TSD Subscribers: Please tell us about the quarterback position at Vandy this year. Is it improved from last year?
Vanderbilt Publisher: Experience-wise it hasn’t improved. Chris Nickson was the starter heading into the 2008 season. He had a lot of starts under his belt but faltered midway through the 2008 season. He had a shoulder injury, but came back to lead Vandy to a win at Kentucky that got them into the bowl. Mackenzi Adams played several games in place of Nickson and came off the bench to lead Vandy to a win over Auburn.
By the Wake Forest game both Mackenzi and Nickson were so beaten up that they had to go with redshirt freshman Larry Smith for the second half of the regular season final at Wake Forest. He performed well and showed great accuracy and arm strength. It was a battle in spring practice between Mackenzi and Larry for the starting position. However, reliable sources revealed that the coaches had already decided on Smith to be the ’09 starter.
TSD Subscribers: What type of offense do the Commodores run? What are their most common formations?
Vanderbilt Publisher: They run some spread and wildcat formations, which they call the “stallion” formation.
TSD Subscribers: How is Vandy's defensive backs? Can they matchup on the perimeter with LSU's wide receivers?
Vanderbilt Publisher: Vanderbilt supposedly has a very good secondary. Myron Lewis is projected to be among the top 10 cornerbacks to go in the NFL draft. Free safety Ryan Hamilton is steady and one of the hardest hitters on the team. He intercepted Ole Miss’ Snead three times in the game in Oxford last year.
Corner Casey Hayward and strong safety Sean Richardson are sophomores who are new starters this year. Both did play well in the Music City Bowl last year against Boston College. They have great speed and coverage skills. I think it’s possible they’ll match up well with LSU’s receivers but we won’t know for sure until Saturday night.
TSD Subscribers: I know it’s early, but what does Vandy’s biggest strength on offense appear to be?
Vanderbilt Publisher: Tight end is pretty solid in Austin Monahan and Brandon Barden. Barden is the leading returning receiver and both had more receptions – three each – than the VU wide receivers did against WCU.
After that, I think it’s the tailbacks. Freshmen Warren Norman and Zac Stacy looked great on Saturday night. Coach Johnson had raved on them in practice. Historically when he talks about how good a player looks that player turns out to be a pretty outstanding player for Vandy as accolades from him do not come easy. For instance, even with Barden who looks outstanding to fans because he catches so many passes for a tight end. However, Coach Johnson will point out that he’s not a complete tight end because he hasn’t mastered the art of blocking yet.
TSD Subscribers: Considering that Vanderbilt ran the ball 70 times against Western Carolina, would you say Vandy is a run-oriented offense or was it just a matter of WCU not being able to stop you?
Vanderbilt Publisher: Bobby Johnson is an old school coach. If he can run the ball early on, he’s going to keep going back to the well until it’s dry. Then he’ll throw it. Yes, WCU was pitiful against the run.
TSD Subscribers: How good of a passer is Larry Smith?
Vanderbilt Publisher: Smith is a very sharp passer; he’s accurate and has good arm strength. He also won’t usually throw passes that will hurt his team. As a senior at Prattville high school in Alabama he led his team to the state championship. I think he had something like 22 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions. On a side note, my only concern about him is the way he holds the ball. He will use one hand to hold the ball when opposing players are right there on him.
TSD Subscribers: After LSU’s game against Washington, what is the talk around town about the most prevailing perceived weakness in the LSU defense?
Vanderbilt Publisher: Vandy fans aren’t too confident about running the ball on LSU. They know that Washington was somewhat successful throwing on LSU and feel that Vanderbilt is going to have to throw the ball more to have a chance at shocking the Tigers.
TSD Subscribers: Are there any true freshmen or redshirt freshmen expected to see much playing time and that could make a difference on Saturday?
Vanderbilt Publisher: There are two backup corners that are true freshmen – Trey Wilson and Eddie Foster. They should see some action on Saturday. There are five other freshmen that played against WCU. It’s very possible that some of them could see a little action on special teams on Saturday.
John Cole is a redshirt freshman wide receiver. He was set to start last year in the opening game but was injured and had to be redshirted. Coach Johnson has spoken highly of him and he started against WCU but didn’t register a catch. He set the Kentucky prep record for career touchdowns passes caught with 69.
TSD Subscribers: Is there a sense of confidence with the Vanderbilt fan base on having a chance to upset LSU on Saturday?
Vanderbilt Publisher: They think Vanderbilt has a shot to win the game. No one is guaranteeing a win but they think it’s very possible. In recent history Vandy has made a habit of going on the road early in the season and knocking off an SEC opponent. Last year it was Ole Miss. In 2007 it was South Carolina, in 2006 Georgia, in 2005 Arkansas.
TSD Subscribers: What’s been the mood around campus with the coaches and players pertaining to Vandy’s chances of beating LSU?
Vanderbilt Publisher: The coaches and players know that if they work hard and improve on their shortcomings and then play a solid, smart game in Baton Rouge, they’ll have a chance to win.