Monday Musings: Getting back to their defensive ways

Oct. 14, 2013

Monday Press Conference

In 2011 and 2012, Vanderbilt ranked among the top defensive teams in the country. Through the halfway mark of the 2013 season, the Commodores have not played to the same level as those two defenses.

Part of Vanderbilt's struggles can be attributed to the rash of injuries as well as the caliber of the offenses the Commodores have faced.

Vanderbilt has played two of the SEC's top four offensive teams thus far in Missouri and South Carolina, but it doesn't get any easier. The league's top two offenses await the Commodores the next two weeks. Up first is a meeting with No. 15/16 Georgia at 11 a.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

The Bulldogs (4-2, 3-1 SEC) rank second in the SEC in total offense with an average of 517.3 yards per game.

But don't expect the Commodores (3-3, 0-3 SEC) to panic. The bye week afforded the coaching staff time to make adjustments to areas that have ailed them and expect to have a game plan in place for the Bulldogs.

"Defensively, we've played some pretty good teams," Head Coach James Franklin said. "We've made some adjustments and gone back and studied some things I think we can do that really aren't a whole lot different, because I think that is where you have to be careful. You come in and try to recreate the wheel over the bye week, that's not what you want to do. You just want to tweak some things that are simple adjustments to you, but maybe give a different appearance to the defense. That's all we are trying to do."

A week off also came at a good time for the dinged up Commodores. The players were off on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which enabled them to rest up and get healthy. Among those who could return to the lineup this week is starting outside linebacker Karl Butler. Butler has missed the last three games due to injury, but Franklin pointed out on Monday that Butler was listed again as a starter at outside linebacker.

"We played some guys last game that probably shouldn't have been playing," Franklin said. "Not in terms of being concerned about their health, but how effective were they going to be with those injuries, but we just didn't feel like we had too many options so we went with it. Being able to give those guys a little bit of extra time to get them a little bit more healthy and fresh, I think is going to be important. So I think we will be able to have a few more guys that maybe we haven't in the past."

The injuries Vanderbilt has suffered on defense have led to internal debates among coaches about whether to pull redshirts off freshmen.

"We've had long discussions, heated discussions about that and what's the right thing to do," Franklin remarked. "You want to make sure that if you make those decisions that it not only is the right decision for the program short term, but it is also the right decision for the program long term, and it is the right decision for those kids individually as well. For us, a lot of it factors into academics as well."

Thus far, Vanderbilt hasn't elected to pull a redshirt off a defensive player the last few games. Instead, Franklin said on Monday that a few changes have been made internally to help areas that are more depleted by injuries than others.

"Based on the depth chart you see now, we haven't decided to go in that direction," Franklin said of removing redshirts. "We have some other things that I think you will see on Saturday. Besides just having Karl Butler back, you will see some other things I think on Saturday that we are doing to address some of those issues as well."

Just as the Commodores have been faced with injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs have had their share of injuries on offense. The Bulldogs have lost three receivers and a running back to knee injuries and have been without tailback Todd Gurley the last two games due to an ankle injury. But despite the injuries, Georgia has maintained a high level of play on offense thanks in large part to senior quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray owns the SEC's all-time passing mark and has been a four-year starter for Georgia.

Slowing down Murray and the Georgia offensive attack will be a big challenge for the Commodores, but it is one the team believes they are capable of doing.

"We have been very successful the last three years doing the things we have done," Franklin said. "Our defensive coaches have not become bad defensive coaches and our players have not become bad defensive players. We just have to make a few adjustments and play with the type of aggressiveness and confidence that we have in the past. And we have to create some erasers: the sack-fumbles, the interception returns for touchdowns, those type of things. And we have to play with that type of swagger."

For defensive end Kyle Woestmann, Saturday is a perfect time for the Commodores to get back to their defensive ways of the past.

"We really have an opportunity this week against a good SEC (offensive line) to kind of pick up where we left off against Ole Miss," Woestmann said. "We played disruptive and I think we set a tone and standard for how our (defensive line) should play and we've had some trouble maintaining that for whatever reason, but this is a week for us to really come back into our own."

Trying to Cover Matthews
Senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews has gotten his fair share of attention from opposing defenses this season, and rightfully so. Matthews is on the brink of setting the SEC record for career receiving yards and could do so this weekend. The Madison, Ala., native has 2,991 yards and is fourth all-time, but is just 103 yards from breaking Terrence Edwards' all-time mark of 3,093 yards at Georgia.

