2007 Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted Jan 21, 2008

2007 Vanderbilt Commodores Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 Vanderbilt Commodores

Recap: It has almost become painful watching Vanderbilt try to get over the hump, and back to the postseason for the first time in a quarter-century.  For the third consecutive year, the Commodores entered November within striking distance of bowl eligibility, only to lose their final four games.  Although moral victories alone won't end the bowl drought, the days of Vandy being an automatic lay up for the rest of the SEC ended a couple of years ago.            

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Earl Bennett

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Jonathan Goff

Biggest Surprise: On Oct. 20, the ‘Dores traveled to Columbia, and sucked the air out of No. 6 South Carolina, 17-6.  QB Mackenzi Adams delivered one of his most efficient efforts of the season, but it was the play of the suffocating Vandy defense that sparked the school's lone signature moment of 2007.    

Biggest Disappointment: Blowing a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead to rival Tennessee in a game that would have secured bowl eligibility for Vanderbilt.  The Commodores out played the Volunteers for most of the game, and could have won on a last-minute, but fell short, 25-24, in an excruciating microcosm of their inability to pull out close games in the waning moments.   

Looking Ahead: The talent level continues to improve in Nashville, and head coach Bobby Johnson is a nice fit for a small, private institution that isn't obsessed with its athletic programs.  There are enough returning regulars for Vanderbilt to be in the hunt for a 13th game again in 2008, but to get to the next level, it has to start winning a game or two in November.

- 2007 Vandy Preview
2006 Vandy Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 5-

Sept. 1 Richmond W 41-17
Sept. 8 Alabama L 24-13
Sept. 15
Ole Miss W 31-17
Sept. 29 Eastern Mic
h W 30-7
Oct. 6 at Auburn L 35-7
Oct. 13 Georgia L 20-17
Oct. 20 at South Carolina W 17-6
Oct. 27
Miami Univ. W 24-13
Nov. 3 at Florida L 49-22
Nov. 10
Kentucky L 27-20
Nov. 17 at Tennessee L 25-24
Nov. 24
Wake Forest L 31-17

Nov. 24
Wake Forest 31 ... Vanderbilt 17
Vanderbilt had its chances to become bowl eligible, but turned it over five times with Alphonso Smith killing two drives with interceptions. The Demon Deacons held a 31-3 lead going into the fourth quarter helped by Josh Adams touchdown runs from 14 and 12 yards out, and two Riley Skinner touchdown passes. Vandy tried to comeback with two fourth quarter touchdown passes from Richard Kovalcheck, but they weren't nearly enough. The Commodores outgained the Demon Deacons 349 yards to 296.
Player of the game: Wake Forest RB Josh Adams ran 24 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Wake Forest - Passing: Riley Skinner, 21-31, 146 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Josh Adams, 24-111, 2 TD. Receiving: Kenneth Moore, 9-39
Vanderbilt - Passing: Richard Kovalcheck, 23-38, 269 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 12-11. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 6-65, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Vandy had four shots at becoming bowl eligible and couldn't get it done. While the close losses to Kentucky and Florida had to have been frustrating, the loss to Wake Forest had to be the toughest to swallow with the way the offense kept turning the ball over despite having several chances to stay alive. The running game was non-existent and Mackenzi Adams was way off, but Richard Kovalcheck came in late to make a desperation run; he wasn't bad. To finally get over that hump next year, the defense has to be able to come up with more stops in key situations while the offense has to be more consistent.

Nov. 17
Tennessee 25 ... Vanderbilt 24
Tennessee's Daniel Lincoln connected on a 33-yard field goal with 2:46 to play for a lead, and then the Vols had to hang on as Bryant Hahnfeldt just missed a 49-yard field goal attempt with 33 seconds to play. The Commodores got up 24-9 on three Mackenzi Adams touchdown passes, but the Vols roared back in the fourth quarter on 16 unanswered points with Erik Ainge connecting with Josh Briscoe for a seven-yard touchdown and with Austin Rogers from five yards out. Vandy only came up with 270 yards of total offense to Tennessee's 350.
Player of the game: Tennessee LB Jerod Mayo made 15 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss.
Stat Leaders: Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 14-26, 139 yds, 3 TD
Rushing: Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 17-83. Receiving: Alex Washington. 3-45
Tennessee - Passing: Erik Ainge, 29-43, 245 yds, 3 TD
Arian Foster, 19-106. Receiving: Lucas Taylor, 9-90. 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... How many more times will Vanderbilt get its heart broken? It's had its chances to pull off wins to get bowl eligible under Bobby Johnson, but something always seems to go wrong when the team needs that one big play to pull off a key win. The defense couldn't hang on in the fourth quarter, while the offense never got anything going after Mackenzi Adams had a terrific first half. After losing three straight, a win over Wake Forest is a must to get the magical sixth win.

