Continuing his 2012 bowl previews, Joe Healy previews the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
You can’t overstate the job that James Franklin has done as head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores. Until this season, the team had not gone to bowl games in back-to-back seasons. For that matter, until Franklin came on board, the Commodores hadn’t gone to bowl games less than 16 years apart.
Now, not only does he have the Commodores in bowl games, he has them competing right alongside the powers of the SEC.
This version of the Commodores features an electric triumvirate of players in quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, threw for 2,431 yards and 13 touchdowns. His favorite target was Matthews, who caught 87 passes for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns. Stacy keeps the offense balanced by giving Vandy a running threat. He carried the ball 182 times for 1,034 yards, a 5.7 yards per carry average.
As good as they have been on offense, they are even better on the other side of the ball. Their defense ranks 14th in the nation in scoring defense. Opposing offenses are only managing 18.3 points per game against the Commodores.
Linebacker Chase Garnham tied for the team lead with 11.5 tackles for loss and he led the team with six sacks. Karl Butler, Rob Lohr and Walker May weren’t far behind, totaling 11.5, 11 and 10.5 tackles for loss respectively.
Calling their defensive success a team effort is an understatement. Fourteen different players recorded at least one sack and 11 players had three or more tackles for loss.
The NC State Wolfpack didn’t have a bad season by any stretch of the imagination. They made a bowl game for the fourth time in Tom O’Brien’s six seasons and won seven regular season games, but that wasn’t enough to save O’Brien’s job.
Dave Doeren, who led his Northern Illinois Huskies to a BCS bowl game this season, he been hired to take over for O’Brien. He will take over after the bowl game.
One of the likely reasons O’Brien was fired was because the Wolfpack were basically the same team they have been in his entire tenure. They were solid in most phases of the game, but not really outstanding in any. The NC State administration grew tired of that, I suppose, but I think there’s something to be said for that kind of consistency.
If there is one phase that could be described as excellent for this version of the Wolfpack, it would be the passing game. Veteran quarterback Mike Glennon came through with a big season. He finished the regular season with 3,648 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. Because the team lacked a huge threat on the ground, they asked Glennon to go out and win them games through the air and he succeeded for the most part.
Defensively, the Wolfpack are pretty similar to Vanderbilt. They have their leaders, Rickey Dowdy and Darryl Cato-Bishop among them, but they really thrive together as a team. Thirteen players recorded sacks and just as many recorded at least three tackles for loss. David Amerson, a 2011 All-American, was back at it in 2012. He led the team with five interceptions.
The safe pick here is Vanderbilt. Getting to nine wins would be huge for that program and you know James Franklin will have his team ready to go. Being that this game is being played in Nashville, it will basically be a home game for Vandy. On top of all that, you just never know how teams will respond when they have a coaching change hanging over their heads in a bowl game and that’s what NC State has to deal with in this one.