2011 Vanderbilt Preview
Vanderbilt RB Warren Norman
Vanderbilt RB Warren Norman
Posted Jul 21, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: James Franklin
1st year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 19, Def. 29, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Vanderbilt Players
1. LB Chris Marve, Sr.
2. SS Sean Richardson, Sr.
3. CB Casey Hayward, Sr.
4. RB/KR Warren Norman, Jr.
5. TE Brandon Barden, Sr.
6. DE Tim Fugger, Sr.
7. DT T.J. Greenstone, Sr.
8. OG Kyle Fischer, Sr.
9. P Richard Kent, Jr.
10. DE Walker May, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Elon
Sep. 10 Connecticut
Sep. 17 Ole Miss
Sep. 24 at South Carolina
Oct. 8 at Alabama
Oct. 15 Georgia
Oct. 22 Army
Oct. 29 Arkansas
Nov. 5 at Florida
Nov. 12 Kentucky
Nov. 19 at Tennessee
Nov. 26 at Wake Forest

James Franklin is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.

The new Vanderbilt head man is saying all the right things about the program turning the corner and the past being just the past, punctuated by a "Why not us?" sort of attitude, but this is still the SEC and Vandy is still Vandy. Even so, Franklin isn't going to get cute, he's not going to create a gimmick for the program, and he's not going to make any excuses. Vanderbilt is going to be a winner; just ask the head coach.

Of course, making Vandy a consistent factor in the SEC is far easier to do in theory than in practice, and while other schools like Northwestern and Stanford have been able to come up with a combination of winning football and great academics at a small private institution, getting the job done in Nashville is simply harder.

The program will never get the talents that the other SEC schools can grab, but that's not always a bad thing. There's always going to be a hard ceiling on the possibilities for success since some SEC teams are always going to be able to simply outtalent the Commodores, but that doesn't mean there can't be some 2008-like upsets along the way over teams looking ahead to bigger and better matchups.

The problem, though, is that 2008 was a fluke. As much as Vandy fans might want to believe that miracles can happen, and as much as Franklin might want to talk about what the program could become, the lone winning season since 1982 was an aberration. But on the plus side, Franklin is dismissing the past as he tries to get everyone to look forward, and while the easy thing to do would be to point to three seasons ago and think about what could happen, Franklin is blowing off everything that happened before he was hired and is trying to start from scratch. It just might work.

All 11 starters are back on offense, and while that might not mean too much for an attack that finished 112th in the nation in scoring and 110th in yards, experience won't be a problem. Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan have pieces to work with, and they're going to try to find an identity right away. The coaching staff is going to try to come up with a real, live, balanced attack that can move the ball on SEC defenses on a consistent basis. There are options at key positions, like quarterback, and if the line can start blocking someone, the potential really is there to start to put points on the board.

The defense doesn't get as much experience back as the offense, but eight starters return led by some of the SEC's best defensive backs and a killer of a middle linebacker in Chris Marve. Okay, so Vandy's D stunk last season, and was completely and totally miserable over the second half of the season, but any coaching staff worth its salt would see the promise and potential in the returning talent. If the offense can do anything on a regular basis, the defensive production will follow.

The Commodores finished last in the SEC in offense, defense, scoring, run defense, and passing efficiency, but Franklin doesn't care. It's all about improving, and the coaching staff has the fire and energy to make it happen. After going 4-20 in the last two seasons, looking forward is the only option.

What to watch for on offense: The attempt to try to throw the forward pass. There was a time not all that long ago when Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett were lighting up SEC defenses with a dangerous passing attack. Cutler left, and the air show has been a rumor ever since. Things bottomed out last year finishing 105th in the nation, averaging just 159 yards per game, while finishing 119th in the nation, one spot ahead of Buffalo, in passing efficiency, with Vandy quarterbacks failing to complete half of their passes for just 1,913 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 picks. This yearn the new coaching staff has come in and stated from Day One that there will be a passing game, but will it be Larry Smith under center or Jordan Rodgers, Aaron's brother? There's a chance that this could be the program's biggest change from the last few years; at least that's the goal.

