Analyzing the Opponent: Vanderbilt

For a program that doesn't usually have much optimism, first-year head coach James Franklin has changed that this summer. The true test comes in maintaining the excitement during the season. Vanderbilt returns plenty of experience from last year's team that will make it more likely for Franklin to see an improvement on the Commodores' two wins last season.

WHAT THEY RETURN: The Commodores return multiple key skill players and the entire offensive line from the 2010 season. Quarterback Larry Smith threw for 1,262 yards last season and only six touchdowns and five interceptions. He ended the spring as the starting quarterback. Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, Aaron, could also get into the mix at the position.

Running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy both return this season. Norman had 1,127 all-purpose yards in only eight games last season. In only nine games, Stacy had 375 all-purpose yards, with 331 coming on the ground.

Senior tight end Brandon Barden returns after leading the team with 425 receiving yards. John Cole (317 yards) and Jonathan Krause (243 yards) were second and third on the team in receiving yards, both returning this season. Udom Umoh (194 yards) also returns.

There are plenty of returners on the defensive side of the ball as well. For a head coach trying to rebuild a program, returning so many players from a two-win team in 2010 might not be the best thing.

James Franklin brought in William & Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to run the Commodores defense.

The Commodores return Johnell Thomas, Tim Fugger and Walker May at defensive end. Fugger was the most productive last season, recording three sacks and forcing four fumbles. May led the trio with six tackles for loss. Rob Lohr is the most productive returning defensive tackle with eight tackles for loss. Colt Nichter and T.J. Greenstone also provide depth at defensive tackle.

Chris Marve is the only returning linebacker, but he was second on the team with 80 tackles. He added eight tackles for loss.

The secondary is led by one of the best cornerbacks in the conference in Casey Hayward. He had six interceptions and 11 pass breakups last season. Eddie Foster is expected to start as the other cornerback after one interception and three pass breakups last season.

Safety Sean Richardson returns after leading the team with 98 tackles last season. Kenny Ladler will also start at safety after recording 57 tackles and one interception last season.

WHAT THEY LOST: It's hard to pinpoint the major losses for the Commodores because they return so many players. The position hit the hardest was linebacker. While Marve returns, John Stokes and Nate Campbell graduated. Stokes was third with 78 tackles last season, also recording three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. Campbell had 27 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Warren Norman needs to get back to the level he was as a freshman, and that should happen if he stays healthy. Norman was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2009 and was named Freshman All-American as a kickoff returner by multiple outlets. He put up 1,941 all-purpose yards in 2009, setting a new SEC record for freshmen.

Injuries kept him out of the game against Florida, among others, last season. If he stays healthy this season, the Commodores will feature him enough to rebound and become that kind of player again.

POSITION THAT NEEDS TO STEP UP: Larry Smith has shown potential to be a dynamic quarterback in his career, but the Commodores need him to be more consistent throwing the football this season. He wasn't effective in the passing game last year, making the offense one-dimensional.

The defense allowed the more rushing yards per game in the SEC last season, so the defensive line needs to make a bigger impact on the game.


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