I reached out to the esteemed Tom Stephenson of Anchor of Gold in advance of Saturday’s matchup between Florida and Vanderbilt to get some answers to some questions, and answered some of his questions over yonder.
I will be honest: Most Florida fans start really thinking about Vanderbilt at kickoff, with a few of us getting there on the Friday of game week. What are a couple of the most important things to know about this team?
Well, the most important thing to know about this Vanderbilt team is that it hasn’t lost 26 SEC games in a row. That streak ended last week with what’s technically the backup quarterback (Mike Wright) running the show. Vanderbilt can occasionally put up points unless your name is “Alabama” or “Georgia,” and also features one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Yet somehow they shut down an alleged first round pick last week? I don’t know.
Clark Lea took over after Derek Mason’s tenure was allowed to well and truly run its course, and at a time of transition for Vandy. Is Lea going to get the same long runway to prove successful or unsuccessful, and how has Vandy changed (if it has) under Candice Storey Lee? Is that new Vandy V the worst decision in Vanderbilt athletics branding history, or all athletics branding history?
The thing about Derek Mason is that he only got that runway because he made a bowl game in Year 3, without which he probably would have been toast after three or four years. Of course, he also was taking over a program coming off 9-4 instead of 0-9, but I still think that Lea probably needs to make a bowl by his fourth year. We have low expectations around here — but we do have expectations.
The new Vandy V was the result of Vandy wanting to have a single logo for both athletics and the academic side of the university, and the result is as stupid as it sounds.
The Commodores’ upset of Kentucky last week and the soft midsection of the SEC East suggests to me that there might be a world in which Vandy can be a competitive second-tier team in the SEC, even after divisions are presumably phased out with the arrival of Oklahoma and Texas. Is that realistic — and, if so, what would it take for that to happen?
Maybe? Something we realized during the Franklin years is that a lot of Vandy’s handicaps are self-imposed, and just as the university finally got around to upgrading the facilities, NIL came along and gave us something new to get behind on. Anyway there’s no particular reason we can’t be a Kentucky/South Carolina/Missouri level program if the university wants it to be that.
Mike Wright has helmed a remarkably explosive Vandy offense, and his ability as a runner seems to be key to that. If Vandy is going to threaten an upset, what would it need to get out of Wright?
Well, first of all he’d have to be the starter — the reason he started last week was because A.J. Swann was injured. Granted, Clark Lea has never been one to play gamesmanship with injury reports, so the fact that he’s been noncommittal about it late in the week suggests that Swann won’t be available.
Wright isn’t much of a passer, but he can create plays with his legs and also use his running ability to open up the passing game. If he can break a big touchdown run or two, Vanderbilt has a chance.
Finally, what’s your score prediction?
In theory, Vanderbilt has a chance at pulling an upset; in practice, I feel like they shot their wad against Kentucky last week and will come out playing less inspired football now that the long losing streak is behind them. I see Florida winning something like 35-17.