Last week head coach James Franklin got his first SEC road win in a 19-15 thriller at Missouri. Even with the conference road win monkey off their back, the 'Dores have yet to claim that signature win against a top opponent under Franklin. OFFENSE
Junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers (6-1, 212) has thrown for 831 yards and two scores this season. The redshirt senior started seven games and helped ignite the Commodore offense in 2011 completing 50 percent of his passes for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Rodgers has shown some improvement in his second season with a 55.3 percent completion percentage. Through four games he is 57 for 103 for 831 yards and 2 scores, while averaging 207.8 passing yards per game Vanderbilt quarterbacks have been sacked 13 times through five games and 5 times in the last two games at Georgia and Mizzou. Rodgers has steadily improved in each game so far and has avoided some of the bad decisions he made in the opener.
Senior running back Zac Stacy (5-9, 210) leads the 'Dores with 413 rushing yards and 3 scores on 75 carries. Stacy is currently third on the Vanderbilt career rushing list with 2,415 yards, just 75 yards away from taking the No. 2 spot currently held by Carl Woods (1983-86). Stacy has seven 100 yard games under his belt in 18 consecutive starts.
The senior fought tooth and nail for every yard against Mizzou last week and had a career-high 29 carries for 72 yards and 2 scores.
Backing up Stacy is true freshman Brian Kimbrow (5-8, 180). The freshman currently leads the team averaging 8 yards per carry with 183 yards rushing and one score on the season. In the last two games coaches have been a lot better about getting the speedster the ball in open space. Last week Kimbrow had a 19-yard rush against the Tiger defense on a designed fly sweep play. Redshirt junior Wesley Tate (6-1, 215) is third on the team with 47 yards rushing on 25 carries and 2 touchdowns.
Junior fullback/tight end Fitz Lassing (6-3, 240) has done a wide array of things but has been solid blocking for the 'Dores. Lassing has one catch for 7 yards and no carries on the season.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Junior receiver Jordan Matthews (6-3, 205) leads the SEC in receptions (35) receptions per game (7). Matthews picked up where he left off in 2011 with eight catches for 147 yards and a score against the Gamecocks. Matthews is one of the most physical players on the team with 486 receiving yards and 2 scores.
The other half of the SEC's top receiving duo is Chris Boyd (6-4, 205) with 18 catches for 368 yards. The redshirt sophomore, like Matthews, increased production in the middle half of 2011 and finished the season with catches in each of his last 8 games. Boyd has accumulated 846 career receiving yards with 8 scores nearing the halfway point of his second season.
Jonathan Krause (5-11, 184) is the other starting receiver and has not been the most productive but blocks well and brings some good experience with 10 career starts. Last week Redshirt freshman Josh Grady (5-11, 190) started the conversion from quarterback to wide receiver last year. Grady has great leadership qualities and you might see him out of the wildcat formation. He's rushed for 23 yards on 5 carries and caught 5 passes for 71 yards.
Redshirt freshman Steven Scheu (6-5, 260) and Kris Kentera (6-4, 230) have 3 starts between them one a catch each. Scheu's catch was a 3-yard touchdown grab against Presbyterian. Sophomore Dillon van der Wal (6-6, 255) may also get a chance to get into the mix at tight end with no one locking down the starting job yet.
Vandy rushers are averaging 4.3 yards per carry with 9 touchdowns on the season. The offensive line did not have the best day in the opener against South Carolina. Vandy was held to 2.1 yards per rush attempt last week against Missouri and earned hard fought runs against Northwestern (3.0 ypc.) and Georgia (2.9 ypc.). Changes to the offensive line and improvements made over the bye week in 2011 helped the Vandy offense come alive. At offensive tackle, redshirt junior Wesley Johnson (6-5, 285) has been one of the most consistent players on the team with 30 consecutive starts. Johnson is also very versatile starting at center, left tackle, and left guard last season.
Left guard Ryan Seymour (6-5, 304) is also very versatile, starting at both left tackle and moving to left guard in 2011. Seymour is another source of good experience on the line with 27 career starts in 38 games played. Sophomore Spencer Pulley (6-4, 290) has avoided some of the mistakes you see new centers commit, especially in road conference game environments. The center had his first three career starts this season against South Carolina, Northwestern, and Missouri.