Nov. 10
Kentucky 27 ... Vanderbilt 20
In an ugly game with 21 penalties, 13 from Kentucky, Kentucky took the lead with just under six minutes to play on a four-yard Derrick Lock run, and held on. Vanderbilt got a one-yard touchdown run from Mackenzi Adams and two touchdown passes, but misfired on fourth and six on the UK 20 in the final few seconds to let the Cats hold on. Andre Woodson connected with Steve Johnson for a second quarter touchdown and Maurice Grinter ran for a one-yard score for the Cats.
Player of the game: Kentucky's Calvin Harrison made ten tackles and a tackle for loss
Stat Leaders: Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 20-31, 193 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 11-83. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 8-69
Kentucky - Passing: Andre Woodson, 17-28, 222 yds, 1 TD
Rafael Little, 15-70. Receiving:
Jacob Tamme, 4-50
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Vandy didn't get Kentucky's best game, but the Commodore D had a lot to do with that. The offense did just enough to stay in the game, but not enough at the end, and now Vandy needs to battle to get that sixth win for bowl eligibility. More deep plays from the passing game will be a must to have a shot against Tennessee, and it needs to be perfect, without the turnovers and penalties there were this week, to beat Wake Forest.

Nov. 3
Florida 49 ... Vanderbilt 22
Florida jumped out to an early lead on the first of two one-yard Tim Tebow touchdown runs, and an 18-yard Percy Harvin dash for a score. Vandy pulled within seven on the first of two one-yard Mackenzi Adams scoring runs, and then the Gators ended it with a 21-point second quarter run on three Tebow touchdown passes with two to Andre Caldwell. Harvin later added a 13-yard touchdown run to make it a route. Florida cranked out 498 yards of total offense, while Tebow set the SEC record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season with 14.
Player of the game: Florida WR Percy Harvin ran 11 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and caught nine passes for 110 yards.
Stat Leaders: Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 16-32, 159 yds
Rushing: Jeff Jennings, 6-37. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 5-31
Florida - Passing: Tim Tebow, 22-27, 281 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Percy Harvin, 11-113, 2 TD. Receiving: Percy Harvin, 9-110

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... This isn't a team built on having to make big comebacks, and after getting down so quickly to Florida, there wasn't any chance to establish the run over the course of the game, and there wasn't enough pop to the passing game to make a comeback. Mackenzi Adams was decent, but nothing spectacular, and to hang on to the job for the rest of the year, he'll have to get the ball downfield more. Keeping the chains moving will be a must against a rested Kentucky.

Oct. 27
Vanderbilt 24 ... Miami University 13
On a day when Earl Bennett became the SEC's all-time leader in receptions, it was the Vandy running game that beat Miami with 290 yards to 26. The RedHawks held a first half 10-7 lead on a 40-yard Jamal Rogers catch, but the Commodore defense controlled things the rest of the way, while Chris Nickson and Cassen Jackson-Garrison each ran for scores. Vandy outgained MU 411 yards to 238.
Player of the game: Vanderbilt LB Jonathan Goff made 11 tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack
Stat Leaders: Miami University - Passing: Daniel Raudabaugh, 18-37, 212 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Austin Sykes, 10-49. Receiving: Eugene Harris, 4-54
Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 9-14, 108 yds
Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 14-75, 1 TD. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 8-85

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It wasn't exactly the performance the team wanted after beating South Carolina, but Jonathan Goff and the defense never let Miami have much of a chance in the second half to be a threat. There were three fumbles and an interception, but the Commodore offense worked well on the ground and did what it needed to do to keep the chains moving, particularly in the fourth quarter. In the end, the day belonged to Earl Bennett, who now has 215 career catches to be the SEC's all-time leading receiver. He's a special talent who'll start to get more and more recognition. Finally.

