By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Vanderbilt fans had reason to cheer on September 5, 2009, as their team beat Western Carolina by a 45-0 final to open a new campaign. Although the next two contests did yield losses, the Commodores were
able to even their record at 2-2 with a romp over Rice to close out September.
Unfortunately, that victory was the last of the 2009 season, as the Commodores
suffered eight consecutive defeats to close out the campaign.
Six of those final eight setbacks came by double figures, as Vanderbilt was
simply overmatched in most of its outings. There was a close call against
Army, as the game ended in an overtime defeat, but like Rice and Western
Carolina, Army was a rather weak non-conference opponent. The biggest problem
in SEC games for Vanderbilt was a lack of offensive punch. The team finished
the season ranked 12th in the SEC and 113th nationally in scoring offense
Head coach Bobby Johnson decided to retire after the season, and that created
an opportunity for Robbie Caldwell. Having served more than three decades in
the collegiate ranks, including eight seasons as a Vanderbilt assistant,
Caldwell has certainly earned his chance to lead a program. "I'm honored,
man," says Caldwell of his opportunity. "This is the greatest thrill of my
life other than my child being born. It's just tremendous."
OFFENSE: "We got to be more consistent on offense, obviously," says Caldwell.
"That's not a profound statement. It's at every position. The offensive line
last year, we were not very good. That's my fault. I was the man in charge of
it. So there's nobody to point the finger at but myself."
Even with a shaky offensive line in front of him last season, tailback Warren
Norman showed flashes of brilliance. The freshman ran for 783 yards and three
touchdowns on 145 carries, and he is one of the most talented players in the
SEC. Zac Stacy, a fellow sophomore, actually beat out Norman for the starting
job in 2009, but an injury allowed Norman to emerge. Stacy is back healthy for
Vandy, and the Commodores would be smart to run the ball 40 times per game.
Quarterback Larry Smith struggled mightily as a sophomore, completing only
106-of-227 passes for 1,126 yards with four touchdowns and seven
interceptions. Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay Packers' star Aaron
Rodgers, will be ready to step in should Smith falter.
John Cole is the top returning receiver for Vanderbilt, and while his 36
catches for 382 yards and one touchdown in 2009 didn't scare many opponents,
the fact that he was productive in the SEC as a freshmen is promising.
The aforementioned offensive line is getting an infusion of youth, and that
may not be a bad thing.
DEFENSE: For the last couple of seasons, Vanderbilt has benefited from a deep
and fairly talented defensive line. Now, because of graduation and injury,
there will be many fresh faces in the rotation early on. Tim Fugger is a solid
defensive end who will contribute, but this tier of the defense certainly
lacks a standout performer.
That is not the case for the linebackers, as Chris Marve is a special talent
in the middle. As a sophomore, Marve posted 121 total tackles, and he earned
All-SEC recognition. There is no question that Marve is the leader of this
defense, and the hope is that fellow backers such as John Stokes and Tristan
Strong can be consistent contributors.
Moving to the secondary, Vanderbilt returns Casey Howard at corner and Sean
Richardson at strong safety. The 2009 defense ranked third in the SEC and
ninth nationally in pass defense a year ago, and the secondary should
undoubtedly be the strength of this unit.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ryan Fowler closed the 2009 season on a positive note, as the
placekicker booted through 11 of his final 12 attempts. Now a sophomore with
SEC experience under his belt, Fowler should be viewed as an asset. As for the
return game, both Norman and Stacy are capable of making big plays on punts
and kickoffs, but it remains to be seen which of the standout tailbacks will
be subjects to the big hits that can be shelled out by SEC coverage teams.
OUTLOOK: The formula will be simple for opposing defenses facing Vanderbilt
this season: stack the box and force Smith to make plays with his arm. There
is no reason to believe that the quarterback will be able to do so, and that
is the most obvious reason that the Commodores figure to struggle this season
Will they win more than two games? Probably not, as an October 9th matchup
with Eastern Michigan seems to be the only sure thing.