Season report card: Vanderbilt


Vanderbilt is the last of the 14 SEC teams to get its report card for the 2013 season, and once again, the Commodores received some high marks.


For the second straight season, the Commodores averaged 30 or more points per game (30.1), although their running game dropped off to last in the league. Against SEC competition, Vanderbilt averaged just 115.4 yards per game on the ground. Give the Commodores credit, though, for taking a great player and riding him. Senior receiver Jordan Matthews made one key play after another, and Vanderbilt wasn't shy about feeding him the ball. Matthews concluded a record-breaking career by leading the SEC with 112 catches and 1,477 receiving yards. He was easily the most valuable player on offense, but senior left tackle Wesley Johnson at least deserves to be in the conversation. Senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels also showed a lot of courage by playing on a torn ACL in the last few regular-season games, and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette filled in capably in the couple games Carta-Samuels missed and in the bowl game after Carta-Samuels underwent surgery.


There were some rough spots early, but Vanderbilt finished in the Top 25 nationally in total defense for the third straight season. The only other four SEC schools to do that were Alabama, Florida, LSU and South Carolina. The Commodores gave up 35 or more points in all four of their SEC losses, including 50-plus to both Missouri and Texas A&M, but settled down and played their best football on defense down the stretch. The secondary was once again outstanding. Safety Kenny Ladler led the team with 91 tackles and also had five interceptions and five forced fumbles. Cornerback Andre Hal was one of the best cover guys in the league and led the SEC with 18 passes defended. Even though the Commodores weren't dominant on defense, they were opportunistic. Their 30 forced turnovers tied for second in the league, and they also finished in the top five in third-down defense. All in all, another solid job by Bob Shoop and his staff.


The Commodores' return units weren't especially prolific, ranking 11th in punt return average and 13th in kickoff returns in the SEC. On the bright side, the Commodores were fifth in the league in net punting (39.1 yards), and senior placekicker Carey Spear was his usual dependable self. He made 15 of 19 field-goal attempts and was never shy about sticking his head in there on kickoff coverage, either. Adam Butler had two blocked kicks.


If you just looked at the Commodores' numbers this season, they weren't overly impressive. But it's a team that found ways to win, which is a credit to James Franklin and his staff, not to mention the leadership on the team. It's true that Vanderbilt didn't beat up on a lot of teams that finished the season with winning records. But to win nine games for the second consecutive year -- something that had never previously been done at Vanderbilt -- speaks for itself. The Commodores won at Florida, beat Georgia and also went to Knoxville and won, their second straight win over the Vols. Losing Franklin to Penn State was a downer, for sure. He took the Commodores to unprecedented heights and brought a much-needed edge to the program. Given his success, it was inevitable that he was going to bolt for a bigger job, and he did when the Nittany Lions came calling. Nonetheless, he engineered the kind of run that we might not see for a long time again at Vanderbilt, which had enjoyed just one winning season in the 28 years prior to Franklin arriving on campus.