SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Vanderbilt Commodores

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Bobby Johnson (2nd season, 2-10)
2002 record: 2-10
SEC finish: 6th (East)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 173.5 ypg
(5th in SEC, 43rd in nation)
Pass: 139.1 ypg (11th, 107th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 186.6 ypg (12th, 95th)
Pass: 219.2 ypg (10th, 62nd)
Projected Starters
Offense (6 returning starters in bold)
WR  82  Erik Davis  So. 
WR  80  Brandon Smith  Jr. 
LT   71   Justin Geisinger   Jr.  
LG   76   Brian Kovolisky   Jr.  
78  Steven Brent  So. 
RG  65  Mac Pyle  So. 
RT   70   Kenan Arkan   Jr.  
TE  81  Nick Getter  Sr. 
QB   6   Jay Cutler   So.  
TB   40   Kwane Doster   So.  
FB   28   Matthew Tant   So.  
Defense (4)
DE   91   Jovan Haye   So.  
DT  77  Trey Holloway  So. 
DT  95  Ralph McKenzie  So. 
DE  53  Antoine Morgan  So. 
LB   30   Moses Osemwegie   So.  
LB  52  Otis Washington  So. 
LB   43   Herdley Harrison   So.  
CB   10   Dominique Morris   So.  
CB  Cheron Thompson  So. 
FS  12  Kelechi Ohanaja  So. 
SS  36  Andrew Pace  So. 
Special Teams
98  Patrick Johnson  Fr. 
Kyle Keown  Fr. 
KR  40  Kwane Doster  So. 
PR  82  Erik Davis  So. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Ole Miss 
Sept. 6  Chattanooga 
Sept. 13  Auburn 
Sept. 20  at TCU 
Sept. 27  Georgia Tech 
Oct. 4  at Mississippi State 
Oct. 11  Navy 
Oct. 18  Georgia 
Oct. 25  at South Carolina 
Nov. 8  at Florida 
Nov. 15  Kentucky 
Nov. 22  at Tennessee 
Bobby Johnson has no illusions about a quick fix at Vanderbilt. "It is impossible to catch up in one year," said the Commodores' second-year head coach, who inherited a program that has not enjoyed a winning season since 1982. "We are behind the other programs in the SEC. As we try to recruit better, they are still recruiting at the same high level they are and have been for some time."

Johnson's first year in Nashville produced a 2-10 record, and for the second straight season and the fourth time in the past seven years the Commodores failed to win a conference game. "We competed well, I thought," Johnson said, "but we didn't quite get the job done. We certainly had our chances. When we get a little more depth and a little more talent, those things will happen."

"Those things," however, aren't likely to happen this fall when the Commodores can expect to field one of the youngest teams in the country. Only one senior has a legitimate shot at a starting assignment, and the first unit could feature as many as 17 sophomores.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Vanderbilt welcomes back two key components to its run-based offense -- quarterback Jay Cutler and tailback Kwane Doster. Cutler won the starting job last fall as a redshirt freshman and played well enough to earn Freshman All-SEC honors. Cutler is an elusive runner who excels in the Commodores' option packages, but he needs to improve his accuracy after completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes.

Doster broke into the starting lineup as a true freshman after broken legs sidelined Vanderbilt's first- and second-string tailbacks. The speedy Tampa, Fla., native emerged as one of the top young skill players in the league, rushing for 798 yards on 160 attempts, and was named the SEC's Offensive Freshman of the Year. Both Norval McKenzie, who was averaging 7.8 yards per carry before his injury, and Ronald Hatcher are expected to be fully recovered in time for fall practice.

The news isn't so good at wide receiver, where Vanderbilt must replace two seniors -- Dan Stricker and M.J. Garrett -- who were responsible for 1,002 of the 1,218 yards (82.2 percent) recorded by Commodore wideouts. And the offensive line, which excelled at run blocking last fall, also could be a weakness. There is very little depth up front.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The Commodores ranked last in the league in total defense in 2002 and will be without its top four tacklers from a year ago. But despite these major losses, Johnson is confident he has enough athletic young bodies to build around.

Sophomore Moses Osemwegie (53 tackles in an injury-plagued freshman season) and Otis Washington are future stars at linebacker.

The defensive line features quantity -- nine lettermen return -- but not much proven quality. With three starters gone, the secondary, on paper, looks like a weak spot, but the Commodores developed some depth at cornerback last year with Dominique Morris, Cheron Thompson and Lorenzo Parker each seeing extensive playing time. Andrew Pace worked his way into the rotation as a true freshman and is a strong candidate to grab one of the open safety spots.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Commodores' special teams suffered a major setback when punter/kicker Greg Johnson, a 2002 first-team Freshman All-American, left the team following spring practice. Incoming freshman Kyle Keown, signed after Johnson departed, will take over the punting duties. Keown had planned on walking on at Georgia Tech before Vanderbilt came calling with a scholarship offer. The place-kicking job is wide open heading into preseason camp.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Johnson warned Vanderbilt fans following the Commodores' 2-10 season that things might not be any better during his second year in town. And it's hard to argue with Johnson's assessment. Vanderbilt finished last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense. The running game is solid with Cutler and a stable of quality backs, but unless some of the young receivers emerge as legitimate big-play threats, it's difficult to see this offense producing more points in 2003. There is some solid young defensive talent to work with, but learning on the job in the SEC rarely yields positive results. Johnson has recruited relatively well in his short stint at Vanderbilt, but there just isn't enough talent on the roster to make an upward climb in the brutal SEC.

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