If 2008 is, so far, the year of manic depressive football Vanderbilt has ditched its academic go-against-the-flow mentality (this is the school that runs their football team out of their intramural department) and joined right up with the rest of us crazies. Offensive outbursts against Western Carolina and Rice, against whom the Commodores gained a combined 649 yards on the ground, bookend disappointing efforts against LSU and Mississippi State. Written like that, the Commodores struggles and successes seem almost rational.
The best indicator, though, of Vanderbilt's success is Quarterback Larry Smith, who was 11 of 24 for 88 yards and an interception against LSU and 12 of 32 for 124 yards and an interception against Mississippi State. When the Commodores use Smith effectively, they perform. When they are unable to do so, they look like the Vanderbilt of old.
But, everyone knows about Smtih. Well, not everyone. But everyone that reads college sports blogs pretty much does. So, who do you need to know about? For the second week in a row, it's a big-time freshman running back, who has led Vanderbilt for two straight weeks in rushing. Who is this guy?
This guy is Warren Norman, who emerged in his first game as a Commodore for only 105 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. He disappeared against LSU and Mississippi State (he led the team in rushing against the Bulldogs, but with 27 net rushing yards). For all intents and purposes against Rice he shared the rock with Jared Hawkins - each getting 11 carries. But where Hawkins, the redshirt senior coming back from injury, just ran for a bit, young Mister Norman did something with one of those carries, taking a 58 yard run to the house. That was the first play of the drive, and it put the Commodores up 27-10, sealing what was already a game little in doubt.
Norman comes out of Chamblee High School (Ga.) just Northeast of Atlanta. Reported at 5-9 185 lbs. by Scout, he had offers out of high school from Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, and Tennessee (one of these things is not like the other). While not comparing these two players, Norman and Dexter McCluster continue to show the SEC that size does not matter - at least, not as much as it used to. Teams love (and need) that big, bruising back who can get into the end zone from second and inches, but, at least for a season (as in an indefinite period of time, not an athletic term), these little guys are sweeping, dashing, and turning corners right past opposing defenses.
Now, when you couple Norman's escapability with the Rebels' as-yet-unproven abilities to tackle until backs get into the secondary, Norman presents some problems. Once more, the defense will get a chance to prove itself 3, 4, and 5 yards past the line of scrimmage. How they perform in those areas will have a gigantic impact on the final score.