What to watch for on defense: A nasty secondary. The pass defense wasn't anything special last season, allowing 226 yards per game while getting burned way too easily, but all four starters are back led by two future NFL talents in corner Casey Hayward and strong safety Sean Richardson. The 6-2, 218-pound Richardson came up with a team-leading 98 tackles, Hayward made 70 stops and six picks, with 11 broken up passes, and free safety Kenny Ladler is coming off a whale of a first season with 57 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss. There's depth to go along with the experience, and if there's any semblance of a pass rush to help the cause, the secondary should be the team's biggest strength.

The team will be far better if … the offense can score. The Commodores hung up 52 points on Eastern Michigan and 28 on Ole Miss. Those were the two most productive scoring games of the season, and they also happened to be the only two wins. Two years ago, Vandy also went 2-10 with both wins coming in the two highest scoring games of the team's season. How mediocre has the offense been? Over the last 33 games, the Commodores have scored fewer than 20 points 25 times and averaged just 16 points per outing. Since a 17-10 win over Wake Forest in October of 2000, Vanderbilt has won just three games over FBS teams when it scored fewer than 20 points.

The schedule: Of course, there are no SEC gimmes for the Commodores, but if they can pull off a few home upsets, the potential is there for a bowl game as long as there aren't any non-conference missteps against Elon, Army and Wake Forest. Beating UConn in the second game of the year would be a huge help. James Franklin gets a bit of a break to start the season with three home games, and a 2-1 start, at least, against Elon, UConn, and Ole Miss is a must to have any dreams of a successful year. Road trips to South Carolina and Alabama are wrapped around an open date, and closing out with three road games in the final four, including games at Florida and Tennessee, isn't fair, but there's a three-game midseason stretch of home games against Georgia, Army, and Arkansas that has to be taken advantage of.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Warren Norman. The versatile playmaker was a yardage machine as a true freshman as both a kick returner and a runner, but last season he struggled through a hand injury and wasn't quite right. He led the team in rushing with 459 yards, but 111 of them came in the win over Ole Miss and he was out for the final four games of the season. With good size and decent speed, he'll be the focal point of the attack early on until the passing game becomes settled.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Chris Marve. While strong safety Sean Richardson is in the hunt for the honor of being the team's defensive star, when Marve is right, there's no question. The 6-0, 238-pound senior was never totally healthy last season with a leg injury keeping him from being the all-around playmaker he usually is, but he appears to be back to normal and he'll be all over the field as a top tackling machine.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Larry Smith and/or Junior QB Jordan Rodgers. Vandy can't improve without better play from the quarterbacks, and that means either Smith or Rodgers has to step up to become the type of leader and playmaker who owns the offense. Smith is a strong runner, but he only came up with 248 yards and four scores on the ground, while completing just 47% of his throws with six sores and five picks. Rodgers is a passer, and while he's not the player his Super Bowl-winning brother is, he's good enough to make the passing game stronger than it's been in years. First, though, Rodgers has to get past a shoulder problem.

The season will be a success if … the Commodores go bowling. There can't be any misses against the average teams and there might need to be at least one stunning upset over a team like Georgia at home or at Tennessee. Beating Elon in the opener shouldn't be a problem, and taking home dates against UConn and Ole Miss is a must before going on the road to face South Carolina and Alabama. Army and Kentucky are winnable home games, and beating Wake Forest in the season finale could be for a bowl appearance.

Key game: Nov. 19 at Tennessee. In 2005, Vandy shocked Tennessee 28-24, keeping its in-state brother out of a bowl game and preventing a winning season. The Vols have taken five straight since the gaffe. This year, the game comes in the midst of a run of three road games in the final four, and a win might take the pressure off the regular season finale at Wake Forest.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Red Zone Touchdowns: Opponents 29-of-50 (58%) – Vanderbilt 14-of-31 (45%)
- Time of Possession: Opponents 33:02 – Vanderbilt 26:58
- Fumbles: Vanderbilt 34 (lost 8) – Opponents 23 (lost 6)

- 2011 Vanderbilt Preview | 2011 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2011 Vanderbilt Defense | 2011 Vanderbilt Depth Chart