Christian was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions I had about Vanderbilt's side for this week's game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Christian runs Anchor of Gold which is always a good site to visit for its insight and recipes. If you do the Twitter, you can follow them for all things Vandy news @AnchorofGold. Without further ado...
It seems like forever ago now, but heading into the season, what were the expectations for this Vanderbilt team with new coaches, new systems, but also with James Franklin-recruited players having matriculated into the starting line-ups?
Expectations were tempered, but high. Many fans thought that this team could still get to six wins despite breaking in a new QB, new WRs, and an entirely new defensive secondary (in the middle of a scheme shift from 4-3 to 3-4). Things haven't gone as planned, and much of the blame has fallen on the new coaching staff rather than the growing pains of playing 30 freshmen in the first three weeks. In my opinion, both have been a contributing factor to Vandy's slow start.
In the last two weeks it seems like Vanderbilt has improved to this impartial observer. Would you agree with that sentiment as someone who follows the team much more closely?
Absolutely. The team that we saw take South Carolina into the fourth quarter was immensely different than the team that laid down a steady coating of garbage across Nashville's finer football fields in weeks one and two. The offense has actually begun to look like a planned-out process rather than a series of "Ask Corso" plays from NCAA '11. The defense is beginning to put together a very solid pass rush as well - though the secondary has been brutal to watch at times, even as this team has gotten better.
As the defensive coordinator at Stanford between the 2011-2013 seasons, Derek Mason oversaw impressive defenses. So far this season, though, Vanderbilt's defense is giving up around 40 points per game. What are the biggest challenges this defense has to overcome to be more competitive?
They need to grow up. Vandy's defense is filled with young players who don't have the game experience to be able to act on instinct in situations where a fraction of a second is the difference between a touchdown and a third-down stop. The talent is there, and I believe in Mason's 3-4 defense, but this team is in the middle of their awkward teenage phase when it comes to defending against the pass.
Who are some defensive play-makers for UK fans to keep their eyes on Saturday?
Caleb Azubike (DT), Adam Butler (DT), Vince Taylor (NT), and Stephen Weatherly (OLB). Those four guys will do some damage in the trenches, and I'm comfortable betting that at least one of them will sack Patrick Towles on Saturday. Inside linebacker Nigel Bowden will hear his name called plenty of times as well.
Vanderbilt's offense went from scoring in the single digits to now scoring 34 points each of the last two games. What factors have led to this turnaround and do you think it'll remain consistent going forward?
Vanderbilt seems to have found two players who can provide stability at the quarterback position. Patton Robinette (shaking off a possible concussion but likely to start) and Wade Freebeck (true freshman) both played well against South Carolina and proved that this team can move the ball against an SEC defense. The biggest factor in Vandy's success may be the team's confidence in its running game. Ralph Webb and Jerron Seymour are a dynamite platoon at tailback, and now that those two are getting 25-30 touches per game there have been a lot more openings for this team's passing offense to thrive alongside them.
Who are the biggest play-makers for Vandy's offense that will challenge UK's defense, and which QB do you think gets the starting nod?
Ralph Webb has been a revelation at tailback. The redshirt freshman has been impressive as a polished player despite his youth. Tight end Steven Scheu is finally showing off his chops as a potential NFL TE and has been invaluable to a team loaded with young QBs. Near the sidelines, C.J. Duncan has emerged as a valuable receiving threat who has a strong rapport with Patton Robinette. Those are three guys UK will have to look out for.
Darrius Sims returned two kick-offs for touchdowns against South Carolina which is incredible. Has he been a great returner all season or was that more of an aberration? Also, can you talk generally about how Vandy's special teams have fared so far?
Sims had been quiet as a KR this season, but Vandy fans got to see what he could do on special teams as a true freshman and few of us were surprised with his coming-out party last week. He's an explosive athlete with strong top-level speed. Do yourselves a favor and don't kick it anywhere near him.
Otherwise, special teams play has been solid - though underwhelming in the kicking game. Hayden Lekacz and Tommy Openshaw are still battling for field goal duties, though Openshaw had a decent game against USC last week. Colby Cooke, our punter, has been very solid through four weeks.
Also, there's a non-negligible chance that D-lineman Adam Butler blocks a kick on Saturday, but anyone who watched last year's game already knew that.
Predict the score and which factors are the biggest contributors to the outcome.
Kentucky 27, Vanderbilt 24. I have a newfound confidence in the offense, and I think that Towles will make a key mistake that gives this secondary their first interception of 2014. Still, the Wildcats are considerably better than the last time that Vandy saw them, and a young Commodore team will have trouble in a pressure-filled situation on the road.
Thanks to Christian for taking the time to answer our questions. Visit Anchor of Gold today as I answered a few Kentucky questions that will be posted over there.