Each week, InsideNU will bring you an opponent’s perspective on the matchup ahead in the interest of providing a wider perspective on each game. This week, to prepare you for Vanderbilt, we’ve enlisted Jeff Lockridge the Vanderbilt beat writer for The Tennessean. ICYMI, yesterday we answered some questions for his preview coverage. Lockridge has worked with The Tennessean since 2000 and took up the Vanderbilt beat in 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @JeffLockridge. We also got some input from Vanderbilt SB Nation blog AnchorofGold (@Anchorofgold).
JL: I suspect we will see a Vandy team that plays with more offensive comfort and cohessiveness after an opener in which there were several mistakes and things seemed rushed against South Carolina’s aggressive defensive front. Vandy has to be better on third down (it was 3 of 15 last week), which means avoiding long-yardage situations by getting the running game going early and hitting a couple of deep passes to keep the defense honest. I don’t think you can attach any motivation Vandy will have to the missed pass-interference call. Motivation will come from needing to avoid an 0-2 start which, in the big picture, could damage its bowl chances.
AoG: Coach Franklin did a phenomenal job last season making sure the team lives the old cliché of taking it one game at a time. I expect the team to rebound from the disappointment of last week, but I have no idea if the missed call will be some source of motivation against Northwestern. Sadly, this isn’t the first time a blown PI call factored into the team’s comeback chances late in an SEC game; if anything, it’s more “business as usual” than outright indignation.
JL: The older-brother comparisons apply to Jordan’s smarts, media savvy, sense of humor and quick feet. But to be fair, there isn’t much to compare yet in regards to the throwing arms and precision, where Aaron is clearly king. Jordan throws a nice deep ball, but some of his shorter passes lack the touch and accuracy required to get his completion percentage above 60 percent on a consistent basis. That needs to change. Jordan is willing to take some risks so he’ll have a handful of interceptions on his stat line, but I think the difference you will see this season is in his TD passes. With lanky receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd blossoming, 20-plus TDs should be within reach.
AoG: I sure hope so! I think a lot of Vandy fans are cautiously optimistic about Jordan Rodgers improvement. Though the result against South Carolina wasn’t everything we hoped it would be, it was definitely an improvement versus last season. Hopefully we’ll see a bit better completion percentage from Rodgers and a bit better TD:INT ratio. I would certainly love to see Aaron Rodgers 2.0 emerge as the season evolves, but I think Vandy fans are a bit too conditioned to expect anything that optimistic.
JL: I just mentioned 6-foot-4 sophomore Chris Boyd, who didn’t have a catch in the opener but averaged 15.3 yards per catch and had eight TDs last season. Northwestern has to keep an eye on him. Redshirt freshman quarterback-turned-receiver Josh Grady took one snap in the “Wildcat” formation against South Carolina – something we’ll see more of in weeks to come – and reeled in a 30-yard catch. Backup running back Warren Norman, the 2009 SEC freshman of the year, didn’t play last week (which remains a mystery to us). James Franklin said that could change if Norman practices well this week. Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow should both get some carries. Tate is more of a power back, and Kimbrow is a speedy freshman who was the top-rated recruit in Vandy’s 2012 signing class. In regards to the line, left tackle Wesley Johnson has started at all three line positions and is very dependable.
AoG: Vanderbilt is pretty deep at RB. Warren Norman was the SEC Freshman of the Year a few ago but has missed a lot of time due to injury. He’s supposedly healthy finally, and many Vandy fans expect him to begin to see action. True Freshman Brian Kimbrow from Memphis is a speed demon (reportedly timed at 4.28 in the 40). If he’s as fast as everyone says, it’s only a matter of time before the coaches find a way to force him onto the field. At WR, Chris Boyd is physically similar to Jordan Matthews and has at times outplayed him. Josh Grady is a converted QB that will line up at receiver or occasionally at QB in the Wildcat. Given his background, he could be a surprise for defensive coordinators.
JL: The leadership gig belonged to Marve, a four-year starter, the last couple of seasons. Now it’s more of a committee approach, although I see outside linebacker Archibald Barnes displaying some of the on-field direction and fire for which Marve was known. Replacing talent in the secondary is a bit easier for Shoop since that’s where Vandy has solid depth. Andre Hal has the potential to be very good alongside fellow cornerback Trey Wilson. Safties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall are experienced playmakers as well. Depth at linebacker is not as good or experienced. The defensive front seven struggled at times to bottle up Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore (110 rushing yards, 4.8 per carry) and quarterback Connor Shaw (92 rushing yards, 6.6 per carry), particularly during the fourth quarter when South Carolina began to impose its will.
AoG: I think the jury is out a bit on this one. I’m hoping to be able to answer this one a little bit later on in the season. Those are some big shoes to fill. I think the biggest question mark is how the team fills Chris Marve’s void. Marve was the undisputed leader. At the middle LB position, he was essentially the defensive QB, reading the offense and adjusting his teammates on the fly. I’m not sure if Chase Garnham, as his replacement, has to shoulder the entire load. As a senior, Archibald Barnes (is there a more Vanderbilt name on our roster??) seems to be filling in some of Marve’s leadership.
JL: The Commodores’ biggest strength is experience on both sides of the ball, and a running back (Stacy) and receiver (Matthews) who can hold their own with just about anyone in the SEC. The biggest weakness, until proven otherwise, is their difficulty winning close games with that one big play, possession or stop in the waning moments.
AoG: Biggest strength– running back. Honestly, the team is having trouble spreading minutes. Against South Carolina, Warren Norman didn’t see the field and Jerron Seymour wasn’t dressed. Zac Stacy saw the bulk of the carries, with Wesley Tate (younger brother to former Notre Dame WR Golden Tate) the backup. Brian Kimbrow, the speedster, saw only two carries. Biggest weakness– linebacker. There is a dearth of bodies in the mix right now. Tristan Strong left the team in the middle of summer camp, an apparent casualty of failing to completely recover from multiple knee injuries over the past few seasons. A slew of injuries at the position could be devastating for the Commodores.
JL: Vanderbilt 27, Northwestern 24
AoG: Vanderbilt 35, Northwestern 31