Friday, November 2, 2007

Seamus' UF Preview; Jason also Weighs in

This post appeared yesterday on Saurian Sagacity:

In some ways it seemed after last week's games that Vanderbilt will face a perfect storm of problems heading into the battle in Gainesville. Key injuries played a big factor as the Commies struggled at home against Miami (Ohio) following our big win over South Carolina two weeks ago. Add to that Florida's loss to Georgia and the fact that we're heading to the Swamp to play a pissed-off team that ranks 10th in the nation in scoring at 39 ppg, and the picture starts to look slightly bleak for a Commodore fan who's seen this storyline before.

However, there are good reasons for Commodore fans to have this game circled on their calendar. First and foremost, with the exception of Auburn and LSU, I'd argue that no team has played Florida better over the past two seasons than Vanderbilt. We're still bitter about the excessive celebration call against Earl Bennett two years ago in the
overtime loss in the Swamp, and no one's forgotten what might have been in last year's game when two blocked punts made all the difference in the 25-19 loss.

Second, the injury situation for the 'Dores looks better than it did a few days ago. Quarterbacks Mackenzi Adams (injured sternum in Miami game) and Chris Nickson (nagging shoulder injury) both participated in practice today, as did cornerback Myron Lewis (injured shoulder in Miami game), nickelback Darlron Spead (shoulder), and backup linebacker Brandon Bryant (ankle). Still no word on who'll be taking most of the snaps Saturday, and I imagine we won't know until just before game time. If it's Adams or Nickson you can expect a similar option-oriented style of play, while Arizona-transfer Richard Kovalchek gives you more of a traditional drop-back passer look.

Offensively, I would hope to see a lot of passing from Vanderbilt. WR Earl Bennett broke the SEC all-time receptions record on Saturday, he leads the SEC in catches, and he was just named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Sean Walker, George Smith, and Justin Wheeler have also stepped up the past few games, so there's no question the weapons are there. Florida, for its part, is sporting the #87 pass defense in Division I-A, giving up over 250 yards per game. There are some big-play opportunities to be had against the young Gator secondary, and Offensive Coordinator Tim Cain ought to know it. He also ought to know that mixing up the looks by running CB/KR DJ Moore out of the slot. The running back committee of Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jeff Jennings, and Jared Hawkins (the latter two of whom I'd prefer to see more of) need to focus on not fumbling. As they did in the Georgia game, turnovers would kill us against UF.

Defensively, the Commies will probably play it straight-up and not do as much blitzing as they've done against the pass-oriented offenses they've seen thus far. Tebow, Harvin & Co. are just too dangerous to get carried away with aggressive defensive playcalling. I'm expecting to see two things out of the Florida offense: (1) Tebow and Harvin will run the ball a lot and test our defensive line. (2) They'll use the run (I can see it now, the patented Tebow fake-tuck-and-drop-back-to-pass) to suck in the safeties and set up pass plays, trying to stay away from DJ Moore and picking on (injured?) Myron Lewis all day long.

The Gators face a formidable opponent, though, in the Vanderbilt defense. We're currently ranked 14th in the nation in total defense and 15th in pass defense. I think if the 'Dores play it straight-up and stay at home on D, they can neutralize the potency of Florida's offense and make it a game.

Bottom Line

Like last year, I predict this game will come down to two factors: special teams and turnovers. Vandy special teams have improved significantly over last year, but the kickoff and punt defenses still rank at the bottom of Division 1-A. That doesn't bode well with Brandon James taking back punts for Florida. Both teams have quality kick returners and I think DJ Moore is due to take one to the house. Both teams have lost as many TOs as they've gained so far, but Tebow's only thrown three INTs this year against some of the top secondaries in the country. It'll be interesting to see if Tebow tries to take a page out of Auburn's book by bowling over our defense. But if that shoulder of his is still bothering him, he loses a lot of effectiveness on the run, as we saw last week. A less-potent running threat from Tebow would give Vanderbilt a chance so long as we protect the football and avoid giving the Gators a short field.

