Vandy Report Card: Halfway mark

It's hard to believe that half the season is already over. Yes, six games have gone by and our Commodores are an impressive 5-1. VandyMania grades Vandy's performance in several categories at the halfway mark.

We all know about the recent uproar over the offensive performance and lack of a passing threat against Mississippi State. However, Vanderbilt's passing offense was tolerable through the first four games. Chris Nickson in those games got it done for the most part without being interception prone. As Vanderbilt heads into a tougher stretch in the second half of the season the need for a passing threat will be more substantial and the emergence of Mackenzi Adams as a starter appears to be the best option. Tight ends Branden Barden and Austin Monahan have combined for 14 catches and have been a big part of the season's success. Receivers Sean Walker and Justin Wheeler have 26 catches between them for two touchdowns. Vanderbilt's offensive line has performed well despite having no returning starters from 2007. The Commodores are 52nd nationally in sacks allowed but gave up too many against Mississippi State.
Both Jared Hawkins and Chris Nickson carried the team with their great rushing ability. Nickson had rushed for 317 yards for the season after the 17-14 loss to MSU. However, almost half those yards came in the opener in which he ran for 166 yards. Hawkins played well in the first four games but has only 19 yards in 12 carries over the past two games. He could be playing injured. Look for senior Jeff Jennings to get increased carries as he was one of the few bright spots on offense against MSU.
11 interceptions is very impressive. Safety Ryan Hamilton picked off 3 against Ole Miss and scored a touchdown on a return. Vanderbilt, led by Myron Lewis, Steven Stone and others are 7th nationally in sacks. Three of Vanderbilt's four starting secondary members have at least two interceptions. Improvement is warranted in the number of passing yards surrendered but the interceptions sure are nice.
The Commodores give up just 121 yards a game, good for No. 51 nationally. The credit goes all through the Vanderbilt defensive line back to the secondary for this accomplishment. Other than the first quarter against Auburn last week and Saturday against MSU this aspect of the Vandy defense has done well. Linebackers Patrick Benoist and Chris Marve deserve to be mentioned here. Benoist has been a National Player of the Week twice and Marve's heady forced fumble at Ole Miss saved the day for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt's special teams are by far the most improved aspect of the team. Byrant Hahnfeldt has shown much improved accuracy and Brett Upson's punting has been incredible. Meanwhile D.J. Moore is one of the nation's leading return men. We've seen blocked punts and field goals. Other than a long kickoff return allowed at Ole Miss there have been very few special teams blunders. Hats off to the coaching staff for fixing the VU special teams.
An oustanding coaching performance in the first five games. The coaching staff has shown the ability to make adjustments that have vaulted the Commodores to impressive second half peformances in all but the most recent game. Sure they are taking some heat right now but if Vandy would have somehow came out on top of MSU with 107 yards total offense fans would be singing their praises. These coaches deserve a heap of credit for what has happened in the overall war and not just one battle. They'll have the team ready for Georgia.
What a great start to the 2008 season. Wins x five. Who would have ever thought it would be six weeks into the season before the Vandy Nation would taste defeat? Now the team just needs to work on keeping the special teams and defense strong while striving to make the offense more productive because the opposition is going to be getting tougher very soon starting with Saturday in Athens, Ga.

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