On Monday, Matthews talked about some of the creative defensive coverages he has seen this season.

"I see some crazy coverages on Saturday," Matthews said. "We played South Carolina and Jadaveon Clowney dropped back in coverage one time on me and I was like, 'Bro, aren't you supposed to be pass rushing?' People have been trying a lot of stuff. I'm getting a lot of collisions from linebackers, some double teams from safeties, corners being aggressive really just trying to be physical with me at the line of scrimmage."

So far the coverage has not slowed Matthews down. He has 709 yard receiving in just six games.

Remembering 2011 Meeting
Vanderbilt Stadium was the site for one of the most memorable matchups between Vanderbilt and Georgia the last time the two teams met in Nashville on Oct. 15, 2011.

Former Commodore Udom Umoh blocked a Georgia punt and the 'Dores almost scooped it and scored with 7 seconds remaining. After the block, Vanderbilt got the ball at the Georgia 20-yard line and had two cracks at scoring on offense, but were unable to find the end zone and the Bulldogs held on for a 33-28 win.

On four occasions, Vanderbilt cut a double-digit deficit to single digits, and the Commodores reached into their bag of tricks more than a few times along the way. The Commodores successfully executed a fake punt from their own 22-yard line (Watch), they recovered an onside kick, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and blocked a punt. But that was not all. The Commodores also got a 43-yard touchdown pass from halfback Zac Stacy to quarterback Jordan Rodgers.

The game will also be remembered for the chippiness displayed throughout and after the game. Players exchanged words after plays and the aggressiveness boiled over after the game when the two teams jawed back and forth before being separated by the coaching staffs.

Close Games in Nashville
You have to go back to 1991 to find the last time the Commodores defeated Georgia in Nashville, but Vanderbilt has had a couple of outstanding opportunities to end the 10-game home losing streak in recent years. Two of Vanderbilt's last three home games against Georgia have been decided by a total of eight points. In 2007 Georgia won 20-17 and in 2011 the Bulldogs won 33-28.

In both games, Vanderbilt had opportunities to win. In 2007, Vanderbilt running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison fumbled at the Georgia 7-yard line and the Bulldogs marched down the field and kicked a game-winning 37-yard field goal as time expired.

The 2011 matchup could have ended differently had the Commodores cleanly scooped up the block punt and ran it in or had Vanderbilt's offense been able to crack the end zone in its two pass attempts after recovering the blocked punt at the 20-yard line.

Planning for Todd Gurley
Georgia sophomore running back Todd Gurley has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury, but Vanderbilt is preparing as if the preseason All-American will be in the lineup come Saturday.

"We are just going to prepare as if he is going to play the game," James Franklin said. "I anticipate him playing the game. That's just not coachspeak; me coming in here and telling you that. After reading and seeing everything that I've seen, that is what I would guess."

At 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, Gurley has proven to be a load to bring down when he has been healthy. He is averaging 112.5 yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry. Last season Gurely carried the ball 16 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores.

Early Starts
Vanderbilt will gladly welcome an early wakeup call when the Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday. Vanderbilt's previous four home games have come at night with the only other day game coming at UMass on September 21.

For the coaches and players, an early start is a welcome sight and limits the number of hours spent having to sit in a hotel room. On Monday, Franklin joked about trying to get a 9 a.m. game in the future.

"I love the early game," Franklin said. "I don't think our guys and I don't think most coaches like sitting around the hotel waiting for game to start."

Defensive end Kyle Woestmann agrees with Franklin's assessment.

"I know for me personally, I am not really a fan of sitting around all day," Woestmann said. "It is neat to watch other teams play, but it just makes me antsy."

Seymour Listed as Starter
Running back Jerron Seymour heads the list of running backs on this week's depth chart ahead of Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow.

"He's probably been the most consistent guy at this point in terms of playmaking and assignments and responsibility," Franklin said. "I don't think we have a guy like last year where we had a clear-cut guy who started and took most of the reps. Jerron, I think has earned the right to be the starter at this point, but it isn't a significant gap between him and the other two guys."

Texas A&M Start Time Announced
The Southeastern Conference announced on Monday that Vanderbilt's game at Texas A&M on Oct. 26 will kick at 11:21 a.m. CT and will air on SEC TV. The complete list of TV selections for the day can be found here.



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