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Vanderbilt crumbled between the hedges Saturday night, getting dropped in a 48-3 beatdown by a charged up Georgia team. So was the cause a fired-up Bulldog squad, or are we seeing some regression in Nashville despite an influx of new talent?
That was bad. Whether it was rock bottom has yet to be seen.
Vanderbilt crumbled between the hedges Saturday night, getting dropped in a 48-3 beatdown by a charged up Georgia team. The Commodore offense continued to sputter against top competition, failing to score a touchdown despite solid efforts from skill players Zac Stacy, Jordan Matthews, and Chris Boyd. In three games against FBS opponents, James Franklin's team has scored just 29 total points.
The Commodores got manhandled across their offensive line against a fearsome Georgia front. Players like John Jenkins and Jarvis Jones spent more time in the Vanderbilt backfield than Zac Stacy did as they disrupted plays all night. The Bulldogs finished with nine tackles for losses in a game where Mark Rich tucked away many of his starters by the fourth quarter.
Jordan Rodgers earned the start, but the Commodore defense made Vandy's quarterback competition a moot point midway through the second quarter. Georgia marched downfield for touchdowns in drives of 47, 88, 57, and 96 yards in their first four possessions of the game to open up a 27-0 lead 25 minutes into the contest. The one stop that the 'Dores got ended up being negated by a roughing the kicker penalty, allowing UGA to continue their massacre.
When Richt had his foot on the gas, it looked as though there was nothing that Vanderbilt could do to stop his Bulldogs. That was the most disheartening aspect of Saturday's loss. The Commodores looked small, slow, and worn out against a Georgia team that they came within a broken tackle of beating in 2011. Did Georgia improve that much at a team since last October? Were they that motivated to win after last year's heated moments between the two teams (and their coaches)? Or has Vanderbilt regressed despite an influx of young talent?
That last question is the most important one going forward for the Commodores. A 48-3 beating is a low, low point - but things can still get worse. If James Franklin wants to make this season a success, Saturday's game will have to be rock bottom for Vanderbilt. The team cannot allow this stomping to linger and drag them down in winnable games as 2012 progresses.
That will take a lot of growth, however. Vanderbilt will have to rely heavily on young reinforcements to bolster an offensive line that has been the root cause of the team's stagnant scoring. It also means that Vandy's young defenders will have to step up as well to ensure that no team gets off to a rocketship start like the Bulldogs did on Saturday night. The team has a volatile mix of veteran players and young guns in 2012. Managing playing time between the two will be an ongoing problem for Franklin and his crew.
Turning to more young athletes would have an offseason benefit as well. Shifting the focus to players that Franklin has recruited would provide tangible evidence for his "Brand New Vandy" claims. Allowing players like Andrew Jelks or Darreon Herring to earn more reps despite their growing pains would help the coaching staff convince young players that their talent won't be wasted with the Commodores.
That doesn't mean that the team should limit Archibald Barnes's time at linebacker in favor of a true freshman. Instead, it means sliding Wesley Tate back to the slot and allowing Kimbrow to earn some carries when the running game is going nowhere.
We're only four games into the season, but the Commodores may already be at a crossroads. That's an unfortunate consequence of playing three of your toughest games of the year before October. However, things can be fixed, and the slow slope of a softer schedule will help ease the team through a year filled with more challenges than we originally thought.
Vanderbilt will have a bye week to regroup, and it couldn't have come at a better time. They're 1-3 to start the season, but there are still several opportunities to turn 2012 into a success. Next month's stretch of games (Missouri, Florida, Auburn, UMass) is where James Franklin can earn his paycheck. He can either convince his team that they found bedrock on Saturday night, or he can let them continue to dig. If this truly is a "Brand New Vandy," expect some changes in the next two weeks.
- The fair catch situation. Vanderbilt sent top wideout Jordan Matthews to receive Georgia's only punt of the game with the 'Dores trailing 27-0 in the second quarter. True to his word, James Franklin didn't have his returner signal a fair catch - because Collin Barber's punt sailed out of bounds at the Vandy 24. Fortunately, that meant that Matthews didn't have to risk injury making a stupid play thanks to a half-baked philosophy. In a game where Vanderbilt was beat by 45 points, that qualifies as "good."
- Vandy's receivers standing out. Even in the loss, Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for 12 receptions and 239 yards. The rest of the team? Two receptions and two yards. The 'Dores top receivers are proving that they could start for any offense in the SEC - now they just need a stable presence at quarterback to get them the ball.
- Aaron Murray vs. the Commodore secondary. Here's Murray's stat line while the Bulldogs jumped out to a 27-0 lead; 11-11 passing for 111 yards, one passing touchdown, and one rushing touchdown. The Commodores were kept off balance all night thanks to Georgia's rushing attack, but the way that Murray was able to exploit a stout Vandy passing defense was disappointing. Murray finished his day by completing 75 percent of his passes and throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns in only three quarters of play.
- Wesley Tate: Goal line back and nothing else. As others have pointed out, Tate sapped carries from more effective running backs with a weak eight carry, eight yard performance on Saturday. While the receiver/tailback is the team's biggest option at the goal line, it's becoming clear that he is a more effective weapon for Vandy out of the slot. Tate's ineffectiveness wasn't entirely his fault - you can blame a leaky offensive line for some of his runs that ended in losses - but it isn't a stretch to suggest that he shouldn't be getting more carries than Warren Norman or Brian Kimbrow if he can't move the chains.
- Jordan Rodgers: Three games, seven fumbles. The senior quarterback has lost three of those fumbles as well, and those mistakes helped cost this team a win against Northwestern. Rodgers has been criticized for his lack of awareness in the pocket, and his inability to properly gauge the rush has left the ball unprotected and led to Commodore turnovers at the worst possible times. This time, it was at the UGA three yard line - but the game had already been decided by then.
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd
Matthews and Boyd were a rare bright spot for the Commodores, combining with Zac Stacy to make up 312 of the team's 377 total non-return yards. That's about 83 percent of the team's entire offense. It's up to you to figure out if that statistic is discouraging or optimistic.