2001 VU Football Preview: Quarterbacks

This is the first installment of a multi-part series analyzing every facet of the 2001 Vanderbilt Commodores. The series analyzes the personnel, coaching, and intangibles from each functional unit of the team, and will culminate in an overall analysis and prediction.

This is the first installment of a multi-part series analyzing every facet of the 2001 Vanderbilt Commodores. The series analyzes the personnel, coaching, and intangibles from each functional unit of the team, and will culminate in an overall analysis and prediction.

PASSING OFFENSE

It has been the hot topic of the summer among Vanderbilt fans. Which QB should lead the VU offense? Is the passing offense capable of climbing to the next level? Are the personnel pieces falling into place? Is Greg Zolman the best QB for this offense? The discussion has been passionate. Here is my take on the VU passing offense with a brief look back to 2000, analysis of each position, and some predictions for 2001.

(Note: RB's and the OL will be touched on here, but will be covered more in depth in a future installment. Also, "Breakdown" and "Analysis" segments will only consider scholarship players, unless a walk-on is expected to see playing time.)

Look Back to 2000

  • 4th ranked Passing Offense in the SEC (225 ypg)
  • 10th ranked in SEC Passing Efficiency (111.2)
  • 4th in the SEC in sacks (15)
  • 9th in the SEC in Passing TD's (13)
  • 7th in the SEC in Interceptions (15)
The passing offense made huge strides in 2000, in large part due to the consistent production of Dan Stricker and an improved season by Greg Zolman. The passing game was aided by a tremendous season for the offensive line, which only allowed 15 sacks. Zolman generally had plenty of time to make his reads and throws. Though he was still subject to hot and cold spells, Zolman became more consistent and improved his numbers over the 1999 season in every category. The main blemish on the passing game and Zolman was once again a negative margin in touchdowns versus interceptions (-2). Evening out this margin with 2 additional touchdowns would have placed VU in the top half of the SEC in touchdowns, and would easily have solidified it as one of the top passing offenses in the conference. The inability of the passing game to generate big plays resulting in touchdowns or to convert inside the red zone negated the positives gleaned from its ability to generate yardage.

Quarterbacks

No.NameHeightWeightClassHometown
3Benji Walker6-4212R-So.Brentwood, TN
9Howdy MacPherson*6-1190So.Arvada, CO
10Tim Olmstead6-2195R-Sr.Binghamton, NY
12Greg Zolman6-4208R-Sr.Dayton, OH
15David Koral6-3215Fr.Malibu, CA
17Jay Cutler6-4200Fr.Santa Claus, IN
* walk-on
The Breakdown
  • 5 scholarship players
  • 2 upperclassmen
  • 3 underclassmen
  • 3 have seen game action at this position
Analysis Vanderbilt has not enjoyed this type of depth and quality in many years. Most agree that without even having seen the freshmen at this point, there are three SEC-caliber passers on the roster in Zolman, Olmstead, and Walker. Of these three Zolman has seen the vast majority of the snaps, and thus deserves the vast majority of the praise and criticism.

Zolman's clear strengths lie in his knowledge of the offense, the intermediate and short passing game, mobility, and experience. His weaknesses are the deep throws, release time, throwing to the third and fourth receivers in his progressions, and sometimes streaky accuracy. Zolman can be good enough to be the 2nd leading passer in the SEC, as he was in 2000, and he can be faulty enough to throw 5 interceptions in a game, as he did against Florida. Zolman is clearly the starter heading into the fall, and deservedly so. Yardage-wise, 2000 was one of the most productive years for a Vanderbilt QB in it's history. It would take a major surge by someone lower on the depth chart to pass him.

This is not to say the talent below him is not good.

Benji Walker is one of the top athletes on the team. He has a strong arm, which is supplemented by even stronger legs. Walker can be a quite elusive and fast runner, as well as an effective roll-out passer. He still shows too many signs of indecision in the pocket. However, all he lacks is the experience in the offense, not talent. Walker has the tools to be an excellent SEC quarterback. Benji's potential alone would make him the most likely candidate to be second on the depth chart, but his performance in the spring was impressive enough to do so on its own.

Tim Olmstead has been a mystery to many Vanderbilt fans. It is clear that he possesses an NFL caliber arm and release. His high school resume reads like that of someone who would be recruited by Steve Spurrier, and he was. Unfortunately, the Florida-transfer has encountered injuries at inopportune times, which has hampered his development at VU and limited his snaps at critical junctures of spring and fall practices. This may partially explain his lack of polish during practice when it comes to the finer points of the offense. Olmstead will likely have to wait and see if he will see any game action in 2001, as it appears that he has slipped behind Benji Walker on the depth chart.

Cutler and Koral both come in with impressive high school statistics. Koral played in a wide-open passing offense, which allowed for eye-popping statistics. Koral was one of the most coveted high school QB's of the last recruiting season. Cutler's statistics match up similarly when the styles of offense and number of attempts are taken into consideration. Both are likely candidates for a redshirt.

Outlook With the depth and experience we have returning, the production at QB should improve yet again. With adequate protection from the offensive line, this should shape up to be the best season for VU QB's since the 1980's high-powered offensive attacks. I see Zolman nailing down the spot for good in August, and being well on his way to his best season. If Zolman stays healthy, I think we will see an improved touchdown to interception margin and an improved offense overall.


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