The Mississippi State coach and former Florida assistant is highly respected.
The search for the next Penn State head coach took an interesting turn over the weekend with the news that current Miami coach and former PSU player Al Golden signed a new four-year contract extension that stretches to February 2020.
The Vols have to beat the Commodores to remain eligible for the postseason.
Tennessee finds itself in a very unusual situation this weekend — a home underdog to Vanderbilt. Unfortunately for Derek Dooley, his Vols have been setting some programs lows throughout this season on the way to an 0-6 SEC record.
According to the numbers, Vanderbilt was the worst team in the nation last season relative to its conference. The Commodores were outgained in their eight SEC games by an average of 245.4 yards and outscored by an average of 21.0 points.
Enter James Franklin.
With two games still to play, Vanderbilt has already won more games this season (five) than the last two seasons combined (four). And there has been nothing fluky about the Dores’ 5–5 mark; in fact, Vanderbilt, with three SEC losses by five points or less, is a few plays away from being 7–3 or even 8–2.
This season, Vanderbilt has only been outgained in SEC games by 31.5 yards (an improvement off over 200 yards per game) and outscored by 1.7 points (an improvement of 19.3 points per game).
The most dramatic difference has been on the offensive side of the ball. The Dores, for the first time in several years, feature legitimate playmakers at the skill positions. In four starts, quarterback Jordan Rodgers has averaged 232.5 yards passing and 52.8 yards rushing. Junior running back Zac Stacy, healthy for the first time since his freshman season, has rushed for 891 yards and nine touchdowns, and he leads the league (min. 80 carries) with a 6.5-yard average. Sophomore wide receiver Jordan Matthews has been on a tear of late with 21 catches for 452 yards and three TDs in the last three games.
“They made the quarterback switch (from Larry Smith to Rodgers), and they do everything,” said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. “You can’t cheat against them, meaning every time they do this, they are going to do that. You got to go play. And what’s interesting is they really find a way to generate big plays, as good as anybody. I think Arkansas is the only team with more big plays than they’ve had.”
To Dooley’s point, Vanderbilt ranks second in the SEC (to Arkansas) in plays of 30 yards or more and leads the league in plays of 40 yards or more.
Last week, in a 38–8 win over Kentucky, the Commodores rolled up 410 yards of offense. Over the last four games, they have averaged 444.8 yards and twice in that stretch had over 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same game.
And it’s with this momentum that Vanderbilt heads to Knoxville — as a one-point favorite — to take on a Tennessee team that is 0–6 in the SEC for the first time ever.
“We feel real confident,” said sophomore defensive end Walker May. “We feel good, loose, ready to go. It's so fun. We are looking forward to this weekend, not looking back on the Kentucky win.”
The Commodores need to beat either Tennessee this week or Wake Forest next week to become bowl-eligible for the first times since 2008 and only the second time since the 1982 season.
Vanderbilt last defeated Tennessee in 2005, when Jay Cutler was a junior. Prior to that, the Dores had not won in Knoxville since 1975.
“I am not too familiar with the rivalry,” said Rodgers, a California native who enrolled at Vanderbilt last year after two seasons in junior college. “I know it has been pretty lopsided between the two schools.”
Rodgers believes his team is peaking at the right time of the season.
“With how much we’ve improved, I think it is a good time for us to be playing anybody,” he said. “I feel like we've gotten to the point where we’re confident that we can get a win against anybody we face, if we play how we know we should and execute how we know we should. So, for us right now, we go into every game thinking that we should win, that we should be able to compete. So, right now it's a good time for us to be playing anybody.”
AROUND THE SEC
• Florida scored a total of two touchdowns in its last three road games, losses at LSU, Auburn and South Carolina.
• South Carolina won six SEC games for the first time since joining the league in 1992.
• Arkansas held Tennessee to seven points in last week’s win in Fayetteville. It was the first time the Hogs have held an SEC team to single digits since beating Ole Miss, 44–8, in October 2007.
• Ole Miss is giving up a league-worst 6.67 yards per play against SEC competition. Alabama, the league leader, is giving up 3.5 yards per play.
• Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is averaging 12.2 yards per carry in the fourth quarter and 9.9 yards in the second half.
• Georgia has allowed 16 points or less is six of its eight wins this season.
• Auburn’s 195 yards in the loss to Georgia were the second-fewest of the Gus Malzahn era. Two years ago, the Tigers had 193 yards in a loss to LSU.
• LSU has given up four total touchdowns in six SEC games.
• Tennessee is converting 66.7 percent (42 of 63) on third down in non-conference games but only 24.7 percent (20 of 81) in league games.
