LB Jonathan Goff (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)

2006 Statistics

Coach: Bobby Johnson
15-43, 5 years
2006 Record: 4-8
at Michigan LOST 7-27
at Alabama LOST 10-13
at Mississippi LOST 10-17
at Georgia WON 24-22
at Duke WON 45-28
at Kentucky LOST 26-38

2006 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2007 Outlook

The hand Bobby Johnson has been dealt for this campaign is chock-full of emerging youth that also happens to have invaluable experience from many forced lessons during last year’s trial-by-fire atmosphere. On an offense entirely composed of returning starters, almost every talent position starter is a junior and the entire line is worthy seniors. The bevy of running backs will surely allow second-year starting QB Chris Nickson to be more poignant with his quick feet and therefore more careful with his health. But with two capable signal callers behind him, Vandy is afforded the luxury of playing Nickson at full tilt whenever needed, and that means balanced production under the heady junior. Factor in All-American receiver Earl Bennett likely breaking both of the conference’s career receiving marks from their spread approach (his first two efforts, of 79 and 82 receptions, respectively, rank in the SEC top ten for all-time single season totals) and you see why we are singing the Commodores praises. Now whether this offense hums at the same level(s) it did under Jay Cutler is debatable, but improvements have to happen with this much gelled talent. The secondary has shown huge strides this spring from where they left off, especially since they have to work on their coverage against their ever-improving brethren on offense. Still, if the DL doesn’t continue bettering their efforts (which they did from 2005 through last year), Vandy’s 74th-ranked total defense won’t improve enough to significantly help the win total. Playing in the nation’s consistently toughest conference means this team earns anything they get – I mean, is there really any comfort when your only away games are trips to Auburn, Columbia, Gainesville and Knoxville? Factor in Alabama, Georgia and ACC Champ Wake Forest at home to see why Mr. Commodore may see his guys finish under .500 for the 25th straight season. At one of the only private universities in a BCS-aligned conference, VU will field their best chance since the Cutler days to earn just their fourth bowl trip ever. Just don’t use the label “pushover”, for it has no place in describing the 2007 Vanderbilt football team.

Projected 2007 record: 5-7
OT Chris Williams (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)
QB - 3.5 DL - 3
RB - 3.5 LB - 3.5
WR - 4 DB - 3
OL - 4 ..

Passing: Chris Nickson, 160-292-13, 2085 yds., 15 TD

Rushing: Chris Nickson, 146 att., 694 yds., 9 TD

Receiving: Earl Bennett, 82 rec., 1146 yds., 6 TD

Scoring: Chris Nickson, 9 TD, 54 pts.

Punting: Brett Upson, 52 punts, 37.4 avg.

Kicking: Bryant Hahnfeldt, 8-17 FG, 27-29 PAT, 51 pts.

Tackles: Jonathan Goff, 93 tot., 67 solo

Sacks: Curtis Gatewood, 7 sacks

Interceptions: Reshard Langford, 3 for 58 yds.; Darlron Spead, 3 for 27 yds.

Kickoff returns: Alex Washington, 19 ret., 19.2 avg., 0 TD

Punt returns: Alex Washington, 10 ret., 5.6 avg., 0 TD


OFFENSE: Marlon White-WR, Mac Pyle-OG, Steven Bright-FB, Elliot Hood-OT
DEFENSE: Chris Booker-DE, Ray Brown-DT, Kevin Joyce-WLB, Ben Koger-DB