Oct. 20
Vanderbilt 17 ... South Carolina 6
Vanderbilt came up with seven sacks and held USC to 26 net rushing yards in one of the shocking wins of the SEC season. The Commodores got all their points in the first quarter with Mackenzi Adams touchdown passes to George Smith from 22 yards out and Justin Wheeler from 20 yards out, to go along with a 32-yard Bryan Hahnfeldt field goal. South Carolina managed two Ryan Succop field goals in the second quarter, and that was it. The Gamecocks turned it over four times.
Player of the game: Vanderbilt CB D.J. Moore led the team with eight tackles with two interceptions and a broken up pass.
Stat Leaders: South Carolina - Passing: Chris Smelley, 14-24, 154 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Cory Boyd, 5-49. Receiving: Cory Boyd, 5-55
Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 8-16, 123 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Mackenzi Adams, 13-84. Receiving: George Smith, 3-53, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The South Carolina offense wasn't exactly sharp, but the Vandy defense had a lot to do with that, getting into the backfield from the word go and getting four key turnovers. Mackenzi Adams was the main man at quarterback in place of Chris Nickson, and while he wasn't amazing, he outplayed the USC passers, especially with his legs rushing for 84 yards. Now a bowl game is a must with a few winnable games ahead. They only need two.

Oct. 13
Georgia 20 ... Vanderbilt 17
Brandon Coutu nailed a 37-yard field goal as time ran out to complete a fourth quarter comeback to give the Bulldogs the win. Coutu also hit a 31-yard shot to tie it up with 6:12 to play, but Vanderbilt had a shot late getting down to the Bulldog 18, but
Cassen Jackson-Garrison lost a fumble, sparking the final UGA drive. The Commodores took a 17-7 lead into halftime on a 15-yard Sean Walker touchdown run and a phenomenal 16-yard acrobatic catch. The Bulldogs outscored Vandy 13-0 in the second half.
Player of the game: Georgia RB Knowshown Moreno ran 28 times for 157 yards and caught two passes for 18 yards.
Stat Leaders: Georgia - Passing: Matthew Stafford, 16-31, 201 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Knowshon Moreno, 28-157. Receiving: Tony Wilson, 4-57
Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 7-10, 125 yds, 1 TD
D.J. Moore, 2-48. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 3-31

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Vanderbilt played well on defense against Georgia, and the offense got a little bit of balance, but two key fumbles, and a lack of a big defensive stop late, proved to be too much to overcome. Even so, there's a lot to build on after responding well from a blowout loss at Auburn, with Jonathan Goff having a terrific game tackling everything in sight, while the running game got plenty of help from a variety of sources. Now it's time to pull off a shocker, and if the defense can play at South Carolina like it played against Georgia, it might be able to do it.

Oct. 6
Auburn 35 ... Vanderbilt 7
Auburn rolled with ease, getting up 35-0 before Vanderbilt finally got on the board with a one-yard Cassen Jackson-Garrison touchdown run in the final five minutes. Brad Lester scored from 17 and five yards out, and Ben Tate and Mario Fannin each added touchdown runs helping the Tigers run for 253 yards. Brandon Cox added a two-yard scoring pass to Rod Smith late in the first quarter. Vandy only converted three of 13 third down chances.
Player of the game: Auburn QB Brandon Cox completed 14 of 17 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown with an interception
Stat Leaders: Vanderbilt - Passing: Chris Nickson, 5-16, 38 yds
Rushing: Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 13-45, 1 TD. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 4-31
Auburn - Passing: Brandon Cox, 14-17, 165 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ben Tate, 9-96, 1 TD. Receiving: Mario Fannin, 3-26

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Vandy has to win all the games they're supposed to if it wants to stay in the bowl hunt, and Auburn wasn't one of those games. However, there has to be more against the better teams at this point. The offense didn't do anything in the passing game, and the defense didn't have a prayer against a Tiger ground game that ripped off yards in chunks. Auburn was able to get a big-yard play when it wanted to, and Vanderbilt didn't. Completing 12 of 31 passes won't work against anyone in the SEC.

