November 14, 2011

Looking back, looking ahead

Looking back to Kentucky

Earlier in the year, Vanderbilt's 30-7 win over Ole Miss was the biggest margin of victory the Commodores had enjoyed over a Southeastern Conference opponent. But the 'Dores out-did themselves this past Saturday, gliding by Kentucky in a 38-8 win that was the program's biggest win in the league since 1971.

The Commodore offense didn't meet coach James Franklin's weekly goal of eight "explosive plays" per game. Instead, it beat UK by gaining 28 first downs, in no small part due to Zac Stacy> big game.

The junior ran 28 times for 135 yards and three touchdowns, and was named the SEC's offensive player of the week. The last score was an amazing run in which Stacy disappeared under a pile of UK defenders, seemed to be stopped a couple of times, then dragged about half of the Wildcat defense with him into the end zone.

"That kind of demonstrated how hard we'd been playing that whole game," offensive lineman Wesley Johnson said. "That kind of capped it off. We were able to really finish that game."

Once again, Stacy had plenty of help from his blockers. VU nominated Johnson for the league's offensive lineman of the week after he played well at guard on Saturday. Johnson started the year at center before moving to left tackle, where he played last season.

On Monday, Franklin was asked if Johnson was perhaps the team's offensive most valuable player.

"I think you could make that argument. You're talking about a guy who played not only one of your more critical positions, but also has the flex to fill in whatever holes you think you have to get the best five on the field," Franklin said.

Even with the frequent switch-arounds on a thin offensive line, the unit has performed well in the last half of the season. The Commodores have rushed for 200 yards or more in four of their last five games, and given up just seven sacks in their last six.

However, center Logan Stewart continues to draw fire for what seems like a weekly personal foul penalty. Stewart drew one again against Kentucky that killed a drive.

Franklin insisted on Monday in saying that the latest infraction was not a dirty play, but one that occurred at the wrong time.

"What I'll explain to you is the way we teach our guys here, and the way we've always taught our guys, is that you play from the time the ball is snapped until the whistle is blown. That block occurred before the whistle was blown, but what I'm finding out is the way [they're] officiating that is he's supposed to know when the play has ended, and the whistle does not signify the end of the play is how I'm being explained the rule," Franklin said.

On the other side of the ball, the Commodores held UK to 0-of-12 on third downs, and allowed an SEC season-best 211 total yards. Franklin credited Vandy's ability to get pressure on the quarterback without needing to blitz.

Defensive end Walker May and his teammates spent a lot of their day in the Kentucky backfield. VU led 24-0 at half, which allowed the defensive line to pin its ears back and go after quarterback Maxwell Smith.

"You just look to the guy next to you and say, 'They're going to throw the ball now,' and tee off and go," said May.

Looking ahead to Tennessee

Tennessee has dominated its annual rivalry with Vanderbilt since approximately the start of World War II, with the Commodores winning just seven times since 1938. However, the Commodores are a 1 point favorite at Knoxville for this coming Saturday's game.

UT won last year's meeting in Nashville by a 24-10 score, with freshman quarterback Tyler Bray completing 16-for-27 throws for 232 yards, a pair of interceptions, and two touchdowns.

Bray, a potential high first-round NFL draft pick when he leaves UT, has missed the Vols' last four games with a broken thumb. However, his cast came off last week and he has a chance to play this Saturday.

Bray has completed almost 70 percent of his 176 throws for 1,579 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions this year.

Franklin said that VU would prepare for Bray, but that the Vols do offensively isn't much different with true freshman Justin Worley, who has hit 48-of-87 passes for 604 yards, one score, and three picks. UT ranks second in the league with 251 passing yards per contest.

Whomever starts, he'll have Da'Rick Rogers, whom Franklin calls "explosive," as a main target. Rogers has caught 55 balls for 886 yards and seven scores this season.

Franklin also praised running back Tauren Poole, who ran for 1,034 yards (5.1 per carry) and 11 touchdowns last year. However, Poole is averaging just 3.5 yards per rush this season, as the Vols rank last in the SEC with 92 yards rushing per game.

Defensively, the Vols are eighth in total defense (359 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (24.0 points). Their base scheme is a 4-3, and Franklin considers tackle Malik Jackson (7.5 sacks, and ranks third on the team in tackles) and end Jacques Smith (5.5 tackles for loss) as players he's concerned about stopping.

"They really line up and let their athletes play. They try to keep you honest with schemes and things like that but they're basically a base defense," Franklin said.

Franklin was asked about the rivalry between the programs, but he said the game was primarily important "because it's the next game."

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