Our man Jason also weighed on what he will be looking for this weekend:

The challenge for VU's defense is best described straight from the architect's mouth: Coach Meyer:

"In the spread offense, we create mismatches with the defense. Our best receivers are our inside receivers in our sets. We run the ball at the defense, which requires the defense to play linebackers. When they play linebackers, we force them into coverages which are our mismatches for them."

It might seem contradictory, but Meyer's offense shares one primary strategic similarity with Spurrier's FL offense: The quarterback is the key.

1) In Spurrier's scheme, the QB has to make all his reads during his drop and make the throw as soon as he hits his back foot. If you have a QB like Wuerffel who can do this extremely difficult task, then the opposing DBs don't have the opportunity to read the QB while he's in the pocket, and you have an offense that is, for all intents and purposes, unstoppable.

2) Meyer's offense requires a guy like Tebow who, as CBJ said this week, is "the total package." FL's offense has four major running plays: Two off of the QB/RB option, and two off of the QB/WR option (bringing the receiver in motion) They have very few traditional running plays, but in most cases you see zone blocking from the offensive line. (Zone blocking means that each lineman picks up the first guy off of his playside shoulder and the five guys form a wall. Man blocking means that each lineman, or group of linemen, are responsible for blocking specific guys based on the defensive front.) FL loves the designed cutback run as well.

Even limited by the bad shoulder, Tebow's still scary as a dual threat, both run and pass. Back to Meyer's quote: This game will be a test for our cornerbacks, because with the spread offense it's difficult to run the successful blitzes we ran against SC...for example, VU sending Ryan Hamilton through the guard/center gap: Tebow will have an easier time recognizing this (and other blitzes) pre-snap. It's important for the front 4 to duplicate the QB pressure that they've been getting lately.

Florida's defense: It wasn't GA's long pass plays that surprised me...I was shocked to see GA's o-line take ownership of FL's front seven, giving Moreno holes to run into the secondary. Of course FL has the speed to disrupt any offense, but VU's o-line should be watching that video...FL was weak at the point of attack.

Earl and the rest of the receivers will be there..the key question: Can the o-line exploit an injury-depleted defense to mount a consistent running game?

Bobby's Final Take:
I think Jason and Seamus hit on all my main points for the Florida game. I just wanted to weigh in further about VSL's opposition to It's not that we are opposed to the idea of showing that Vanderbilt fans care and will travel. But as of right now, there is no where to travel. Furhter, if you read Mo Patton's piece in today's Tennessean, it's not even clear that 6 wins will be enough given that there are 11 teams in the SEC who currently have 5+ wins. Andrew essentially made the point in the thread on Tempting Fate yesterday that it by signing now (Andrew, please correct me if I have mis-characterized your post), the "true" fans need to sign now before there is a band wagon effect. My response is, who cares if there is? Don't we want a band-wagon. It can't be both that Vanderbilt fans want respect, recognition, and a rapid fan-base, while at the same time wanting to maintain a "club" of true fans at the exclusion of others. The Commie fans who have been there from the beginning are all pretty well known (many are frequent commenters in this space) and aren't going anywhere. As far as I can tell, this band-wagon's got room and those people that are waiting to jump on until the bowl train has left the station are the ones acting most responsibly. Of course, that's like just my opinion.


Anonymous said...

It's not that I think Vanderbilt will not blitz FL's offense. Langford and Buggs are heat seeking missiles. Hopefully someone's shoulder is barking in the first quarter. (Sorry: Football is a ruthless game)

They have to be creative, for example more delayed blitzes...again, this places pressure on the secondary for an extra 2-3 seconds.

Vandy's two DEs (Stewart and Stone) have wheels...VU could zone blitz and drop these guys into short coverage. (They haven't shown a zone blitz all year)

I'd bet VU's defensive coaches have a lot of Patriots video: The Pats' D specializes in creative blitzes from different personnel.