Sept. 29
Vanderbilt 30 ... Eastern Michigan 7
Vanderbilt got up 20-0, highlighted by a 47-yard Earl Bennett touchdown grab. Sean Walker scored from 17 yards out, and Bryant Hahnfeldt nailed three field goals. But the game was won on defense, as the Commodores forced six turnovers, with D.J. Moore taking a pick 24 yards for a touchdown. EMU got its only points on a 14-yard Travis Lewis catch in the third.
Player of the game: Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett made nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: Eastern Michigan - Passing: Andy Schmitt, 13-24, 111 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: Pierre Walker, 13-34. Receiving: Ken Bohnet, 4-39
Vanderbilt - Passing: Chris Nickson, 14-28, 168 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT
Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 23-76. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 9-93, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It's great for Vanderbilt to be at a point where it not only expects to beat a team like Eastern Michigan, it expects to win in a blowout. The defense did its part, forcing six turnovers and holding the Eagles to 173 yards of total offense, but to beat Auburn, Georgia, or South Carolina over the next three weeks, the turnovers have to stop. Chris Nickson threw four interceptions, and while there weren't any lost fumbles, the ball was put on the ground four times.

Sept. 15
Vanderbilt 31 ... Ole Miss 17
Vanderbilt got three short touchdown runs from Cassen Jackson-Garrison, and Chris Nickson added a three yard scoring dash in the win. Ole Miss never got the ground game going, being held to 54 net yards rushing, but managed to stay in the game on Mike Wallace touchdown catches from 36 and 54 yards out. Up only seven, Vandy forced Ole Miss to go for it on fourth down from its own 21, but Brent Schaeffer was sacked, and the two plays later, Jackson-Garrison ran seven yards for a score to put the game away. The Commodores sacked Ole Miss quarterbacks six times.
Player of the game: Vanderbilt RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison ran for 119 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, and had a reception for nine yards.
Stat Leaders: Ole Miss - Passing: Seth Adams, 10-17, 154 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 21-66. Receiving: Mike Wallace, 4-139, 2 TDs
Vanderbilt - Passing: Chris Nickson, 17-25, 200 yds
Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 23-119, 3 TDs. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 11-100

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It's stunning how close the win over Ole Miss was considering how Vanderbilt dominated. The running game wasn't explosive, but it was effective enough, while the defense held the Rebels to just 54 rushing yards, generated six sacks, and made stops time and again on third and fourth downs. Still, the Rebels were in the game late, basically because Vandy doesn't appear to know how to put teams away quite yet. Even so, an SEC win is an SEC win, and it was one the team desperately needed to have any hope of going to a bowl.

Sept. 8
Alabama 24 ... Vanderbilt 10
Terry Grant ran for a one-yard score off a big punt return, Leigh Tiffin kicked three field goals, and Alabama coasted. A two-yard Grant scoring run early in the fourth made it 24-3 before Vandy finally got in the end zone on a 15-yard George Smith catch. The Commodores managed just 57 yards rushing, but got a nice day defensively from corner D.J. Moore, who made 13 tackles and broke up two passes.
Player of the game: Alabama RB Terry Grant ran for 173 yards and two scores on 24 carries, while catching three passes for 26 yards.
Stat Leaders: Alabama - Passing: John Parker Wilson, 14-28, 150 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Terry Grant, 24-173, 2 TDs. Receiving: DJ Hall, 3-67
Vanderbilt - Passing: Mackenzi Adams, 13-23, 108 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Cassen Jackson-Garrison, 6-32. Receiving: Earl Bennett, 4-52
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The offense has a problem. Chris Nickson is supposed to be the star who emerges and carries the attack against teams like Alabama, but he was off, completing five of 18 passes for 67 yards with an interception and not getting any room to run, before giving way to Mackenzi Adams. There wasn't much of a ground game against Richmond, and there were only 57 yards this week. A second receiver has to emerge to take the heat off Earl Bennett, and Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jeff Jennings have to start adding a threat of a running attack in a big hurry.

