Vanderbilt's Mid-Term Grades Are In, and They Don't Look Good

David RutzCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2009

Good thing this isn't a parent-teacher conference, or little Vanderbilt would be in big trouble.

Think of Vandy as an undersized wild child in a big public school, that being the Southeastern Conference.

He's never really seemed to fit in. He's smaller than everyone else. He came from money. They didn't. You know, that old story.

He seemed to finally break out of his shell with some good grades last year. Things were looking up.

But this year, he's just reverting to all of his bad habits.

"Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt, your son has been acting out, committing lots of dumb penalties, not applying himself on offense and has just been an embarrassment and a distraction to the rest of the conference. I mean class."

Son, we're so disappointed in you.  

Quarterback: C-

Larry Smith may have had too many expectations heaped upon him after a nice performance in Vanderbilt's Music City Bowl win. In any event, it's been a rough year for him. He's yet to complete half of his throws in an SEC game and passed for just three touchdowns against seven interceptions.

One of his main problems has been a lack of touch on shorter passes, and on deeper routes he's struggled to hook up with his undersized receivers. The result has been next to no aerial attack, and a sputtering overall offense to boot.

Only three teams in the nation have a lower passing yards/attempt number than the Commodores (5.09).

Running backs: B

Freshman Warren Norman has been a pleasant surprise so far, leading the team on the ground with 450 yards and three rushing touchdowns. He has shown himself not only to be a tough runner but a threat on special teams as well, taking back a kickoff return for a touchdown at one point.

Zac Stacy, also a freshman, was a bruiser in Vanderbilt's first two games but has been hampered by injury since then. Jared Hawkins has yet to be a major factor as he too has struggled with an injury to his foot sustained last season.

Wide receivers/Tight Ends: C-

This unit has shown flashes of improvement at times, but all in all this undersized group has dropped too many passes and not given their young quarterback enough help getting open.

The Commodores' leading receiver is speedy John Cole, but he's averaged barely over three catches and 33 yards a game. Tight end Brandon Barden caught his first touchdown of the year last week against Georgia. With Austin Monahan out for the year with a torn ACL, Barden will need to step up his production, as he did a year ago when he led the team with four touchdown receptions.

Offensive Line: D

Committing numerous penalties, blocking poorly and not asserting their will on the field, the underachievement of this supposedly veteran group has been a key factor in the failure of the no-huddle offense to consistently put points on the board.

The loss of right tackle James Williams for the year didn't help matters, and it makes things worse to lose big left tackle Thomas Welch for this weekend's game in Columbia.

Defensive Line: B+

Defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone has been outstanding this season, leading the unit with 27 tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Fellow tackle Greg Billinger has also performed at a high level, and defensive end Broderick Stewart is closing in on the all-time Commodore sack record.

Despite not having defensive end Steven Stone back until this weekend, the line has done a solid job of keeping up pressure on opposing quarterbacks until they have generally worn down by game's end from too much time spend on the field.

Linebackers: B+

Middle linebacker Chris Marve and weakside linebacker Patrick Benoist have been their usual selves, leading the team with 65 and 58 tackles, respectively, which also ranks them near the top of the conference.

In addition, Marve leads the SEC with three forced fumbles, all in the first two games for the Commodores. Benoist also had his first career interception this season.

Brent Trice and John Stokes have also performed well, showing themselves to be solid tacklers. The only weakness this group has is a lack of great speed.

Secondary: A-

The Commodores rank third in the nation by allowing opposing quarterbacks less than 134 yards passing per game. Future NFL cornerback Myron Lewis leads the team with three interceptions and six pass break-ups, and rising star Casey Hayward, who had an acrobatic pick last week against Georgia, has been an impressive replacement for D.J. Moore, also now in the NFL.

The loss of veteran free safety Ryan Hamilton to a torn pectoral muscle for the season hurt, but Joel Caldwell has performed up to the task, and strong safety Sean Richardson has shown both a nose for the football and the ability to deliver a hard hit, just like his predecessor Reshard Langford.

Special Teams: C

Brett Upson got off to a rough start, but in general he's done a solid job punting and pinning opponents. God knows he's gotten plenty of practice.

Ryan Fowler has gone through growing pains at placekicker but has made a respectable 8-12 field goals, including eight of his last 10. His misses in week 5 against the Rebels hurt a lot, though.

Warren Norman has demonstrated himself to be a dangerous kickoff return man, but Alex Washington generally looks lost returning (or not returning) punts. The only big plays he's made this year were in the negative category. Commodore coverage units were horrendous against Georgia, allowing big returns to set up two Bulldog touchdowns. They had been adequate up to that point.

Coaching: D

We all did nothing but heap compliments on Bobby Johnson and his staff after coaching the Commodores to a bowl victory last year. However, given the fact that he may have his most talented team yet, the fact that they're 2-5 and have scored just 42 points in those five losses says a lot about who's in charge.

No, we didn't expect the team to compete for an Eastern division title, but a loss to Army, who just got it handed to them by Temple? A drubbing at the hands of Mississippi State? Only two wins, and against opponents with a combined record of 1-12?

Talk about underachievement. The calls for changes on Johnson's staff have grown louder and louder in Nashville with each passing week, and the grumbles are going to become a roar if the Commodores don't get off the constantly-beaten path.


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