Friday, September 4, 2009

Vanderbilt/Western Carolina Preview

Last year, under first year head coach Dennis Wagner, the team went 3-9 overall and 1-7 in conference. The team has some experience, returning 14 starters, equally divided among the offensive and defensive units. Yet, the Catamounts have 42 freshmen on their roster, including 29 true freshmen.

On offense, the players to watch for the Catamounts will be sophomore QB Zack Jaynes, who threw for 1,163 yards and 10 TDs, sophomore RB Quan Warley who gained 672 yards, and junior wide out Marquet Pittman who led the lead with 571 receiving yards. Pittman is listed as “probable” on the injury report with a tweaked hamstring. 2 of the projected starting 5 offensive linemen for Coach Wagner are redshirt freshmen, meaning the Commodore front 7 should have chances to get into the backfield before anything is able to develop.

On defense, there are 3 players to watch. First, senior linebacker Adrian McLeod was one of only 4 players in the conference to record 100+ tackles. McLeod received 2009 NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) preseason All-America recognition from Consensus Draft Services (CDS). A relative strength for the Catamounts will be their secondary, which led the Southern Conference in pass defense in 2008. The secondary is anchored by safeties Mitchell Bell and Chris Collins (who forced 6 fumbles in 2008.)

Western Carolina was not a particularly good team last year, and there is no reason to think they’ll be markedly improved this season. They are 6-29 in their last 35 games. Coach Bobby Johnson has a career record of 6-2 against the Catamounts when he was playing them in the Southern Conference. Despite his impressive record, David Boclair notes in today's Nashville City Paper that CBJ is "still mad" at Western Carolina after they beat Furman in the playoffs and their fans torn down FU's goalposts. Still, this game is not without pitfalls. Vanderbilt has their share of injuries heading into the season, the most notable being DE Steven Stone and RB Jared Hawkins. While Hawkins is expected to return next Saturday at LSU, while Stone won’t return until October.

Vanderbilt has 15 returning starters from last year’s Music City Bowl Championship team with the injuries Stone and Hawkins. All eyes are sure to be on sophomore QB Larry Smith, who will be appearing in his first game at Vanderbilt Stadium. Smith has become the hope of Commodore Nation, and Saturday will offer a glimpse in what may lie ahead. More importantly, as Jeff Lockridge writes in the Tennessean, the young QB has already earned the trust of his teammates.

Despite Vanderbilt returning a critical mass of last year's team, there are sure to be some fresh faces on the field to keep an eye on. Zac Stacy will be the starting running back, with another true freshman, Warren Norman likely to see a lot of action as well. Redshirt freshman Ryan Fowler will be handling all place kicking. Redshirt Freshman John Cole, who battled injuries through pre-season workouts, is expected to start and is likely to be a favorite target of Smith. Don't be surprised to see redshirt freshman Akeem Dunham get some balls thrown his way backing up senior Alex Washington. Also be sure to watch true freshman Trey Wilson back-up starting cornerback Casey Haywood.

On a more solemn note, defensive end Broderick Stewart will become the third Vanderbilt player to wear the "KD1" jersey patch, one of the most significant recognitions awarded by fellow Commodore players, this season. Kwame was killed after his freshmen season. His brother Jermaine Doster is junior running back for the Commodores.

Some things to keep in mind:
- The last time Vanderbilt went to a bowl game, 1982, the team went 2-9 the following season, a fate CBJ and his staff are loathe to repeat.
- Vanderbilt has won 7 of their last 10 games against non-SEC opponents, and boast a 23-16 record against non-conference opponents in this decade.
- Bobby Johnson needs just 3 wins to pass Ray Morrison for 4th in wins on the all-time Vanderbilt list.

Bottom Line
This is a game Vanderbilt should handle the Catamounts. Don't be surprised to bored (especially on offense). Whatever tricks the Commodores have up their sleeves, are likely to remain there given Vanderbilt's trip to Baton Rogue next week. That is a long way of saying that we'll (probably) hold our fire if the offensive play-calling is less than thrilling. Vegas doesn't have a line on the game, which isn't surprising. The game is on ESPN Gameplan and is supposedly going to be available outside of the southeast in the Bay Area, Chicago, New England, Northwest, Philadelphia, and Mid Atlantic (TCN-The Comcast Network, NOT CSN) according to a post from Brandon Barca earlier this week.

Get excited, kick-off is almost here.


Tom M said...

More importantly, it's streaming on for free.

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