Sept. 1
Vanderbilt 41 ... Richmond 17
Richmond opened the scoring with a 22-yard Andrew Howard field goal, and then Vanderbilt took over with a 31-7 run thanks to three Earl Bennett touchdown catches from 15, one and 49 yards out and a four-yard Jeff Jennings scoring run. Richmond got an 11-yard Tim Hightower touchdown run and answered a 22-yard Vandy field goal with a 93-yard Justin Rogers kickoff return for a score, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Commodores pulled away in the fourth quarter on a three-yard Jennings scoring grab.
Player of the game ... Vanderbilt WR Earl Bennett caught 13 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Richmond - Passing: Eric Ward, 18-29, 161 yds, 3 INT
Rushing: Tim Hightower, 14-73, 1 TD  Receiving: Arman Shields, 12-107
Vanderbilt - Passing: Chris Nickson, 19-25, 284 yds, 4 TD
Jeff Jennings, 11-67, 1 TD   Receiving:
Earl Bennett, 13-223, 3 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... With Alabama on deck, Vandy needed to get the ground game going against Richmond, and it did with 162 yards, and had to get Earl Bennett and Chris Nickson warmed up, and they did. Bennett was unstoppable with 13 catches and three touchdowns, while Nickson was ultra-effifcient and never let the Spiders get into the game after the second quarter. The defense could've been a bit stronger against the run, but this was a great opening day performance.

Sept. 1 - Richmond

Sept. 8 - Alabama
Offense: Major Applewhite takes over as offensive coordinator and will play around with several different formations and ideas, while trying to stick with Nick Saban's run-first philosophy. He'll incorporate a little bit of spread and four-wide sets. There's one problem; Bama might not have the backs to run well on a consistent basis. The strength is in the passing game with the great 1-2 receiving tandem of D.J. Hall and Keith Brown working with rising passer John Parker Wilson. The line welcomes back five starters led by soon to be All-Everything tackle Andre Smith.
Defense: Former Florida State defensive coordinator Kevin Steele came in and switched things up to a 3-4 in an attempt to jump-start a woeful pass rush by getting more production from the outside linebackers, led by a hybrid position of defensive lineman and linebacker, manned by Keith Saunders. Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood look the part of top ends, and now they have to start producing. The biggest problem is tackle, where former backup center Brian Motley, who looked great this spring, has to be an anchor for everything to work right. The back eight should be excellent, led by all-star corner Simeon Castille.

Sept. 15 - Ole Miss
Offense: The offense needed more out of the running game after a woeful 2005, and it got it with BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming up with a 1,000-yard season as the workhorse for the offense. Now the offense has to figure out how to score after averaging 15.7 points per game (up from a whopping 13.45 per game in 2005). The passing game needs a lot of work, and the hope will be for the young receiving corps to step up and become passable. There will be a quarterback battle into the fall with Brent Schaeffer needing to prove he can move the offense, or he'll be unseated be Seth Adams, who's the more efficient passer. The massive line should be better after years of seasoning.
Defense: This should've been the year when everything started to come together for the Rebel defense, but the loss of all three starting linebackers, along with some major uncertainty in the secondary, will make this an inconsistent year, at least early on. The defensive line will be the strength with end Marcus Tillman on the verge of stardom, and the tackle combination of Peria Jerry and Jeremy Garrett to be among the best in the league ... if they stay healthy. The secondary lost some of its top safety prospects to the depleted linebacking corps, and the corners have to be far better. Ole Miss only picked off three passes last year. That can't happen again.

Sept. 29 - Eastern Michigan
Offense: EMU's defense hasn't been productive in years, but if there's not a major improvement this year with ten starters returning along with a slew of experienced depth, it might never happen. Junior Daniel Holtzclaw is a superstar middle linebacker who'll be the one the rest of the defense revolves around. Tackles Jason Jones and Josh Hunt can't stop the run, but they're regulars in opposing backfields. As long as the corners and ends start to produce, and the experience and quickness at all spots makes up for a general lack of size, things should be better after finishing 116th in the nation against run and 98th in total defense.
Defense: New offensive coordinator Scott Ispohording has his work cut out for him despite getting seven starters back along with a ton of experienced depth. The supposed wide-open offense was awful with no ground game from the running backs and even less of a passing attack with quarterbacks Andy Schmitt and Tyler Jones basically running, running and running some more. The line should be better with three returning starters and a decent interior, but the offense won't go anywhere unless Pierre Walker, or possible Jones, turns into a reliable tailback. The loss of top receiver Eric Deslauriers means the passing game will be spread out among several options with the hope for former quarterback Dontayo Gage to turn into a true number one.

