Anchor of Gold always does excellent work covering Vanderbilt for SB Nation, and friend of the podcast Christian D'Andrea traded questions and answers with me this week for Saturday's showdown. You can find my answers to his questions here.
1. What's been the biggest difference between Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette, and do you expect to see one or both of them on Saturday?
Carta-Samuels is a veteran. After two years with Wyoming he's been in Nashville for the past three, and he has the best rapport with this offense of anyone on the current roster. While he's good for one awful pass per game, he understands James Franklin's gameplan and executes it well. He can pass for big numbers and is a solid all around quarterback.
Robinette has more potential, but he still need to grow into the position. He has a more accurate arm than ACS and is an elusive runner, but his timing has been unimpressive in his first few starts as a Commodore. He misses windows of opportunity to make plays that ACS doesn't. If he can get comfortable in the pocket he can be the better QB. Until then, Carta-Samuels give this team their best chance to win.
I think we'll see ACS on Saturday. He started against Kentucky, and while he still looked limited against the Wildcats, you have to think that inserting him in that game was Franklin's way of getting him ready for Tennessee - the toughest test left on Vandy's schedule. If he struggles, look for Robinette to make an appearance. Quarterback platoons, sadly, are a Vanderbilt tradition after all.
2. How critical is Jordan Matthews to Vanderbilt's offense, and who are the other reliable weapons for the Commodores?
Matthews is the engine that drives this offense, and his stellar receiving creates opportunities for other players across the field. The biggest benefactor in 2013 has been Jonathan Krause, who was in line for a 1,000-yard receiving season before missing the last two games due to injury. Krause is an elusive wideout who can be effective in the slot or as a deep threat. If he's back against UT, he'll give Butch Jones an extra element to plan against in practice this week.
Aside from Krause, Jerron Seymour has emerged as the leader of Vandy's three-headed tailback stable. The diminutive (5'7"ish, more like 5'4") running back packs a wallop and can break off big runs - he had a 64-yard TD called back due to a phantom block-in-the-back call last Saturday. He'll pair with Brian Kimbrow to give the team a pair of home run threats, while Wesley Tate, who hasn't been called on much lately, could see some wildcat snaps or be tagged to help move the pile in short yardage situations.
3. Vanderbilt is +11 in turnovers in their last four games including the wins over Georgia and Florida. What's been the biggest difference here - great play by the defense, fortunate bounces, a little of both?
I'll chalk it up to great plays by the defense. In their last two games, Vanderbilt forced Tyler Murphy and Jalen Whitlow into bad decisions, and then capitalized on them to earn a +8 ratio in those two games. The Vandy gameplan exploited shaky quarterback play, and that led to big wins in matchups where the Commodore offense wasn't doing much work.
More importantly, it showcased a strong secondary that hadn't had a chance to shine earlier in the season. Vandy had been gashed by mobile quarterbacks earlier in the year, leaving the team's cornerbacks on an island and allowing passers like Connor Shaw and Bo Wallace to carve this team up. Recently, this team has been taking care of business up front, allowing for more comprehensive cover schemes behind them and seven interceptions in their last two games.
4. How have you continued to see the Vanderbilt culture change under James Franklin this season?
It's a slow and steady path to get fans back to Vanderbilt Stadium, but I think that people in Nashville are starting to understand how this team operates. It was disappointing to go from a packed season opener to a listless, half empty stadium against Kentucky, but not notching a meaningful win until mid-October will have that effect. Vandy fans have seen this team suffer through bad seasons before, but I think that Franklin's recent strength in November - 8-2 in the last 3 years - is starting to convince fans to hold on and keep the faith behind this team, especially as Franklin's recruits get ready to take over in the coming years.
5. Is there a different feel surrounding this game after what happened last year? How important is this game for Vanderbilt right now?
I'd like to be able to say that some kind of weight has been lifted after getting the first home win over UT in 30 years, but no. There's still the same amount of anxiety and excitement looming behind this game. Tennessee could be 0-11 headed into Vandy week and Commodore fans would still be worried about this matchup, because we know that UT always comes hard and somehow finds an extra gear to win this game (last year excepted).
In the grand scheme of final bowl destinations, this game isn't that important. Vanderbilt is probably headed to the Liberty or Compass Bowls regardless of if they have eight wins or six wins (yay?). However, beating Tennessee is equally as important as getting to the postseason for Commodore fans. We're sick of this little brother syndrome crap. We want to make this a rivalry. We want UT fans to have the same burning football hate for us as we do for you. We'd like to be the ones walking out of the bar with a relieved look on our faces instead of just letting the bartender know to leave the bottle of Old Grand-Dad where it is, and that we'll tell him when we're finished with it.
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