After yesterday's Q&A with Anchor of Gold (check out my responses to their questions here), this post continues the countdown to Thursday's evenings game against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Each week, I'll write posts on the issues to note regarding each week's opponent's offense and defense. Let's start with Vandy's offense.
--By far the biggest thing I'm curious to see on Vandy's offense is how good the Dores' offensive line is. As you'll recall, we completely dominated Vandy on the line of scrimmage last year. Indeed, I'm not sure I can recall a game that South Carolina's defensive front has more thoroughly dominated. Vandy's passing game, quite literally, couldn't get anything but screens off the entire game. It was really a sight to behold.
Things changed after that game, though. Vandy had a pretty good offense by year's end, and while that was partly because of the upgrade Jordan Rodgers provided at the QB position over Larry Smith, it probably had even more to do with the emergence of an offensive line that managed to somewhat hold its own against some the SEC East's best defensive lines during the latter part of the year. Highly regarded OL coach Herb Hand did a good job with his group, and Vandy fans are hoping he can continue working his magic.
Hand has his work cut out for him again, though. Ryan Seymour and Wesley Johnson are back from last year's team and boast tons of starts under their belts. Andrew Bridges and Josh Jelesky will also be key returning cogs. However, other key contributors have either graduated or been dismissed from the team, and while depth is improving, the backups are very inexperienced. Vandy is in a better situation on its line than it was last year, but it might take this group a few games to find its stride. That's good news for Carolina. Our defensive line was always going to be an advantage in this game, and it's probably even more of an advantage with this being the first game of the year.
--Speaking of Rodgers, he's another guy to keep an eye on. Rodgers has been getting a lot of love in the media lately, and while I do think he's the best QB Vandy has had in the past few years, that's only saying so much. The truth is, Rodgers was somewhat inconsistent last season. He had some big games here and there, but he also threw more picks than TDs and played like crap in the bowl game against Cincinnati. I'm curious to see how good this guy can play against Carolina, but I'm also a bit skeptical of some of the happy talk about him. He's not his brother, as much as the ESPN guys trying to pump up this game would have you believe. We'll see how he does the first time he sees Clowney barreling at him. That's when we'll know what he's really got.
--One guy who I do believe is the real deal is Zac Stacy. He's a full-package RB who is on par with the better backs of the SEC. It's be a good test for the middle of our defense to see how they respond to Stacy and Vandy's line play. The 'Dores also get back Warren Norman, who looked to be on his way to big things a couple of years ago, before an injury sidelined him for 2011. If he's back to full speed, Norman should help solidify what's really a pretty solid Vandy backfield.
--What kinds of gadget plays will we see? James Franklin has more or less promised that the 'Dores are going to go all out in this one, and he's a coach who has shown a taste for negating the talent differential by using tricks plays. Vandy has some former quarterbacks on its depth chart at WR, so you might see them used as the trigger guy on a WR pass at some point.