Head coach James Franklin has brought a ton of energy to Vanderbilt, and he really seems to be turning the program around. What did Vandy fans think of the hire, and how has he changed the culture in Nashville?
Honestly, the first reaction to the hiring was a bit of disappointment. We had followed Vandy's wooing of Gus Malzahn pretty closely, and when he used our offer as leverage for a raise at Auburn we were all pretty disappointed. Franklin looked like a nice enough piece, but his status Ralph Friedgen's coach-in-waiting didn't exactly provide the impact hire we had hoped for.
Franklin turned that around pretty quickly. He sniped recruits from schools like Florida and Virginia Tech after being on the job for only two months. He transformed a squad that had gone 2-10 under Robbie Caldwell into a bowl team. He has actively engaged casual fans in Nashville in an effort to build a true SEC setting at Dudley Field. There's a lot of work that he still has to do, but the uptick in recruiting alone has shown that Franklin - along with Vandy's new commitment to upgrading their facilities - has put the pieces in place for success.
How do Vandy fans view Auburn. Considering the two schools don't play all that often, is there much animosity there?
Not really. We even kinda-sorta like you guys. The last time you came to town you brought College Gameday with you and gave the 'Dores an enormous win on a national stage. On top of that, we're all just super grateful to have seen the Herbstreit in person that one time.
Jordan Matthews is an incredible receiver that doesn't get nearly enough attention. Tell me a little bit about him. What makes Matthews so good?
Matthews has a great football IQ. He runs crisp routes and understands when to make his move in time to turn opposing corners around or avoid running into double coverage. He also does a great job of adjusting to the ball and he has the speed to be a true deep threat in the SEC. The only concern with him is his hands - he drops more passes than Vandy fans would like.
The team started the season with a very conservative slate of plays, but they've been opening it up more thanks to the play of Boyd and Matthews. That pair gives Rodgers more license to take shots downfield since each has a good track record of coming down with 50/50 balls.
Even so, expect plenty of runs from Stacy, and some complimentary work from Wesley Tate and true freshman Brian Kimbrow. Kimbrow is the fastest player on the team, and he's one breakout play away from making a name for himself in the SEC. He could have a big day despite limited touches if he can get to the outside and let his speed take over.
Otherwise, we'll see an offense that plays close to the line of scrimmage - plenty of screen plays, for example - but breaks out of that shell to take a shot downfield if they think they can lull Auburn into complacency. Whether or not that works will depend on how a questionable offensive line holds up.
What about the Vandy defense? Which players stand out, and what is the general gameplan?
Vandy will run out of a 4-3 base, and a deep defensive line has helped the team limit opposing quarterbacks in most of the team's matchups this season. We had thought that the linebacking corps would be a concern in 2012, but Chase Garnham, Archibald Barnes, and Karl Butler have stepped up as leaders, while young guys like Darreon Herring and Jake Sealand have been solid in their first year at Vandy. Behind them, an ever-steady group of defensive backs provide one of the team's strongest units, even despite losing Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson to graduation this year.
Are there any matchups in this game that you feel really good about? Anything Vandy can do that Auburn will have a difficult time stopping?
Vanderbilt got destroyed by a mobile quarterback last week, so as you can imagine, I am rooting hard for Clint Moseley to start on Saturday. However, I think either of the Tigers' QBs will have trouble with a strong Commodore secondary. Auburn hasn't been able to do much vertically this year, so if the 'Dores are able to get the Tigers to third-and-long, I'm confident in their ability to prevent drive-extending plays.
And are you worried about any matchups? Does Auburn do anything well with which Vandy has trouble?
Anyone on Auburn's defense versus our offensive line. We'll probably be double and triple-teaming Corey Lemonier all day, but there's still a better-than-average shot that he chases down Jordan Rodgers for one of JR's trademarked nine-yard sacks.
Also, the Tigers have a strong running game, and while Vandy has been solid in stopping guys like Marcus Lattimore and Mike Gillislee this season, I'm still worried about Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason. The 'Dores know that the run is coming, and they should be able to limit Auburn's rushing attack, but as a Vandy fan you learn not to take anything for granted.
Getting back to Franklin. Before he was hired, there were rumors that then-Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was going to take the job. Do Vandy fans wish Gus would have taken it, or is everyone 100 percent pleased with Franklin?
Pleased as hell with Franklin, but it's definitely a fun exercise to think about how Gus's first two seasons would have gone in Nashville. Would his recruits have been able to measure up to Franklin's? Would the players on today's roster have been able to execute his high octane spread offense? Would the moment that he reunited with Herb Hand create a viral video on par with "Christian the Lion?" There are lots of different ways things could have played out.
All in all, though, I think we're all very happy with Franklin and the job he's done so far.
What are your thoughts on the game? How confident are you in a Vandy win, and how do you think it plays out?
Vanderbilt finally showed in the past two weeks that they can score points in the fourth quarter. I think that'll come in handy against a Tiger team that gassed out pretty hard versus Ole Miss last Saturday. Much like in 2008, I predict that Auburn will take an early lead only to have the 'Dores come back on them and hang on late for the win. Let's go with...Vanderbilt 24, Auburn 20. The thing that I'm most confident about? That it will be sloppy.
One last thing to think about - Vanderbilt has made a habit out of leaving points on the field. Dropped passes, stupid penalties, horrific sacks that lead to blocked field goals, you name it. I predict that something idiotic takes a scoring opportunity away from this team, and if Auburn can capitalize, that could be the difference between a win and a loss on Saturday.