Vanderbilt Defense Continues to Dominate

As the raucous and rowdy Vanderbilt faithful poured out of the turnstiles and into the streets after the Commodores' thrilling upset of then 24th ranked South Carolina I literally stopped and pinched myself. What just happened here?

Did our two-touchdown 4th quarter lead hold up? Did Vanderbilt just physically impose their will on an SEC opponent? Did we elicit multiple visor throws from the Ol' Ball Coach himself? Why yes, yes we did, and boy did it feel great. Immediately following the game a large number of black-clad fans congregated on Jess Neely Drive to cheer on their victorious Commodores in what hopefully becomes another popular game day tradition in Nashville, the Reverse Star Walk. We just aren't used to cheering for the Commodores after SEC games, but those days could soon be over. It was no coincidence that as the players slowly trickled out of the stadium and back across the street to the McGugin Center that the loudest cheers were reserved for the defense. For this year's team, everything starts and ends with the defense. Over the last decade or so Vanderbilt has produced a number of outstanding defensive players, several of which have gone on to experience success in the NFL. It has been a long while however, since the Vanderbilt coaching staff has been able to put together a defensive unit complete with the requisite depth at key positions needed to survive the grind of the SEC regular season. For the first time in a long time, Vanderbilt has proven playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, we all know about D.J. Moore and his innate knack for spectacular plays, but several other Commodores are contending for their share of the spotlight. Of these budding stars, Junior linebacker Patrick Benoist made the most of his opportunity Thursday night on ESPN. After the smoke cleared and the dust settled the second year starter had tallied a career high 15 tackles, in addition to a deflected pass. Of those 15 tackles one was a six-yard quarterback sack and another resulted in a two-yard loss. These numbers did not go unnoticed as Benoist was announced the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Gamecocks. The scariest part about this: Benoist may not even be the best linebacker on the team. Redshirt Freshman Chris Marve and Sophomore John Stokes, both Memphis natives, are more physically imposing, and capable of putting up equally impressive numbers. The linebacker corps is also reaping the benefits of the surprisingly strong play from the defensive line. Anchored by Junior Defensive Tackle Greg Billinger and Redshirt Sophomore Adam Smotherman the Commodores have been able to hold their own in the trenches allowing the linebackers to attack gaps and plug holes, leaving little real estate for opposing running backs to break free. Before we go too far handing out accolades after playing two games, we have to give at least some credit to Defensive Coordinator Bruce Fowler. The 7th year coach seems to have devised a scheme that plays to the strengths of his personnel. Vanderbilt looks fast on defense, but more importantly, they look confident. More so than other positions, defensive players must have a swagger about them. Vanderbilt defensive backs no longer spot the opposition's wide receivers sizeable cushions to protect against the deep ball. As we have seen on many occasions in this young season, Moore and fellow Junior cornerback Myron Lewis are playing closer to the line of scrimmage, forcing receivers off their routes and disrupting the offense's timing. In this young season, the Vanderbilt defense has shown tremendous playmaking ability and even greater potential. Playing smart and fast, in addition to creating turnovers and getting off the field on third down, of which the latter two are the trademarks of a great defense, have the potential to take this Commodore team into the rarified air of consistent wins in the SEC.

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