Oct. 6 – at Auburn
Offense: Where are the stars? The Auburn offense is full of above-average talents who need to mesh into a better, more consistent attack than the one that averaged just 24.77 points and 321 yards per game while doing next to nothing against the top teams. Only one starter, massive tackle King Dunlap, returns to the offensive line, while the receiving corps could be a problem is no one becomes a reliable number two receiver alongside Rodgeriqus Smith. On the plus side, the running backs are deep and talented, Brandon Cox appears ready to be a more productive passer, and the tight ends are the best in the league by far.
Defense: The whole will likely be better than the parts. Auburn's defensive front has the potential to be excellent thanks to the return of star end Quentin Groves for his senior year and with the emergence of Sen'Derrick Marks on the inside. Getting into the backfield won't be an issue, and coming up with sacks had better not be with a secondary that'll be shaky despite getting three starters back. The loss of corner David Irons will hurt. The linebacking corps isn't experienced, but it should be better than last year's group as the season goes on.

Oct. 13 - Georgia
Offense: The offense was a disaster at times throughout an inconsistent season, but that was to be expected with a true freshman at quarterback, at times, injury problems at running back, and the team's best receiver out. Now, sophomore QB Matthew Stafford appears on the verge of being the superstar he's supposed to be, Thomas Brown is expected to be back at some point to help out the running game, after missing the second half of last year with a knee injury, and Sean Bailey should be the number one target now that he's back from his knee injury. The offense, at least early on, will revolve around big Kregg Lumpkin and the running game, but the line needs to produce as well as it did this spring. A mega-concern going into the off-season, now the front five appears to be a strength.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has his work cut out for him. After losing star corner Paul Oliver to academic ineligibility, the defense is woefully short on sure-thing veteran stars with only three returning starters. There's plenty of potential, speed, and athleticism, but several things have to happen for this to be nearly as good as the number eight defense it was last year. The pass rush should be there in time, but it might take the wheels of outside linebackers Darius Dewberry and Dannell Ellerbe to generate some consistent pressure early on. The secondary needs to unearth more big play options, and a number one corner has to quickly emerge. While undersized, the line is tough and should grow into a rock as the year goes on. This will be a far, far better defense after a few games. By then the coaching staff will have the right combination.

Oct. 20 – at South Carolina
Offense: This should be a balanced attack that'll rely on the running game early on and the steady play of emerging QB Blake Mitchell to be more explosive and consistent than last year. The big concern is a line that was overmatched throughout the spring as it tried to break in three new starters. Getting a push for the nice 1-2 rushing punch of Cory Boyd and Mike Davis is job one, while Mitchell will have to make quick decisions early on until things start to come together. The loss of Sidney Rice won't be a killer if Kenny McKinley handles the number one job like he's expected to and a good number two emerges.
Defense: The defense has plenty of returning experience, depth, young options waiting to step up and shine, and good stars to build around. MLB Jasper Brinkley is one of the best in America, and now his twin brother will move from defensive end to outside linebacker to help out (though he might end up back on the line). The secondary is emerging as a potential force if everyone starters to play consistently. There's speed at corner, depth and experience at safety, and an emerging star in SS Emanuel Cook. The defensive line has to be far better against the run, and it should be with the return of Marque Hall from injury and the emergence of freshman Ladi Ajiboye.

Oct. 27 - Miami University

Offense: It's all about the offensive line. The front five was hit by injuries last season and the whole machine broke down with no running game, an obscene amount of sacks, and not enough of a passing game. Now the line is experienced with decent depth, the running backs should be solid as long as Brandon Murphy is over his ankle problems, and Mike Kokal has the potential to be the MAC's most effective all-around quarterback. And then there's the receiving corps. With Ryne Robinson gone, there's no proven number one receiver, but there's a boatload of speed on the outside in Dustin Woods and Armand Robinson. While they'll make big plays, someone has to become a go-to guy.
Defense: There were huge concerns about the defense going into last season with only two returning starters, but the lumps taken against the run and against way too many mediocre offenses should pay off in a return to the days when MU had one of the MAC's best defenses. While just six starters are back, there are more than enough promising options at several positions to create good overall competition and have more depth than there's been in a long time. The pass rush needs to be better with Craig Mester needing to get back to form to help out junior end Joe Coniglio. Joey Hudson and Clayton Mullins form one of the MAC's best 1-2 linebacking punches, while the secondary should be one of the team's strengths led by speedy corner Jerrid Gaines and veteran safety Robbie Wilson.

