Nik's Commodore Keys – Western Carolina

Just one season removed from their first bowl victory since 1955, the Vanderbilt Commodores will start on a new quest, one that has never been done before: continued success. Coach Bobby Johnson is determined to have his team consistently playing for championships at the end of each season. But, before the Dores can compete for an SEC title, they first have to be playing in bowls consistently.

The 2009 quest starts when the Commodores host the Catamounts of Western Carolina.

Spectacular Smith

Perhaps one of the biggest question marks for the Dores this year lies at quarterback as sophomore Larry Smith takes the helm of the offense.  So far, he has seen nothing but resounding applause and rave reviews.  But, he has only played in two games, and only had one start.  That one start, however, came against one of the better defenses in the country in Boston College.  Smith has earned the trust of the players and coaches.  It was clear by the first play against Boston College that the coaches trust Smith because Smith's first throw, in the biggest game in half a century, was a long pass down the right side to Sean Walker.  In order for Vanderbilt to have a successful season, there can be little quarterback controversy.  Smith needs to set the tone for the rest of the season with a great start.  Smith will also need to guide the Commodores in their new no-huddle offense, which should provide a challenge for the young and talented quarterback.

Depth Charge

The Commodores must also be sure that they take advantage of the fact that they have more scholarships than Western Carolina.  Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson, who led Furman to a national championship game appearance, understands this game from both points of view.  It is important that the run game be effective, so that Vanderbilt can control the game and wear down a Western Carolina team that just does not have the numbers to compete with the Commodores, should they be required to play more than just their starters.  The offensive line returns all five starters, and senior Jared Hawkins appears ready to anchor a crew of talented running backs.  Expect freshmen Warren Norman and Zac Stacy to get some valuable reps to as the Commodores will try to wear down the Catamounts early.

Pass Defense

With former Commodore stars D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford in the NFL, Vandy will need to be ready to defend a talented Western Carolina passing attack.  Sophomore quarterback Zack Jaynes emerged as the starter halfway through last season, and continued to have a very solid season, finishing with 1,162 yards passing, and ten touchdowns against only four interceptions.  The pass rush will also need to be effective.  With Steven Stone out, others like Theron Kadri will have to step in and make sure that Jaynes does not have too much time to throw, or he could be quite dangerous.

History and Statistics

Series History: First Game

Western Carolina Coach: Dennis Wagner (47-46-1 overall, 3-9 at Western Carolina) has never faced the Commodores as a head coach.

Vanderbilt head Coach: Bobby Johnson (87-92-0, 27-56 at Vanderbilt) has a 6-2 record against the Catamounts.

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