Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blog Swap, Vanderbilt Week

This season we're exchanging posts with blogs that represent each of our major opponents. For Vandy we are doing the swap with Vanderbilt Sports Line, The opinions expressed below are those of Vanderbilt Sports Line. Our thoughts are posted on their site. This post will remain at the top of the blog throughout the day Thursday. Look for newer posts immediately below.


In some ways it seemed after last week's games that Vanderbilt will face a perfect storm of problems heading into the battle in Gainesville. Key injuries played a big factor as the Commies struggled at home against Miami (Ohio) following our big win over South Carolina two weeks ago. Add to that Florida's loss to Georgia and the fact that we're heading to the Swamp to play a pissed-off team that ranks 10th in the nation in scoring at 39 ppg, and the picture starts to look slightly bleak for a Commodore fan who's seen this storyline before.

However, there are good reasons for Commodore fans to have this game circled on their calendar. First and foremost, with the exception of Auburn and LSU, I'd argue that no team has played Florida better over the past two seasons than Vanderbilt. We're still bitter about the excessive celebration call against Earl Bennett two years ago in the overtime loss in the Swamp, and no one's forgotten what might have been in last year's game when two blocked punts made all the difference in the 25-19 loss.

Second, the injury situation for the 'Dores looks better than it did a few days ago. Quarterbacks Mackenzi Adams (injured sternum in Miami game) and Chris Nickson (nagging shoulder injury) both participated in practice today, as did cornerback Myron Lewis (injured shoulder in Miami game), nickelback Darlron Spead (shoulder), and backup linebacker Brandon Bryant (ankle). Still no word on who'll be taking most of the snaps Saturday, and I imagine we won't know until just before game time. If it's Adams or Nickson you can expect a similar option-oriented style of play, while Arizona-transfer Richard Kovalchek gives you more of a traditional drop-back passer look.

Offensively, I would hope to see a lot of passing from Vanderbilt. WR Earl Bennett broke the SEC all-time receptions record on Saturday, he leads the SEC in catches, and he was just named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Sean Walker, George Smith, and Justin Wheeler have also stepped up the past few games, so there's no question the weapons are there. Florida, for its part, is sporting the #87 pass defense in Division I-A, giving up over 250 yards per game. There are some big-play opportunities to be had against the young Gator secondary, and Offensive Coordinator Tim Cain ought to know it. He also ought to know that mixing up the looks by running CB/KR DJ Moore out of the slot. The running back committee of Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jeff Jennings, and Jared Hawkins (the latter two of whom I'd prefer to see more of) need to focus on not fumbling. As they did in the Georgia game, turnovers would kill us against UF.

Defensively, the Commies will probably play it straight-up and not do as much blitzing as they've done against the pass-oriented offenses they've seen thus far. Tebow, Harvin & Co. are just too dangerous to get carried away with aggressive defensive play calling. I'm expecting to see two things out of the Florida offense: (1) Tebow and Harvin will run the ball a lot and test our defensive line. (2) They'll use the run (I can see it now, the patented Tebow fake-tuck-and-drop-back-to-pass) to suck in the safeties and set up pass plays, trying to stay away from DJ Moore and picking on (injured?) Myron Lewis all day long.

The Gators face a formidable opponent, though, in the Vanderbilt defense. We're currently ranked 14th in the nation in total defense and 15th in pass defense. I think if the 'Dores play it straight-up and stay at home on D, they can neutralize the potency of Florida's offense and make it a game.

Bottom Line

Like last year, I predict this game will come down to two factors: special teams and turnovers. Vandy special teams have improved significantly over last year, but the kickoff and punt defenses still rank at the bottom of Division 1-A. That doesn't bode well with Brandon James taking back punts for Florida. Both teams have quality kick returners and I think DJ Moore is due to take one to the house. Both teams have lost as many TOs as they've gained so far, but Tebow's only thrown three INTs this year against some of the top secondaries in the country. It'll be interesting to see if Tebow tries to take a page out of Auburn's book by bowling over our defense. But if that shoulder of his is still bothering him, he loses a lot of effectiveness on the run, as we saw last week. A less-potent running threat from Tebow would give Vanderbilt a chance so long as we protect the football and avoid giving the Gators a short field.


uf gator dmd said...

Tebow's likely to be hurting, and UF's D line isn't looking like it will improve...but hopefully the offense can get it going.

Good assessment of the game...but no prediction? :)

Anonymous said...

As a lifelong Gator fan (all my family went to Florida and have had season tickets forever)but a Vandy alum I am really excited about this game. Even dating back to my days in Nash Vegas I usually rooted on the Gators because they had the chance to go on and compete for the SEC/BCS. But this weekend I really hope Vandy wins and becomes bowl eligible for the first time since I was a little tot.

In any case I hope it is as good of a game as it has been in recent years. Best case scenario for me is for Tebow to have a big game, but Vandy to come out ahead (though these two might be mutually exclusive)