Nov. 3 – at Florida
Offense: Now it's time to see how this baby runs. Now the Urban Meyer spread offense will do what it's supposed to with Tim Tebow at the controls full-time, and with a slew of speedy players around him. The offensive line isn't going to wow anyone, but it's experienced, and good enough to win with. The receiving corps has explosion, led by Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, and some tremendous tight ends, and the running backs, with the emergence of smallish speedster Chris Rainey, will have more pop. Now it's up to Tebow to not only shine, but stay healthy with two true freshmen behind him.
This is what's called giving Florida the benefit of the doubt. Anyone else replacing nine starters, needing a slew of true freshman to play big roles right away, and/or had the issues the Gators have on the line and at corner, would be instantly dismissed from any SEC East title talk much less the national championship discussion. The recruiting classes have brought in a ton of ultra-fast, ultra-athletic player for the back seven, but there isn't enough size up front, or developed depth anywhere, to hope for any sort of consistency. No, things won't fall off the map after finishing sixth in the nation in scoring and total defense, but there will be some major growing pains to fight through.

Nov. 10 - Kentucky
Offense: The Wildcat offense exploded last year thanks to the emergence of Andre Woodson as a superstar quarterback. It'll be bombs away once again, as Woodson chose to come back for his senior year and will have all his weapons at his disposal. Keenan Burton finally stayed healthy, and he became one of the SEC's most lethal receivers. Dicky Lyons, tight end Jacob Tamme, and running back Rafael Little are also back, with Little healthy enough again to be one of the SEC's best all-around offensive weapons. The problem is the line, which is mediocre at best, a liability at worst. It could be what keeps the Wildcats from being special.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is gone, and now former secondary coach Steve Brown will take over in an attempt to revive one of the nation's worst defenses. The run defense won't be any good again with little size up front, but the secondary should be better with excellent speed and good young prospects. It'll take awhile to see any improvement overall, but there's enough overall athleticism to expect things to be a bit better.

Nov. 17 – at Tennessee
Offense: The return of David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator made a night-and-day difference in the passing game. Now he needs to get the running game to do more, and there needs to be even more from QB Erik Ainge after a nice bounceback year. The receiving corps loses the top three targets and the line loses the two best players, so it'll be up to the trio of Arian Foster, LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty to carry the running game and the offense. Ainge has to make everyone around him better until new producers at receiver emerge.
Defense: Is there a defense in America that's produced less with so much promise and potential? The Vols have a who's who of top high school prospects that haven't quite panned out, and now that has to change to have any hope of winning the SEC East. Jerod Mayo will move from the outside to the middle and Jonathan Hefney returns at free safety to give the Vols two All-America caliber defenders to build around. Now there needs to be more of a pass rush after coming up with an inexcusable 17 sacks, and the new starting tackles have to quickly emerge. The secondary has to replace three starters, but should be fine in time, while the linebacking corps, if healthy, will be among the SEC's best.

Nov. 24 - Wake Forest
Offense: Wake Forest will never come out and outbomb anyone, but it'll run effectively behind a veteran offensive line, get the timely passes when needed, and won't screw up. The attack only averaged 21.6 points per game and was 96th in the nation in offense, but there were only 15 giveaways. QB Riley Skinner is back after helping the offense lead the ACC in passing efficiency, but everything will revolve around the ground game with several good runners and four starters returning up front. The receiving corps will be an issue needing to move 2006's leading rusher, Kenneth Moore, back to his natural receiver position.
Defense: The D could be even better than last year when it was solid at bending but rarely breaking finishing 12th in the nation in scoring defense. There's not a Jon Abbate to rely on, and a few key defensive backs need to be replaced, but there's plenty of experience everywhere and lots of speed and athleticism in the secondary. There needs to be more pass rush from the defensive front and there could stand to be fewer big plays allowed against the pass, but the overall production should be solid.



Related Stories
SEC Reigns Supreme in 2007
 -by TigerSportsDigest.com  Jan 22, 2008
Photo Gallery: Goff at Shrine Bowl
 -by VandyMania.com  Jan 21, 2008
 -by ScoutFootball.com  Jan 22, 2008

Add Topics to My HotList
Get free email alerts with news about your favorite topics. Click link to add to My HotList.
Football > Vanderbilt
[View My HotList]