For the second consecutive season, the Tigers will open up the conference schedule with the Vanderbilt Commodores in week two.
Nashville’s world was turned upside down when Bobby Johnson abruptly resigned on July 14 after spending eight seasons at the helm. Offensive line coach Robby Caldwell was promoted to interim head coach and named head coach shortly after.
Caldwell inherits a team which replaces 11 starters (5 offensive, 6 defensive), including second-team All-SEC selection cornerback Myron Lewis, from a squad that went 2-10 last season and failed to win a conference game.
Linebacker Chris Marve returns after a breakout sophomore season that saw him finish second in the SEC with 121 tackles. Marve will have to shoulder the majority of the workload as the Commodores lost five of their top nine tacklers - including defensive tackle Greg Billinger, who led the team with 3.5 sacks. Fifth year senior defensive tackle Adam Smotherman suffered an ACL injury during the spring and is not expected back until October. Smotherman had started 23 straight games prior to this season.
Juniors Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson return to anchor the secondary. Hayward had two interceptions and 58 tackles in 2009, and Richardson registered 84 tackles (third-best on the team) with 4.5 for losses.
On offense Vanderbilt will continue to feed sophomore running back Warren Norman, who broke Herschel Walker’s record for all-purpose yards by a freshman when he ammassed 1,941 yards a year ago. Norman underwent a knee scope three weeks ago, but he is ready to play and will be complemented by fellow sophomore Zac Stacy, senior Kennard Reeves and redshirt freshman Wesley Tate.
Handing the ball away to the runners is returning starter Larry Smith. Smith started Vanderbilt’s first nine games in 2009 before he suffered a season-ending injury against Georgia Tech. He threw for 1,126 yards but completed just 46.7 percent of his passes. Smith also threw seven interceptions to just four touchdowns a year ago. The junior signal caller is a threat to tuck it and run. He rushed for 380 yards in his nine starts and scored two touchdowns.
The Commodores return their top three pass catchers from a year ago, although they only accounted for three receiving touchdowns - one each. Brandon Barden, John Cole and Udom Umoh will join true freshman Jonathon Krause to make up the 2010 edition of the receiving corps.
Kicker Ryan Fowler returns after being named to the All-SEC freshman team. He was 16-of-21 last season with a long of 47 yards. He was perfect on extra points.
In week one, Vanderbilt fell to Big Ten foe Northwestern 23-21 in front of 37,210 in Nashville. Smith completed 19 of his 31 passes for 240 and a touchdown. He was picked off once, but he did show signs of improvement. He spread the ball around nicely as seven Commodores recorded a reception. Barden hauled in a 36-yard touchdown catch, and Krause made his Vanderbilt debut by grabbing four balls for 55 yards.
On the ground, the committee of running backs combined for 144 rushing yards against Northwestern. Norman produced 133 all-purpose yards, and Stacy led the charge, picking up 69 yards on nine carries including a 33-yard touchdown scamper.
Defensively, Marve and redshirt freshman Jay Fullam each had 12 tackles to lead the way. Tim Fuggar, a junior defensive end, tallied 1.5 sacks and four total tackles.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Vanderbilt returns only one starter on the offensive line. LSU must continue to stop the run, as it did vs. North Carolina. Force Larry Smith to throw the football. Smith is athletic, but he’s not exactly Jay Cutler through the air. If LSU can bottle up Norman, Stacy and Co., the Vanderbilt offense will struggle to put up points.
On offense the Tigers must continue to get the ball to their electric playmakers in space. If Russell Shepard, Rueban Randle and Terrance Toliver get enough touches out in the open field, they will find the endzone against overmatched Vanderbilt defenders. This puts the onus on the Tiger offensive line to block Vanderbilt up front. If Jefferson has time and the running backs find a few holes, it could get ugly in the Music City.
It seems that the players are a bit fed up with the negative talk all week. LSU took its foot off of the gas Saturday in Atlanta, and that won’t happen again. Vanderbilt is overmatched in this one, and I think Caldwell is headed for a 3-9 season at best. Look for LSU to get an early lead and “finish,” as Miles said on Wednesday.
Final Score: LSU 31, Vandy 6.