Jarrett Lee is still a capable QB. Alabama's special teams aren't that bad.
By Mitch Light
We’ve all seen the game by now. Some have called it a classic. Others say it was disappointing due to a lack of offense. We can all agree, however, that there were some serious athletes on the field Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
LSU won the game, 9–6 in overtime, but one game isn’t a large enough sample size to determine which team is better. The Tigers are ranked No. 1, and obviously deserve the top spot, but if these two teams played 10 times on a neutral field, my guess is that each team would win five games.
Predictably, there has been a ton of commentary on the game and whether or not we will see a rematch in the national title game. Here are a few things that I’ve heard that just don’t add up.
The offenses aren’t any good.
My response: Alabama and LSU struggled on offense on Saturday night because they were playing each other. Keep in mind that both teams are averaging just a shade under 40 points in all games not involving the two best defenses in the nation. Alabama scored 27 points in Week 2 at Penn State — the most any team has scored on the Nittany Lions this season. The Tide also scored 38 points on Arkansas and Florida, 52 against Ole Miss, 37 against Tennessee and 34 against Vanderbilt. LSU has been equally as potent, scoring 35 points or more in all but two games this season — 19 in Week 3 against Mississippi State and nine vs. Alabama. I wouldn’t put these teams in the same class as Oregon, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, but both Alabama and LSU are very good on offense, and the numbers back it up.
Jarrett Lee is a bad quarterback My response: Lee had a bad first half against a ferocious defense and wasn’t given the opportunity to atone for his mistakes. Through the first eight games of his senior season Lee was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. He was fortunate to play with a tremendous supporting case, but there is no denying that Lee was playing very well — good enough to lead the SEC in passing efficiency and quarterback a team to an 8–0 start. Simply not playing well against Alabama doesn’t make you a bad quarterback. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, a legitimate NFL prospect and the triggerman of a top-10 passing attack, struggled in a 38–14 loss to the Tide in September. Is Wilson a bad quarterback? Didn’t think so. Neither is Lee.
Alabama’s special teams were a disaster
My response: Alabama missed four field goals, but most people seem to forget that all four kicks were from 44 yards or longer, including two from 50-plus yards. Sure, it would be nice if Alabama had a kicker capable of hitting from long range, but it wasn’t a special teams disaster, as many have indicated. The staff rolled the dice and attempted several long kicks, and it didn’t work out in most instances, though Alabama did make one from 46 yards. The Tide performed well in other areas on special teams, netting 39.5 yards on two punts and averaging 24.5 yards on two kickoff returns.
Other thoughts from the Game of the Century:
• It is amazing that Alabama only punted two times in a game in which it scored only six points.
• Was it a catch or an interception? After watching the replay a dozen times, I still can’t tell if Michael Williams or Eric Reid caught the ball. If I had to say, I would go with Williams, but the officials ruled that Reid intercepted the pass, and there wasn’t enough on replay to overturn the call.
• Morris Claiborne is a better cornerback than Tyrann Mathieu — he just doesn’t have a cool nickname or recover as many fumbles.
• Michael Ford is really good. Ford was the talk of the spring two years ago, but he only carried the ball 45 times for 244 yards as a redshirt freshman. Spencer Ware has received the bulk of the work in 2011, but Ford has been far more productive on a per-carry basis, averaging 5.7 per rush compared to 3.8 for Ware. My guess is that we are about to see more of Ford.
Around the SEC
• Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews has caught 15 passes for 321 yards the past two weeks, against Arkansas and Florida. In the first seven games, he caught a total of eight for 117 yards. Matthews leads the league in yards per catch at 19.0.
• Over the last three seasons, South Carolina has allowed an average of 39.3 points to Arkansas. In all other regular-season SEC games, the Gamecocks have allowed an average of 19.0 points.
• Auburn’s Michael Dyer leads the SEC with five rushes of 40 yards or more.
• Florida’s John Brantley isn’t regarded as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks, but he does lead the league in one key stat — yards per attempt (8.5).
• AJ McCarron has converted 35 of his 71 passing attempts on third down into first downs, the highest percentage (.492) in the SEC.
• The top four teams in the SEC West (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn) are a combined 8–0 vs. the SEC East. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are a combined 1–5.
• South Carolina has scored a touchdown on 21 of 28 trips inside the Red Zone, for an SEC-best 75 percent success rate. Interestingly, none of the Gamecocks’ 28 trips have ended with a field goal. They are the onlyteam in the nation without a field goal off of a Red Zone trip.