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Vanderbilt Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
Vanderbilt Commodores
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 8, 2006


Vanderbilt Commodores Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – Déjà vu all over again? – The state of Tennessee should be familiar with this scenario.  Remember 1998 when the University of Tennessee won the national championship the year after the greatest QB in the program’s history had played his last game?  After failing to beat Florida on four tries and Nebraska in the de facto national championship game in the Orange Bowl, Peyton Manning definitely left his mark, but not a national championship.  That, Tee Martin went out and won the year after Manning graduated.  Fellow state mate Vanderbilt is entering an analogous situation with the graduation of former QB Jay Cutler.  After finally receiving the recognition that he deserved for his four years at Vandy, the Commodore great is headed for a lengthy career in the Rocky Mountains.  And, it leaves a prodigious hole at the QB position.  Duh.  Cutler was more than just the right arm for the Commodores, he was the brains, the heart and the feet.  He gave them so much more than 20 to 25 completions a night.  But, even with one of the best seasons in Vanderbilt history, he didn’t get the ‘Dores to a bowl game.  Obviously, winning a national championship and heading to, say, Shreveport for a bowl game are on totally different planes, but nonetheless, the goal for both schools under the leadership of those quarterbacks were to win a national championship and go to a bowl game, respectively.  Neither of them did it.  Consequently, not only does the pressure of simply following in Cutler’s footsteps fall on the shoulders of potential starter Chris Nickson, the stress of leading Vandy to a bowl game is real, after falling just one game short in 2005.  Similar stress was felt by Martin at Tennessee and look how that panned out.  Following a ‘legend’ has its own built-in complexities, but what’s often overlooked by a young QB is establishing his own identity.  Nickson will have to do what he does best – he runs better than Cutler so expect to see a bit more gun spread offense to get him confidence early in the game, and in the season.  But, the challenge of following Cutler is made worse by going to Michigan and Alabama to start the season, followed by a visit from the SEC flavor du jour in 2006 Arkansas in week three.  Follow a legend, get Vandy to a bowl, find a niche for thyself and, last but not least, survive.  Good luck, Chris. 

2nd and Seven – My name is Earl – Karma’s seemingly not the issue for Commodore WR Earl Bennett like it is for Earl Hickey, but that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t going to happen for Mr. Bennett in his second year in Nashville.  In fact, he has the ability to be one of the best receivers in the nation.  The 6’1”, 205 pound sophomore led the ‘Dores with 79 receptions and 9 touchdowns in his first year of action.  Bennett is quick enough to get open downfield, but he’s so physical that he’s tough to keep out of the middle.  Now that he’s got experience, he could be a scary catch-and-run marvel.  Honestly, he just isn’t a real good matchup for many of the SEC defensive backs and by the end of the season, Bennett should be reaping first team All-SEC honors, next to South Carolina’s Sidney Rice.

3rd and Three – Introducing Reshard Langford – Man, last year’s freshman class was good, real good for Bobby Johnson’s ‘Dores.  Bennett, as noted above, took the league by storm, but the defense didn’t lack for a big-time rookie either with the arrival of strong safety Reshard Langford.  At 6’2”, 215 bills with good speed and desire to put a helmet through ball carriers, Langford isn’t going to be an unknown for very long.  He finished last season with 54 tackles but should build on that number by being a factor in the run defense.  Especially with the loss of a key run stopping linebacker like Moses Osemwegie, Langford may be floating near the box more than last year.  Remember the name Reshard Langford and remember where you heard it first.

4th and One – Big shoes to fill, but he’ll try – As much as Cutler meant to the offense, Osemwegie had the same effect on the defense.  He led the team in just about every major defensive category – tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks.  One more interception and he’d have tied for the lead in picks as well.  As such, Jonathan Goff got the chance to be Osemwegie’s wing man last season, but it’s his defense this year.  The 6’2”, 240 pound junior is a rock hard hitter who’s a perfect fit for the mike backer position.  He won’t have Osemwegie to take some of the pressure off of him, but if all he does is roam B gap to B gap, dominate the middle of the defense and pile up 10 to 11 tackles a game, the ‘Dore defense will have a solid season.  And, a new defensive leader whose name you won’t struggle to pronounce.  Get used to it – “Goff on the tackle”.  Maybe those shoes aren’t so big after all.

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