Boyer in the District said...

I want some predictions from VSL nation on the final score of the VU vs. UF game.

Anonymous said...

Boyer, if I could predict the score I'd be working for the mafia in Vegas, like Ace Rothstein in "Casino."

Boyer in the District said...

So you've never predicted a score? Why shy away?

Stanimal said...

I'm going to go ahead and disagree with your comments about this petition for a bowl game, first because I'm not superstitious and know for a fact that actions on the field are what win you games, not supposed hoax jinxes, and second because I think it's encouraging to see some fan momentum rolling along not only from VSL nation, but from the nation as a whole.

The only part of your statement about not signing the petition that I agree with is that we're aiming for 9 wins, not 6, because by no means should you ever go into a game with the idea you are going to lose. That point is well taken.

As to Bobby's point that it's not even clear that with 6 wins we'll get to a bowl game, the point of the petition, however unlikely, is that if we DO only get to six wins, we are showing support that would be sufficient for one of the bowls to maybe consider us over a team with a higher profile. In itself that is very unlikely, but I guess you lose nothing by trying.

I can't say that I agree whole-heartedly with your position on the petition and there's quite a list that's grown that indicates that others have the same feelings. As such I wouldn't view this as a jinx that could ruin our season, but rather a showing of support from a finally supportive fan base that has enough faith in their football team to think we can get over the hump with our next four football games.

Anonymous said...

OK Boyer:

I think there is a reasonable probability that Vanderbilt will score at least one more point than Florida.

Douglas James said...

I know everyone is pumped about the football game on sat but I just wanted to mention that Vandy got some loving in the AP poll for Bball. Granted its only 6 votes but its nice to get some respect before the season starts instead of having the fight for attention all year. I haven't been this excited for the start of a season in any sport in a long time. Don't know if we can match last years team but I really think the program is taking the next step to becoming a force on the national scene. Go DORES!!!!!

Boyer in the District said...


"A reasonable probability that Vanderbilt will score at least one more point than Florida?"

Wow - you're really going out on a limb. That's a bold statement!

Best regards,

We might see some close college football games on Saturday

Anonymous said...

Vandy Sports Liners,

I wanted to start off by saying that I really enjoy your site and all of the interesting reporting/information that you provide. Born and raised in Nashville, I have been a die hard Vandy fan my entire life. But ever since I moved to Tampa I have felt disconnected and out of place. Your site somewhat brings me home and keeps me in the loop. I have definitely felt the pains of the past years that we’ve endured. Fortunately, our team is getting stronger and faster. We have better coaches and better recruits than we did in past years. We’re no longer the doormat to the bigger programs, and they know it! I also love how our other team sports have been growing as well (especially baseball). You normally see a College’s programs grow one at a time but not at Vanderbilt. It’s like the entire university is growing athletically as a unit. I have just recently bought tickets to tomorrow’s game so, if you’re watching the game and you see a camouflaged/black and gold wearing fan all alone in the alumni section just under the sky boxes throwing up the “VU hand signal” you know who that is. I hope you guys are planning to make the trip down as well. Thank you for all of your hard work and constant support of our beloved Commodores. Keep it up!

“Defending the ‘Dores in Gator Country!”

Sol Blake said...

what do you guys think, vandy gets ranked if they win today? our losses all look like quality losses now that auburn is playing well.

Anonymous said...

I dont think that last comment had anything to do with Vanderbilt sports, but I didnt read it all. Insane rants make my head hurt, so can you please limit the discussion to sports and American Idol. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Sports = good.

american idol = suck.

Woody said...

(In response to insane comment above) What?

Anonymous said...

At least that strange comment was a temporary distraction from Saturday's super outcome...

1) The defense had better figure things out quickly, b/c KY's offense is arguably scarier than FL's.

2) CBJ & Cain had better figure out the QB situation.