2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - Elon at Vanderbilt
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Sept. 3 at Vanderbilt 45 … Elon 14
CFN Analysis: The James Franklin era got off to a good start on the scoreboard, but the offense was very, very shaky. Larry Smith didn't complete half his passes, but he threw two touchdown passes and didn't make any big mistakes. Jordan Rodgers showed off a little of what he can do completing 3-of-4 passes for 52 yards and a score, and it's possible the two quarterbacks rotate going forward. The running game didn't go anywhere, and the secondary struggled, but the Commodores were +3 in turnover margin and committed four penalties to Elon's seven. Chris Marve came up with 12 tackles and two tackles for loss, and the D came through when needed, but overall, there's still a long way to go.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Larry Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score, and Vanderbilt beat Elon 45-14 Saturday night in coach James Franklin's debut with the Commodores.
Franklin showed his willingness to gamble with the team considered the worst in the Southeastern Conference, going for it on fourth down three times to keep drives alive scoring 17 points. Smith converted the second on fourth-and-3, running 16 yards for a TD.
The win snapped a seven-game skid for the Commodores who scored more points than they did in all but two games last season. When Trey Wilson picked off a pass and ran it 21 yards for a TD after Smith's second score, Vandy had almost as many points in 14 seconds as the Commodores averaged (16.9) per game in 2010.
Elon outgained the Commodores 323-309 in total offense and held the ball for more than 35 minutes. But Vanderbilt forced three turnovers and turned each of them into touchdowns.
This was Jason Swepson's coaching debut with the Phoenix, and he opened with only Elon's fourth game ever against a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision. Swepson also had to replace a quarterback in Scott Riddle that helped Elon rank second in the FBS last season, averaging 306.4 yards passing per game.
Thomas Wilson did pretty well early. He was 12 of 17 for 169 yards in the first half, but the junior finished 17 of 27 for 233 yards with two interceptions and was replaced late by redshirt freshman Tyler Smith.
Franklin's specialty is offense, and the Commodores did show off some new wrinkles.
Running back Zac Stacy took the snap on one play and handed off to cornerback Casey Hayward. Only a step out of bounds trimmed a would-be touchdown to a 23-yard run. The drive also featured the first attempt on fourth down, and Smith found Brandon Barden for a 14-yard catch before capping the drive with a 15-yard TD pass to Fitz Lassing for a 7-0 lead.
The Commodores converted their third fourth down in the third quarter when freshman Micah Powell picked up 4 yards on fourth-and-1. That drive bogged down, and Vandy settled for a 33-yard field goal by Casey Spears for a 24-14 lead.
Smith has been the starter the past two seasons and completed just 47.4 percent of his passes in 2010. He looked better eluding pressure and tossed TD passes to Fitz Lassing and Chris Boyd. Smith also ran four times for 34 yards yards, including his TD run, and he was 13 of 27 for 125 yards.
Vanderbilt was up so much Franklin put in Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the junior college transfer who sat out last season with a shoulder injury found Boyd on his first throw for a 30-yard TD and a 45-14 lead.
Elon (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0) Sept 3, 7:30 CSS
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Here's The Deal … Elon and Vanderbilt begin new eras in their season opener as Jason Swepson will coach his first game for the Phoenix and James Franklin will try to do the near-impossible to make the Commodores a player. Loaded with veterans, Vanderbilt has the potential to get off to a decent start with eleven returning starters on offense and eight on defense. However, after going 2-10 in 2010, the nineteen returning starters have to prove that the experience can translate into production. Expectations are never high at Vanderbilt, but Franklin is starting to build some staunch support with more looks from good in-state recruits and a couple of big early signings. With three home games to start the season, the Commodores have to play well right away, and it all starts with the likely layup. Elon has just enough talent to be a factor in the Southern Conference, but it'll struggle early on with several new parts to the puzzle, including at quarterback after losing all-star Scott Riddle.
Why Elon Might Win: Phoenix veteran Aaron Mellette is a playmaker who could be the best receiver in this game. Even with a new starting quarterback in Thomas Wilson, and even with a new offensive system, little will change in scheme with Mellette being the focal point. Swepson came from NC State where offensive coordinator Dana Bible wasn't afraid to throw the football, and the Phoenix will come out bombing with the Vandy pass rush not likely to provide much of a push. Mellette led the FCS's second-ranked passing offense last year with 86 receptions for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he should be good for at least five grabs. With the three leading receivers back, Wilson should take advantage and Elon will spread the ball all over the field.
Why Vanderbilt Might Win: Elon's defense was a problem last year, and it doesn't appear to be ready to make a big push to improve. Duke, the ACC equal to Vanderbilt, hung 41 points and 542 total yards on the Phoenix, and while the Commodores aren't likely go ballistic, they should be able to move the ball with Franklin bringing some more creativity to the attack. Larry Smith is still on top on the quarterback depth chart in Nashville with running back Warren Norman providing the balance. Defensively, the Commodores have the talent in the secondary to hold up against the Elon passing game. They'll allow yards, but they'll clamp down when needed.
What To Watch Out For: Vanderbilt defensive back Casey Hayward will get plenty of chances to lock up on Mellette, and it'll be a battle worth watching. Hayward, a 5-11, 188-pound senior who stepped up his play as the No. 1 corner finishing fourth on the team with 70 tackles with six interceptions and 11 broken up passes. A starter in 24 straight games, he knows what he's doing, makes a ton of plays when the ball is in the air, and is a great tackler with 128 stops in the last two seasons.
All eyes, though, will be on Smith, because if he isn't able to take a step forward against a defense that struggled against all of FCS last year, he might never do it, it'll be Jordan Rodgers' job sooner than later.
What Will Happen: Franklin is trying to set the tone for the program by coming up with a big opening. While the dogs will be called off in the second half, it'll be tough and tempting to not put a huge number on the board. Elon will come up with its share of licks, but it won't have enough to pull off the shocker.
CFN Prediction: Vanderbilt 42 … Elon 27
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