This is the second installment our breakdown of Vanderbilt Commodore football opponents throughout the 2013 campaign. We begin by taking an early look into the 'Dore's first out of conference game of the year against Austin Peay.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 7; 7:30 p.m. EST
WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
LAST SEASON: 2-9 (1-7 Ohio Valley Conference, 9th (last) place in OVC; No bowl game)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked in FCS top 25
SERIES HISTORY: First ever meeting
OFFENSE: The 2013 offense will have to be much more potent than the 2012 vintage for the Governors to have a shot against the 'Dores. Last time out Austin Peay failed to score more than twice in all but four of their games, few of which were against defenses close to Vandy's standards. When they have the ball the focus of the offense will almost certainly be the ground game as Austin Peay is breaking in a new quarterback this fall, likely junior Jacob Sexton who has just seven career passes under his belt.
The majority of the damage on the ground will likely be done by sophomore Reco Williams. Williams stepped into the fire last season after starter Kitt Wesley was suspended five games in for a violation of team rules, and he performed admirably. The 6-1, 250 pounder is a bruising back who powered his way to an average of almost five yards per carry even though teams were game planning to specifically stop the run. If the game stays close he could be a factor.
Conclusion: After Williams there is nothing scary about this offense on paper. Senior offensive tackle Ben Stansfield was named pre-season All-OVC, but the rest of the line is undersized and vulnerable. The Vandy secondary can afford to be at their ball hawking best against an inexperienced quarterback.
DEFENSE: Plenty of experience returns for the Governors in 2013 on the defense side of the ball, the only problem is that it is experience which was torched for most of last year. The Govs gave up at least 40 points in six contests, though they did improve as the season went on and put up some of their best efforts over the last three games. Austin Peay was also set to return their top five tacklers from last season, but that was halted abruptly when defensive end Earnest Smith ruptured his Achilles in a recent summer conditioning drill.
The loss of Smith for the year is a huge one because he was undoubtedly the highest motor player on the line and the Govs best pass rusher. His team leading nine tackles for a loss and four sacks will have to be replaced and it likely to be a platoon of players who pick up the slack as there is no readymade replacement on the roster.
Conclusion: The added experience has to be worth something, but exactly what is the question. The loss of Smith is devastating and with no freshman expected to come in and contribute immediately any improvement on this unit will have to come from within. There are no players in the secondary who can run with Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, so the wide receivers should be looking forward to this one with big expectations.
Other Factors: Kirby Cannon is the man who has been tasked with revitalizing the Austin Peay program and he has quite the task ahead of him. The Governors play three FBS teams (Vandy, Tennessee, Ohio) in the first four weeks of the season so his charges will certainly be battle tested by the time conference play begins in earnest. A new coaching staff does give Austin Peay a potential x-factor, but in Cannon's only other head coaching gig he was 35-86 at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Conclusion: When this game was signed into being back in 2010 I wonder if the powers that be knew just how far apart in class the two squads would be. If Vanderbilt is to be the team that James Franklin envisions them being in 2013 then this is a game the 'Dores need to have put away by half time. Just don't overlook the opponent (something Franklin has been great at preaching) and there should be plenty of time for the reserves to see the field while Vandy win by close to half a century.
Preseason Preview: Vandy vs. Austin Peay
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