Most weeks, we check in with a fellow SEC blogger to get the lowdown on the Hogs' upcoming opponent. This week, we've taken a slightly different course: to get a scouting report on Vanderbilt, we turned to Jeff Lockridge, who covers the team for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. Many thanks to Jeff for his insight and time.
Vandy's struggles on offense have reached the point that the Commodores changed offensive coordinators after last weekend's loss to South Carolina. How do you expect the team to alter its offensive attack, and do you expect the unit to have any success against the Hogs' defense? In some ways, this game strikes us a stoppable force (Vandy's offense) against a movable object (the Hogs' defense).
I like that last analogy. Sounds about right. The coordinator change was brought on by a couple of things: 1) Vanderbilt has gotten away from its running game, which is its bread and butter; and 2) Robbie Caldwell needed to do something to show he's trying to make this team better, particularly since he and the rest of this staff are not exactly on firm ground after Bobby Johnson's retirement in July. In terms of altering the attack, I suspect we'll see a little more option with running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy getting more touches. But I don't know that this offense has the personnel to make any big changes in midseason.
Give us a general assessment of the Commodores' strengths and weaknesses, and tell us one offensive player and one defensive player that could give the Hogs trouble on Saturday.
The strength is that the Commodores have some individual playmakers. Norman and Stacy can break runs, tight end Brandon Barden is a matchup problem, and cornerback Casey Hayward and linebacker Chris Marve are future NFL players and two of the SEC's better defenders. I'd point to Norman and Hayward as the players to keep an eye on - Hayward has five interceptions in the last six games. But the weaknesses outweigh the strengths: poor run defense, poor passing game, poor third-down conversion rate. Defensive fatigue has been an issue in the second half of games because the unit is on the field so much.
Vandy has long been the conference whipping boy. Is this something that the fanbase generally accepts, or is there a real hunger and demand from Commodore fans for greater success?
There is a hunger from Vandy fans for greater success. That said, you have to understand this is a very small fan base by SEC standards and given the program's history, a fairly pessimistic one as well. You obviously don't see the kind of passion and packed stadiums you do at other venues. But this is also an intelligent fan base that is not asking for 10-win seasons. A six-win season and a bowl game every other year would have people here elated. The fans' frustrations stem from what they feel is a general lack of commitment - financial and otherwise - to the program by the university.
Finally: what's your prediction for Saturday's game?
Arkansas 31, Vanderbilt 13