Josh Jelesky (6-5, 295) has played in 39 career games and started all five games at right guard this season. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Bridges (6-6, 275) started the last half of the season at left tackle in 2011 and moves made the switch to right tackle this season--starting in all five games. The offense made huge strides after the bye week in 2011. It wasn't pretty against Missouri but they got the job done. After watching Florida dominate LSU there is little doubt the Gators will be one of the top 3 defenses Vandy faces all season.
Bottom Line on Offense...
The play calling against Missouri was creative and it took advantage of a defense that over pursued. Florida will be a much more disciplined defensive team than the Tigers. Vandy would have to play flawless football without turnovers, penalties, and punish the Gators for any mistakes they make. The 'Dores will be hard pressed to start the game running up the middle against the Gator defense. Commodore receivers Chris Boyd and Jonathan Krause will need to step up as Florida tries to take away Jordan Matthews constant production.
Defensive tackle Rob Lohr (6-4, 290) is tied for best on the team with 30 consecutive starts. The red shirt senior is physical and leads all active Vandy players with 9 career sacks and 20½ tackles for a loss. True freshman Caleb Azubike (6-4, 250) backs up Lohr and has already impressed with 2 sacks and 2 tackles for a loss in 10 tackles.
Redshirt senior Colt Nichter (6-1, 288) has started four games this year for the 'Dores at tackle. Junior Jared Morse (6-2, 304) has been impressive at tackle with 7 tackles, including 4 for a loss, a sack and 3 passes deflected.
On the end Johnell Thomas (6-0, 250) and Walker May (6-5, 250) have started every game so far for Vandy. Thomas has played well with 15 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a pass deflected. May has been a force on the edge with 13 tackles, including 3½ for a loss, a sack and 3 quarterback hurries. A speedy rusher, Walker May's pressure on the Missouri quarterback late in the fourth quarter helped seal the 'Dores victory.
Outside linebacker Archibald Barnes, (6-4, 235) a redshirt senior out of Tampa, Fla., has played well, ranking fifth on the team with 22 tackles. Opposite Barnes, junior Karl Butler (6-1, 215) has been outstanding in his first season starting for Vandy. Butler is fourth on the team with 24 tackles, 5½ for a loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. True freshman Darreon Herring (6-2, 220) backs up Barnes and may continue to see increased playing time as the year goes on.
In the middle, junior linebacker Chase Garnham (6-3, 234) has continued to improve and was a monster at the end of the Mizzou game. Garnham is second on the team with 32 tackles, including 3½ for a loss, and 2 sacks. True freshman Jake Sealand (6-2, 220) backs up Garnham in the middle. Sealand forced a fumble in his first college action last week against Mizzou and added a solo tackle.
Vandy has tried to get away from the bend but don't break mind set and attacked opposing teams in the backfield with a wide array of disguised blitzing packages. The linebackers have played tough and stayed healthy nearly halfway through a schedule that ranks just behind Florida in the strength of schedule category.
Junior Andre Hal (6-0, 184) and senior Trey Wilson (5-11, 192) have been excellent in a secondary that was thought to be the strongest point of the 'Dores coming into the season. Hal leads the team with 5 passes deflected while Wilson adds 12 tackles and a 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown. Strong safety Javon Marshall (5-10, 195) has been a force in the secondary with 32 tackles, a pass defended, and a forced fumble.
Senior punter Richard Kent is ranked 16th nationally in punting with a 45-yard average. Kent's punts have good hang time and help keep opposing returners at bay. Kicker Carey Spear has been a pleasant surprise this season. The junior has made 11-of-13 field goal attempts and it was his two field goals that provided the winning margin in the win at Missouri. Spear also kicks off and has made several hard tackles of opposing returners including one last week against the Tigers. Andre Hal is a fearless kick returner and averages 23 yards per return. Jordan Matthews returns kickoffs and averages 8 yards per return.
The Real Bottom Line
Running the ball will be key for Vandy on Saturday night. The Commodores must get more production from Stacy and company on the ground while at least slowing down the Gator rushing attack. If the Commodores can succeed in those two areas while also converting on red zone opportunities and limiting turnovers, they'll have at least a shot at beating the much-improved Gators.