxs??.......the patroits??

wow!!

is there something i'm missing?

Seamus O'Toole said...

Go Sox.

Don't even talk to me about the Patriots though. I'm a miserable Dolphins fan. 0-4 baby -- how sweet it is...

Douglas James said...

no one complain about anything.......i'm a Mets and Jets fan

Stanimal said...

I guess when the Expos folded you were due for a new team.

Jason said...

Seamus, Florida is not as good as their preseason ranking. Ole Miss exposed cracks in FL that were split wide open by AU.

When there's an overwhelming probability that Tebow will run on short yardage situations, it's easier to game plan against them. So credit Auburn's D, but let's not go overboard...Florida's offense does not optimize the team's overall talent as it did under the "ball coach."

Also: Tebow got hammered Saturday...another four games of him being punished by SEC defenses bodes well for Vandy.

Nickson will play well next Sat....CBJ's comment was classic understatement to insure that Vandy continues to fly under the radar screen.

Seamus O'Toole said...

Dog your quarterback to the press as a strategy for upsetting the next week's opponent? Nah, I don't buy it. Understatement is one thing -- the Lou Holtz "I'm really worried about X team" before dominating them -- but CBJ's comment doesn't fit that mold. I'm curious though -- what makes you so confident that Nickson will play so much better against Auburn in Auburn than he did against Eastern Michigan at home?

I'm not saying Florida was as good as their ranking, but that doesn't mean they're not a great football team. I don't think it's going overboard simply to point out that Auburn's defense poses problems that we'll need to work hard to prepare for this week.

I also don't think it's going overboard to point out, as I did, that Vandy has a legitimate chance to put pressure on Cox and make it a good game in one of the toughest places to play in the country.

However, it would be overstating Vanderbilt's case to say: "Look, we've got the #17 defense in the country, the #11 pass defense in the country -- we can shut them down." It's great that Vanderbilt is so highly ranked in those categories (for now). But we also have the #82 total offense (and passing offense) in the country, and look who we've played -- Richmond, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Eastern Michigan.

I agree that Nickson is due for the kind of performance we know he can put on the field, but I don't see anything wrong in pointing out that it becomes more difficult to do that when you're playing a good team in a hostile environment, and when you haven't proven you can throw the ball especially well (#82 passing offense even though we have one of the top three receivers in the country) against mediocre competition, especially when the coaches are sending mixed signals about their confidence in the starting quarterback.

Aaron said...

Jason, i am confused as to what makes you think Nickson will play well next week. Did you see what he did against Bama 5-18 with an int, and that game was at home!!! He just threw 4 int's last game. We play Auburn on the road, and they are coming off a huge win.

The truth of the matter is that Nickson is a let down in big, must win, games. The only time he has won the big game was last year at UGA. When you look at what he did last year against (USC, TENN, BAMA, and KENTUCKY) he had 9 int's and under 200 yards in the air against every one but Kentucky.

The scary thing is vandy could go 2-6 over their last 8 games. It is now looking like Kentucky will be a loss, and the one big win opportunity will be against UT or USC this year.

I am tired of CBJ and his "classic understatements" they do nothing to get our team fired up. If we do not make a bowl this year, he has got to go!!!

Jason said...

come on now: "We're not going to throw him away" is laconic southern-bred humor from a guy born and raised in South Carolina.

Of course CBJ needed to criticize Nickson. And he did. If he's way off the mark in the first quarter this Sat., put Adams in.

seamus, I don't disagree with your analysis-- bottom line: The offense has to play at least as good or better than vs. the Ole Miss game. As we saw against bama, the D can keep Vandy in a game for 3 quarters.

aaron: Vandy could go 2-6. They could go 5-3 as well. It's impossible to look at any SEC game right now and say definitively "win" or "loss." This conference is too turbulent.

Seamus O'Toole said...

I agree, the offense needs to put up and execute well enough to get more than just field goal opportunities. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone is essential for any team whose kicker is erratic no matter where you line him up, especially when playing against a team with the most accurate freshman in the country (Wes Byrum was the #1 overall kicker prospect coming out of high school).