Saturday Predictions: Vanderbilt at Arkansas

Here we sit, on the brink of do-or-die for any chance of a bowl bid. Vanderbilt is currently 2-5 and doesn't have much of a reason to be optimistic about their chances this week after a pair of pathetic offensive showings against Georgia and South Carolina. The passing game's diverse playbook has looked like it was lifted straight out of Tecmo Bowl and the team's stout defense is gassing faster than Mark Coleman (mma reference! Enjoy it, all three readers who get it!) in the face of a baffling no-huddle approach that limits offensive three-and-out series to approximately 15 seconds of real time. Needless to say, things haven't been great.

But, there is a shred of hope. Currently, the Razorbacks are the last of the ranked teams the Commodores will face this season, and a win would not only bring them to 3-5, but give fans tantalizing hope that the Liberty Bowl is still a possibility. Look at the teams left on the schedule - Florida, at Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest. That's a pair of .500(-ish) teams and a couple of two-win donkeys to end the year. Three of these games are even at home, which would be a major boost if the team we were rooting for wasn't Vanderbilt, who only seems to win big games on the road. Still, what once looked like a lion of a schedule has been downgraded to a lamb thanks to subpar seasons from the Gators, Volunteers, and Demon Deacons. Suddenly, three more wins doesn't seem so improbable.

That's why Saturday is so important. While a 3-1 run to close out the season isn't likely, a 4-0 run seems nearly impossible. The 'Dores will have to jump start their season tomorrow to have a chance to drag respectability and gamesmanship to the finish line with them. And they've already got a head start.

Promoting Des Kitchings to offensive coordinator should at least give this team a temporary boost and some fresh blood in the offensive set. Jimmy Kiser's playcalling this season alternated between irrational, boring, predictable, and child-like - occasionally all in the same series. If Kitchings can provide a little stability to the team's playbook while getting more use out of weapons like Brandon Barden, Warren Norman, Zac Stacy, and Jonathan Krause, then the offense should be able to give what has been an under-appreciated defense a chance to win this game. 

Maybe the administrative change will be too little, too late to have a profound effect on this season, but if the Commodores can pull off the upset in Fayetteville, then a .500 season will suddenly come into focus for this team. It's a lot to ask of a team that's looked outgunned for much of the year, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. And if you're a Vanderbilt football fan, sometimes the realm of possibility is the best thing you've got. 

Predictions after the jump.

Train Island - Last week's performance was an offensive abomination; for starters, half the total carries in the game went to Larry Smith. Smith has got some scrambling chops, don't get me wrong, but that's a recipe for disaster. The game also introduced us to college football's worst deep-ball connection - Smith to John Cole. Cole's straight line speed is great, but his inability to separate himself from defenders down the field - along with Larry's horrible deep accuracy - makes these plays look like misguided pooch punts. Frankly, the play calling last week looked more like a drunken game of NCAA '09 on the XBox than a SEC coordinator. But, I digress.

Des Kitchings is in charge now, and if he can balance the offense and sustain a few drives, things will immediately become easier for the Commodores. South Carolina nearly doubled Vandy's time of possession in their game, but a good portion of that was due to the aforementioned insanity of the no-huddle offense. Kitchings will have to be careful with his playcalling and needs to incorporate the team's offensive weapons (they do exist) to get the 'Dores 30+ minutes of ball time. That should at least be enough to keep the defense from completely falling apart in the fourth quarter again.

Arkansas is loaded with talent, but I don't see them being that different from South Carolina. Their passing game is better, and that will pose a bit more of a problem with Jamie Graham out, but it still plays to the Commodores' strengths. The two offenses score a similar amount of points and have developed equally decent running games in becoming Top 25 mainstays. However, the Razorbacks are a bit more porous on defense - especially when it comes to stopping opposing backs. If Kitchings can effectively work Norman and Stacy into a dynamic gameplan rushing the ball, then Vandy will have a chance to turn some heads. On the other hand, this seems to be a recurring theme for this team's pre-game forecasts - hoping for a running game to emerge and then swearing repeatedly as Larry Smith scrambles off-tackle for a one yard gain. 

I think Vandy competes in this one, and the defense - energized after a mostly-inspiring performance last week -comes out hot. Unfortunately, I just don't think there will be enough of a change on offense to win this game unless the team gets some major help from the D or special teams. It'll be close, but it looks like loss #6 from my viewpoint.

Prediction?: Arkansas 20, Vanderbilt 13

***

KingJamesIV - Vandy continued it's weekly regemented hot and cold performances like clockwork last week against South Carolina. For those keeping track:

Northwestern - Good (ish)
LSU - Bad
Ole Miss - Good
UConn - Bad
E. Michigan - Good
UGA - Bad
USC - Good (ish)
Arkansas - ???

As Train Island said, the biggest variance for Vanderbilt has been the offensive performance each week. Against Northwestern, we saw the Commodores move the ball fairly well, and we wondered if it was a sign of hope. Against LSU we saw almost nothing. Ole Miss was unexpected and made us wonder if LSU's defense was really that good or if the loss was just an off night. Against UConn, Vandy was terrible offensively except for a 10 minute spell in the second quarter. The onslaught against Eastern Michigan was a bit of a given considering their ineptitude, but it came nonetheless. UGA was extremely painful. And we should have been beating USC heading into the half, and were tied going into the fourth quarter (otherwise known as "why can't the game be over now"-time to Vandy and Tennessee fans this season).

Will the Des Kitchings promotion have any major impact on our offense? Most seem to think so, and I'm certainly no different. Has he had enough time (or sense) to scrap the no-huddle? Will we be running some sort of -bone variant (flex-, wish-, awesome-, I DON'T CARE!). Wildcat? Something I've never heard of? So long as the offense can keep the defense off the field for longer periods of time, I will be happy.

No matter what happens, I'm at least more interested heading into this game strictly as a result of the unexpected OC change than I was last Saturday night.

Interesting fact: I attended the last Vandy-Arkansas game in Fayetteville. We won.

Prediction?: Arkansas 24, Vanderbilt 14 - I am not attending this game. Therefore, we will not win. It's statistics.

***

Vandy Dan  -  Another Halloween marks the end of another craptacular season of Vanderbilt football.  Last year, after a similarly dismal start to the season, I allowed myself to get suckered into the Georgia Tech game after the offense showed some early life and it looked like we could win the game.  With the game tied at 28 at the half, my wife and I ditched the hockey game we were attending, and headed to a bar to watch the second half.  The result?  Vanderbilt kicked a field goal to take a 31-28 lead . . . before giving up 28 unanswered points in what turned out to be another lopsided loss. 

I won't make the same mistake this Saturday.  Regardless of what transpires in Fayetteville, I'm sticking around until the end of the hockey game.  The worst part?  It's a minor hockey league game involving two teams I really could not care less about.  Go Dores!

Arkansas is probably the best offensive team that Vandy will play this season, while the Commodores have arguably the worst offense that the Razorbacks will face.  Replacing Kiser with Kitchings is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  We tried the same thing last year when Kiser replaced Cain with no visible improvement.

Prediction?  Arkansas 41, Vanderbilt 10.  Let me know when Dai-Jon Parker commits.

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