Regular Season Recap: Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt Commodores

Final Record: 8-4 overall, 5-3 SEC

Trying to find the best word to describe Vanderbilt’s success in 2012 isn’t easy to do. How about history? What James Franklin’s Commodores are doing is unmatched by anyone in the program history, and he’s even turning down jobs to finish what he started in Nashville. The Commodores are going bowling in back-to-back seasons for the first time, ever. How’s that for history?

To think this team started 2-4 and finished with eight wins is almost unfathomable. After the loss against Florida, we knew there was a chance they could make a run with the way the schedule set up. And they did just that, winning their last six games, with four wins in the SEC. Early season losses to South Carolina and Northwestern could have gone either way, too. We’re almost looking at a 10-win Vandy team, and they lost those two games by a combined 14 points.

The offense isn’t sexy or spectacular, but they maximize their talent more than several teams within the division. They finished in the middle of the pack in the SEC in nearly every offensive statistic, but they did have two of the best players in the league in Zac Stacy and Jordan Matthews.

Quarterback Jordan Rodgers finished with 2,431 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s a threat to run the ball, and while he doesn’t pile up yardage on the ground, his running ability makes him a better passer. He’ll often roll out of the pocket and use his athleticism to buy time for his receivers to get open. But the heartbeat of the offense is running back Zac Stacy. Stacy nabbed back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and he leaves Vanderbilt as the leading rusher in program history. Stacy finished with 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns in his senior season.

However, Jordan Matthews is unreal at wide receiver. The first team All-SEC receiver totaled 87 catches for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a legit deep threat, and the best receiver in the state of Tennessee plays in Nashville, not Knoxville. Vandy’s one-two punch with Matthews and Chris Boyd is very legitimate. Boyd caught 46 passes for 756 yards and four touchdowns.

The offensive line play again exceeded expectations. This group allowed only 23 sacks, good for fourth in the SEC tied with Alabama. They aren’t road graders or blue chip recruits, but much like every other position, they come to play each and every day and maximize their talent.

Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and his staff have done a phenomenal job. The Commodores are 5th in scoring defense, 9th in rushing defense, 3rd in pass defense and 5th in total defense. Safeties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall led the team in tackles with 80 each, and Ladler posted 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Linebackers Chase Garnham and Kari Butler and defensive linemen Walker May and Rob Lohr combined for 44.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks on the season. They were the heart and soul of the defense. No doubt the best aspect of the defense as a whole is the secondary. This group was awesome last season, and with replacing two starters, they didn’t miss a beat again. The Dores finished 5th in the entire country in pass efficiency defense, only behind Florida in the SEC.

The team to beat in Tennessee is no longer located in Knoxville, and the Commodores’ blowout win against the Vols was the highlight of the season.

Offensive Stud: Jordan Matthews is the best receiver you’ve never heard of, and outside of Cobi Hamilton, no one in the SEC had a bigger impact on his team as Matthews did. Matthews may have a shot to jump to the next level if he wishes. He established a new team record with his 1,262 yards receiving, and Matthews is only 10 receptions behind Keith Edwards’ SEC-high 97 receptions in 1983.

Defensive MVP: Junior linebacker Chase Garnham was the leader of the Commodores’ emerging defense. Garnham tied a team high in tackles for loss with 11.5 and led the team with six sacks. Those aren’t Jadeveon Clowney or Javis Jones numbers, but this kid can tackle as well as anyone in the league. And he will return for yet another season in the SEC.

Where To Next: The Commodores will once again have a chance to make everyone shake their heads with a bowl win against NC State. Nine wins at Vanderbilt are unheard of, and this group continues to put new marks in the record books. NC State fired their head coach, and the Commodores’ pass defense should nullify NC State’s passing game. James Franklin is committed to winning in Nashville, and he’s committed to building a program, not just merely looking to use it as a stepping stone to another job. Several teams inquired about Franklin, and Vandy gave him a raise and an extension, and they furthermore showed they were committed to winning in Nashville as well.

Photo credit: Don McPeak-US Presswire

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