It is time once again to continue our breakdown of Vanderbilt Commodore football opponents throughout the 2013 campaign. With a slew of SEC games about to be upon us, the 'Dores must first get past C-USA foes UAB.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 28; Time TBA
WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
LAST SEASON: 3-9 (2-6 C-USA, 5th place (of 6) in Conference USA East; No bowl game)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked
SERIES HISTORY: Vanderbilt leads 1-0. (Last meeting: Vanderbilt 31, UAB 15, back in 1996)
OFFENSE: Questions abound on offense for the Blazers as second year head coach Garrick McGee works to build a roster he is comfortable with in Birmingham. As a former Arkansas offensive coordinator the pedigree is there, but he inherited a roster which was thin and devoid of talent making his transition to head man all the more difficult. One player that can be relied on, however, is all-conference running back Darrin Reeves. Reeves went for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall, but he would benefit from one of the other backs on the roster stepping up to take carries and keep him fresh for clutch situations.
Quarterback is a different matter altogether however as the Blazers have to balance a desire to win now with an eye towards growing the program. Freshman Austin Brown was thrown into the fire last year and responded with the sort of up and down season you would expect from someone who was really playing a couple of years too early. Senior Jonathan Perry has looked excellent in the spring and there is an argument he may be the better player to win right now. Also somewhere in the mix is JUCO transfer Myles McKee who presumably didn't sign to spend two years riding the pine.
Conclusion: Finding a quarterback will be key, but this offense certainly has the chance to improve on last year's showing. Depth at receiver is a concern and UAB may rely too much on their top three options, one of whom (Maudrecus Humphrey) is a summer time arrival who will have to learn the offense fast. The 'Dores should also have plenty of pass rushing success against the left edge of the UAB line as freshman Victor Salako attempts to replace all-conference left tackle Chris Hubbard.
DEFENSE: The UAB defense last year rode a series of miscommunications and mishaps to being one of the worst defenses in a conference which wasn't exactly filled with replicas of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Iron Curtain. In order to fix those issues the defensive scheme has been simplified immensely in the hope that games giving up 55 to Tulane, 46 to Memphis, and 49 to Tulsa are a thing of the past. It is this change in scheme, plus a year of experience for what was a seriously young defense, which the Blazers hope results in a much more successful and consistent defensive effort in 2013.
The deepest, and best, unit on the roster are the linebackers. In order to avoid matchup problems against bigger offensive lines expect to see plenty of switching between 4-3 and 3-4 along with hybrid schemes of the two. The secondary benefit of going to more 3-4 is allowing UAB to get much more speed on the field as the linebacker corps is young, fast, and athletic, while being deep enough to rotate parts as needed. The only problem with using more 3-4 is that there is no obvious nose tackle on the roster. This could be a huge issue in the run game as even the most athletic 'backers in the world are rendered useless if they are fighting offensive linemen all game long.
Conclusion: This is a game where Vandy is going to want to run the ball early and often to take advantage of the size and talent mismatch up front. Another area to watch is at cornerback where the Blazers may well be starting two sophomores, news which should be music to the ears of anyone involved in the Commodore passing game.
Other Factors: It will be interesting to see just how much the coaching talent of McGee improves the Blazers this fall. If he can continue to implement the offensive scheme which was so successful at Arkansas then UAB should be markedly better than they were a year ago.
Conclusion: This is a team that is on the right track and you have to believe that McGee will realize that his success down the line will come from building the program right now. It is worth noting that true and redshirt freshmen accounted for more than 50 starts last fall, but the Blazers are still too young and too raw to give a team like Vanderbilt a real test. As long as the 'Dores don't fall into the trap of looking ahead to the six SEC games which are next on the schedule then this one should be over by half time.
Preseason Preview: Vandy vs UAB
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