A Disappointing First Half after 2012 Success
Expectations were very high for Vanderbilt in year three under James Franklin. The Commodores were coming off their best season since 1915 and the thought was that roll could continue on in 2013. As ESPN’s Lee Corso so famously says however, “Not so fast, my friend.”
At the midway point, Vandy has limped to 3-3, 0-3 in the SEC. It all started on a Thursday night with the 39-35 loss to Ole Miss in what may be the season’s most exciting game. Still, it was one thought to be in the win column in preseason. Vanderbilt then beat Austin Peay 38-3, with 35 of those points coming in the second quarter. Vandy fell behind 28-0 almost immediately at South Carolina, but showed much grit and promise, only a late interception keeping things from getting really interesting in the 35-25 defeat. A lackluster 24-7 road win at pitiful Massachusetts was cause for concern, but the 52-24 win over UAB the next week was more like it. Then came the Missouri game, a terrible defensive performance as the Tigers scored every time it wished in a 51-28 drubbing.
So Vanderbilt sits 3-3, but it is not a positive 3-3. Looking at the players returning, and the schedule, 5-1 was expected and certainly no worse than 4-2. But the Commodores ended the first half getting pummeled in a manner thought long gone from Vanderbilt Football. It is not, and will not be anytime soon if that defense does not improve.
Coming up is the stretch thought to be the toughest even in August. The CBS cameras visit Vanderbilt Stadium for the first time in memory as Georgia comes calling on Saturday. After that are trips to Texas A&M and Florida, pretty self-explanatory there. If Vandy can allow 51 to Missouri, what will Johnny Manziel be able to roll up on the once-proud Vanderbilt defense? They will have a week to recover between those games. Vanderbilt ends with home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest, sandwiched around the UT game on November 23rd in Knoxville.
Austyn Carta-Samuels has been fine at quarterback for VU, above expectations completing 66.1% and throwing ten touchdowns. He has forced it at times, most notably in the Ole Miss and South Carolina games, and has six INTs. Jordan Matthews has been magnificent, one of the very best receivers in college football, 47 catches for 709 yards and five TDs. Jonathan Krause has stepped up lately as the #2 WR, but still does not warrant game-planning like Matthews. No definitive #1 has emerged at RB, Jerron Seymour has been the home run threat, Wesley Tate the steadier, and Brian Kimbrow has been a disappointment.
Defense has been what has killed this team so far. It has been far worse than the statistics indicate. On the surface the 390 yards allowed per game is not too awful, but the level of competition must be taken into account. In the games that truly mattered, Ole Miss gained 489 yards, South Carolina 579, and Missouri 523. Vanderbilt could not stop the Rebels in the second half, the Gamecocks in the first half, or the Tigers all night. This falloff was completely unexpected and the most defining reason for Vanderbilt’s struggles in 2013.
Dreams of a repeat of nine wins are long gone for this season and hopes to just get the six somehow rule the day. It is possible still, but what is clear is the game in Knoxville will likely determine everything, both for Tennessee and for Vanderbilt.