Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Midseason report: Vanderbilt
By Chris Low
The momentum Vanderbilt generated coming off the nine-win season a year ago, capped by the bowl victory over North Carolina State, was the kind of thing this program hadn’t seen in ages.
Coach James Franklin obviously believed there was more to do, too, as he was wooed by several other schools in the offseason, but chose to stay in Nashville. Everything seemed to be lining up for the Commodores.
But then the bottom fell out this summer when four freshmen were charged with raping an unconscious female student in a campus dorm room and were subsequently dismissed from the team. A fifth player, receiver Chris Boyd, was also later dismissed after agreeing to a plea deal for his role in helping to cover up the alleged rape.
The sordid case has hovered over Vanderbilt’s program like a dark cloud and has clearly had an impact, although Franklin and the players have gone out of their way not to use it as an excuse.
The season-opening 39-35 loss to Ole Miss was a rough way to start, especially since it looked like the Commodores were going to win it until the Rebels’ Jeff Scott broke free on a 75-yard touchdown run with 1:07 to play.
In a lot of ways, Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC) never seemed to fully recover. Injuries to linebackers Chase Garnham and Karl Butler have been crippling to a defense that has given up 35 or more points in all three SEC contests.
The schedule doesn’t get much easier from here with games against Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida over the next four weeks. Vanderbilt does hope to get Butler back when Georgia visits this weekend, and that should help.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Commodores were 2-4 at this same point a year ago and rallied to win their last six games of the regular season. This has been a resilient bunch under Franklin, and it’s going to take a similar run, albeit against a much tougher schedule, to match last season’s success.
Offensive MVP: Receiver Jordan Matthews. What else can you say about Matthews that hasn’t already been said? He’s one of the best receivers in college football and on pace to break the SEC record for career receiving yards and career catches. He’s posted five 100-yard receiving games this season despite opposing defenses targeting him every week and leads the league with 47 catches. He’s second in receiving yards with an average of 118.2 yards per game and has caught five touchdown passes.
Defensive MVP: Safety Kenny Ladler. The Commodores have been a breeding ground the last few years for quality defensive backs, and Ladler is next in line. The hard-hitting senior leads the team with 49 total tackles, including 30 solo stops, and also has an interception and forced fumble. Even though Vanderbilt hasn’t played to the same level defensively as it did the last two years, Ladler has been one of the top safeties in the league.