Big game ahead for Vanderbilt

One down, eleven (or more?) to go. While it wasn't entirely pretty, we'll take it. Yes, there were some first game jitters against Richmond, but all that is over now. Now it's time to get down to business. The Alabama Crimson Tide roll into town this weekend, in what will be a pivotal SEC-opening game for both teams.

This is a game that most Vanderbilt fans marked as "winnable" when they looked at the schedule. And this could be one of those make or break games, in terms of having a winning record and heading to a bowl game.

But quickly, let's look at the Richmond game. What did we learn? For starters, we have an explosive offense. Now although Richmond's defense isn't exactly what we will be seeing against the Crimson Tide, it's still pretty obvious we're going to be able to put points on the board. Earl Bennett looks ready for another big season, and Chris Nickson looks much more comfortable throwing the football. The Nickson to Bennett connection should definitely provide lots of excitement on West End this season. Jeff Jennings' knee looks to be completely healed, as he didn't seem to miss a step out there. Quite frankly folks, we have three very solid running backs, and all of them have the ability to break off a big run at any time.

Defensively, while a little shaky at times against the Spiders, the Dores are still in good shape. There is speed in the secondary, and the linebacking crew is very solid. The improvement of D.J. Moore is also a very welcoming plus to the defense, as Moore made some outstanding plays in game one. It's obvious Moore got great experience playing as a true freshman last season, and could have a breakout year. Although there will likely be some adjustments made during practice this week on both sides of the ball, defense will likely be the main area of focus, as Alabama's offensive attack is no slouch.

It's also safe to say adjustments will be made on special teams. Allowing a kick to be returned for a touchdown, and another near touchdown return, is something that will likely be a focal point during the practices this week. Even one game into the season, it's pretty clear that moving the kickoff back five yards will have an impact on teams all across the country. Special teams has always been important, but is even more important now with the new rule in place. Unless you can kick the ball into the end zone on every kickoff, you've got to be able to stop the return.

The transition from the first game to the second game is a very important one. Perhaps the most important week of preparation of the season. While the first game of the season gives you an idea of where your team stands, it's really hard to completely gage where the Commodores stand as far as the conference goes. Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia were really the only teams that played what you would consider a "tough" game. The rest of the conference, aside from Mississippi State (who lost 45-0 to LSU) and Ole Miss (who squeaked out a 23-21 win in Memphis), pretty much won going away, as they should have. Some Vandy fans may have been a little anxious at the way the Richmond game started, but in the end, the Commodores took control and won the game. That's all that matters.

This is going to be a big week for the Commodores, as this is a game where you can make a statement. By beating Alabama, and starting off 1-0 in the conference, it proves that all the hype was credible. And let's face it, the Tide will bring a large crowd into Nashville, as they follow their leader, Nick Saban. Vandy fans (as well as some Miami Dolphins fans) would like nothing better than to see Saban's SEC debut with Alabama end in a loss in Nashville. I'd say the entire conference is on the side of Vanderbilt heading into this game.

Learning from the mistakes of game one is crucial for Vandy, and the rest of the teams across the country for that matter. Now it's time to move on to bigger, tougher competition. John Parker Wilson gained valuable experience last season in the SEC, and could be one of the better quarterbacks in the conference this season. At running back, Terry Grant, who had three scores against the Catamounts of Western Carolina, should provide a good test for the Commodore defensive front. On defense, the Tide have playmakers, which will be something to watch for this Saturday in Nashville. Having a coach that's won a national championship doesn't hurt either.

We can all say we were really looking forward to that first game against Richmond, but honestly, we know this is the game we have been waiting all preseason to get to. This is the game where Vanderbilt can prove they belong. There's no reason the Commodores can't win this game. You could tell from Saturday's game that this team is loaded with talent, on both sides of the ball. Sure, the adjustments will have to be made in order to beat Alabama, but that's the case week in and week out. It's all about making adjustments, and improving week to week. If Vandy learns from their mistakes against Richmond, it will be a very interesting game in Nashville this weekend.

Personally, I see the Commodores coming out early in this game, and sending a message to Alabama. If you want to get a team's attention, that's the way to do it. Stick it to them early on, and let them know you're not going anywhere.

And as learned from the Michigan-Appalachian State game, you've got to show up every game and play 60 minutes of football, not 59, 58, or 50.

If Vandy plays 60 minutes of solid football on Saturday, Alabama will know that the Commodores belong.


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