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Let's Learn About Vanderbilt

Do you know anything about Vanderbilt football? You don't? Great, neither do I. Let's ask someone unfortunate enough to have watched all of their games.

Who are these people? THIS AND MORE BELOW. Well, okay, mostly just this.
Who are these people? THIS AND MORE BELOW. Well, okay, mostly just this.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In an ongoing* effort to actually learn something about our in-conference opponents, the intrepid staff of Rocky Top Talk have sought out answers from the first Vanderbilt blog who'd actually take our calls our SBN brethren over at Anchor of Gold.

We assembled the best questions we could come up with**, and Anchor of Gold responded. Check it out below.

So y'all fired Karl Dorrell after a terrible offensive season last year. How's that working out? Have you considered hiring him, then firing him again?

Andy Ludwig is...fine. He can do strong work with an offense that has the right tools - he proved that at Utah and Wisconsin - but Vanderbilt isn't the right team for his kind of offense. The Commodores have no stability at quarterback or on the offensive line, so opponents have had a very easy time loading up the box and stopping Ralph Webb, who is a very good tailback behind an often-imploding line. Throw in a laundry list of injuries - to starting LT Andrew Jelks and emerging receiving targets CJ Duncan and DeAndre Woods - and you've got the worst scoring offense in the nation.
I'm all for firing Karl Dorrell, so long as we're talking out of a cannon and into the sun. Vanderbilt was totally unwatchable last year (instead of just occasionally unwatchable in 2015) and that was Dorrell's fault.

What did the James Franklin Era do with fans' expectations of the Vanderbilt program? How do you think Vanderbilt will gain ground in the SEC East with coaching turmoil at South Carolina and Missouri?

It brought a few new fans to Dudley Field and made us much more impatient with their coaching hires. People jumped on Derek Mason from day one after he replaced Franklin, and that's a new wrinkle for Commodore fans. The expectation now is to reach a bowl game every year, but I think fans would settle for a bowl game every other year and feel pretty good about things for a while.
Vanderbilt is, despite recent results, in great shape for the future. This is a very young team that is being developed like Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw's Stanford teams. Mason is recruiting players that fit his scheme, and those athletes are developing into solid SEC players. 2016 will be better than 2015, and that rising tide should give this team an edge while the rest of the East looks at each other and shrugs.

Ralph Webb has been pretty decent so far this season. Anyone else we need to know the names of before Saturday on offense?

Kyle Shurmur and Caleb Scott have a solid connection in the passing game, but that didn't mean anything against A&M last weekend (Scott left that game with an injury but is set to play vs. UT). Dallas Rivers can occasionally break a few runs open...but the player you may have to worry about is Darrius Sims. He's the team's most dynamic athlete, but Ludwig has struggled to get him the ball effectively this season. (for the third straight year)

Turning around your question for me (ed.: our answers are here): what does the Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry mean to Vanderbilt these days?

It's important, and it's key to growing this team's identity on the field, in the state, and in the SEC. Tennessee fans have given Vanderbilt a little brother reputation, and James Franklin's teams (and Derek Dooley's dazzling incompetence) proved that we don't have to be the nail to UT's hammer. Being outnumbered as a fanbase furthers the underdog narrative, and while it always seems like the team is punching up I think that makes it much more meaningful when this team pulls out an upset victory.

Tennessee's gameplan on offense has been to try and strike out to a two-score lead early, then sit on it the rest of the game. How will Vanderbilt try and slow down Tennessee's offense early?

Vanderbilt has one of the SEC's most underrated defenses, led by inside linebacker Zach Cunningham and cornerback Torren McGaster. A big push up front will keep Josh Dobbs on his toes, and Mason's 3-4 defense has been much better in containing mobile QBs in 2015 than this team had been in the past. The Commodores have been a bend, don't break defense thanks to a red zone performance that ranks fifth in the nation. Tennessee could very well jump out to a two-score lead in the first half, but recent history suggests that would be 6-0 instead of 14-0.

Followup: let's say Tennessee is up, say, 13-3 in the third quarter. How will Vanderbilt come back? (note: acceptable if the answer is "wait for Tennessee to punt the ball on five straight possessions")

a) handoff middle, Ralph Webb

b) handoff middle, Ralph Webb

c) Four-yard curl route, thrown into the stands

d) 12-yard punt

Repeat as necessary.

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We thank Anchor of Gold for not refusing to answer our questions entirely thanks to a couple of Jeff Green jokes we slipped into their football Q&A.

*okay, so we've done this like twice. Twice means it's a series.

**in about 30 tryptophan-addled seconds, speaking of which THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS Y'ALL ::dives out of post: