Thanks to Christian at Anchor of Gold to agreeing to help out. My questions are in bold. His answers are not.
Vanderbilt is on the cusp of going to its second bowl game in as many years under the guidance of James Franklin. What does he do differently that his predecessors did not? How would you describe his coaching style?
Franklin's biggest success in Nashville has been his work to reverse the culture that had stagnated around Vandy football for decades. He's been gung ho about working up excitement about this program, and his best work has come with the players. He's been able to get these guys to believe that they can compete in the SEC and turn things around at Dudley Field. That helped improve a 2-10 Robbie Caldwell led team to a Liberty Bowl squad in 2011.
That attitude has carried over to the recruiting trail as well. The 'Dores welcomed their strongest recruiting class in school history last year. Next year's class should be even better.
Franklin is a high energy coach that operates more on enthusiasm than traditional playcalling. He has the horses to compete in the SEC this year, but he's still hellbent on working gadget plays into every Commodore game of the season. He's willing to take chances downfield, but mostly stays conservative with 80% of his play calls, including dozens of bubble screens and swing passes each year. He's doing a good job this season, but he still manages to find a way to frustrate fans a couple times per game.
Has Vandy's recent successes benefited Commodore recruiting? Is Vanderbilt starting to steal away guys that maybe would have gone to Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, or other teams which are slumping this year?
Absolutely. The crazy thing is that Franklin was able to flip recruits before even coaching a game in Nashville. He had about six weeks to prepare for his class of '11 players, and he still managed to lure guys like Josh Grady, Jerron Seymour, and Barron Dixon in his first year. That improved significantly last year, when the 'Dores brought home a fringe top-25 recruiting class despite a 6-7 season. This year, in the midst of a 5-4 campaign, Franklin's got 21 players on board and the class is ranked 15th in the country by Rivals. I think that it's safe to say that his tenure at Vandy has had a very positive impact on the recruiting trail.
It's also important to note that Franklin has been instrumental in engineering some facilities upgrades at Vanderbilt. We actually look like a D-I football program now, you guys!
Vanderbilt currently boasts the second most prolific pass defense in the SEC. Who are the guys in the Commodore secondary that Rebel fans should be aware of?
Vandy fans thought that the secondary might struggle this season with Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward graduating and playing with the Packers in 2012, but the team has reloaded well. Andre Hal and Trey Wilson are solid cornerbacks, and both have the speed to chase receivers downfield. Wilson already has two pick-sixes this season and holds the school record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a career. Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler round out the secondary at safety, and both are solid against the pass (but can make mistakes against the run). In all, the 'Dores have a veteran-laden defensive backfield that should be able to give Bo Wallace problems.
Zac Stacy has been absolutely deadly against some opponents and nearly nonexistent against others. What should the Rebel defense do to contain Stacy? How would you best describe Stacy's value to the Vandy offense?
The emergence of Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow over the past few weeks have made him less irreplaceable, but a healthy Zac Stacy would go a long way towards pulling the upset in Oxford. An ankle injury and a pair of blowout wins limited him in the team's past two games, but he's still shown that he can be the featured back that he emerged as in 2011.
Ole Miss can stop him if they load up the box and focus on attacking the line of scrimmage. That would put a lot of pressure on Jordan Rodgers to make passes, and that may be the Rebels' best bet on Saturday. Rodgers has been improving, but if he and Stacy are facing an eight-man rush with regularity it will keep this team out of their comfort zone. Of course, receivers like Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews often make it difficult for opposing teams to ignore Vandy's downfield passing game.
Did you know that Jordan Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers' brother?!?!?! He has also improved tremendously from last season to this one. What has been the difference there? Who are his biggest targets?
Aaron who? The dancer?
Rodgers is getting better because he's getting more time behind center. His 2011 was shaky because he was inexperienced and locked in a QB battle with Larry Smith. This year, he's had more stability and that's made a world of difference. He started out shakily, but his offensive line has improved in front of him, and when he's got time to set his feet and throw, he's a very good passer.
70-80% of this team's passing offense will come courtesy of two players - Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews. The two make up the best receiving tandem that Vandy has ever had. Both are big targets who run crisp routes, get open downfield, and make good adjustments to come down the the ball. Those are the two guys that Rebel fans are going to be sick of hearing about by the fourth quarter Saturday.
Which pancakes at the Pancake Pantry are the best?
Hey, Christian, why don't you pick out which of your (theoretical) children you love best? C'mon, man.
(depending on season/hangover, it goes pumpkin/blueberry/chocolate chip)
And, finally, your prediction.
I definitely think it's going to be a tough one. Sloppy, too - but that's because that's just something that Vandy does in close games. We drag you down to our level and then force you to fumble on it.
Anyway, I think the 'Dore offense has shown me enough that I feel confident picking them in a game where they'll have to show up in the fourth quarter to win. Vandy had trouble sustaining drives earlier in the season, but they've grown since then. I think they hold on to the ball long enough for our defense to recover between series, and that will make the difference in the end.
Vanderbilt 27, Ole Miss 21