Last year, offensive results were predictable in many ways – VU did well against their slate’s lesser foes, but struggled when they played top caliber teams. With a then-sophomore Chris Nickson learning the ropes, the Commodores did much better than expected in this top-heavy, defensive conference. A year older and wiser, Nickson has a good hold on the starting slot after leading the team in both passing and rushing. But the other QB candidates make good cases – dual-threat Mackenzie Adams knows this system well as 2006’s successful No.2 guy, while senior Richard Kovalcheck, who started at Arizona before transferring, throws a rope with his rocket arm and had a huge spring game. Usually working out of their spread approach, this many qualified options in the signal-calling arsenal – the same three who were there a year ago – means improvements with so many other starters also returning. Running back Jeff Jennings is back from the knee surgery that kept him out all of last year. Like senior counterpart Cassen Jackson-Garrison, the hulking size of these two is worth noting for between-the-tackles success. Scouts have been commenting on how Jennings’ return equals an immediate improvement to VU’s ground game, and we will also point out how the Dandridge-native has seemingly softer hands. Still, we think the back who can truly help put more points on the board is svelte Jared Hawkins – his 6.9ypc average as a freshman should mean an increase to his 43 carry total (only lost nine yards). H-back Brad Allen should also see his role expand in both their two-back sets and as a tight end, when needed. To prove how much bigger the running lanes will become, just look at the front line entirely composed of returning senior starters. Last year’s team average of 4.7 per carry, accompanied by their allowance of only 19 sacks, validates claims that this offense could perform at the levels of 2005’s squad due to their great line. The bigmen are led by all-SEC left tackle Chris Williams, but guard Merritt Kirchoffer is the only lineman who can really get to the outside quickly with backs for effective lead blocking beyond the tackle box. The size on the line bodes well for keeping those huge, fast SEC DLmen in check, though, the lack of speed, along with their bigger backs, will keep most of the running inside (the exception will be Hawkins and roll-outs by their mobile QBs). Three- and four-receiver sets allow All-American Earl Bennett to get open more often - foes cannot double-team him nearly as often as needed. Ex-long/high jumper George Smith and linksman Sean Walker are those proven snarlers who will excel with Bennett distracting DBs. We know Vandy will be poised for any “next levels” when their 33% third-down conversion rate shoots up, and you can expect that their already-No.52 total offense will only improve.


WR Earl Bennett (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)


Returning Starters in bold
QB Chris Nickson-Jr (6-1, 210) Mackenzi Adams-So (6-2, 208)
TB Jeff Jennings-Jr (6-1, 222) Cassen Jackson-Garrison-Sr (6-1, 220)
WR George Smith-Jr (6-3, 195) Justin Wheeler-So (6-0, 175)
WR Earl Bennett-Jr (6-1, 202) Alex Washington-So (5-10, 180)
WR Sean Walker-Jr (6-0, 180) Bryant Anderson-Jr (6-3, 210)
TE Brad Allen-Jr (6-3, 240) Jake Bradford-So (6-6, 260)
OT Chris Williams-Sr (6-6, 315) Eric Hensley-So (6-6, 305)
OG Josh Eames-Sr (6-5, 310) Ryan Custer-So (6-4, 295)
C Hamilton Holiday-Sr (6-3, 290) Bradley Vierling-So (6-3, 290)
OG Merritt Kirchoffer-Sr (6-5, 315) Drew Gardner-So (6-5, 305)
OT Brian Stamper-Sr (6-5, 295) Thomas Welch-So (6-6, 280)
K Bryant Hahnfeldt-Jr (5-11, 180) ..



Retooling the line that produced the nation’s 91st run defense is priority one for sixth-year coordinator Bruce Fowler. Since coach Johnson’s specialty is on this side of scrimmage, improvements are on the way. Ironically, though they slipped in their NCAA ranking (from 82nd), the line’s overall performance was better (went from giving up 4.5 per carry to 4.1 and from 170 yard per game to 156). One reason we see even more improvements coming is due to upcoming end Broderick Stewart, who earned five sacks in a limited backup role in his first year at this level. Backup Steven Stone also impressed as a freshman, but it is soph Quavian Lewis who had the biggest spring scrimmage. With senior quickster Curtis Gatewood leading these three through his fabulous example and the No.13 DE prospect (John Stokes) arriving soon, this area is looking up. From his inside slot, tackle Theo Horrocks led the team in forced fumbles (four) as a lane-clogging stanchion. Greg Hall’s huge spring has him poised to start, and the hungry depth inside bodes well for the front four to handle running issues without (as) much help from the LBs. Senior all-conference MLB Jonathan Goff is entering his fourth year as the Vandy starter here. Well-sized and fast, Goff represents the entire corps these ways. Fellow senior Marcus Buggs led the team with 10.5 tackles-for-loss, and sophomore Brandon Bryant’s solid effort as a RS frosh has fans excited for his (starting) prospects. The backups at LB are young, but there is enough experience amongst them to quell any injury concerns. Dubiously, the DBs return a total of four starters. With only three juniors (one who starts) as their 51st-ranked secondary’s eldest members, this young-but-proven backfield has a huge upside that has been emerging all spring. Playing one senior, two sophs and four freshmen at corner last campaign will now pay off – 6’2 true soph Myron Lewis and D.J. Moore have corralled and held their starting status throughout early practices. Competition for reps is fierce from there, and who comes into the game after these two is likely to look like a revolving door to keep legs fresh and their modest egos in check. Ex-sprinter Alan Strong, super quick Marquez Hall and Freshman All-SEC ‘X-factor’ Darlron Spead (led team in passes broken up and tied for most INTs) may not make the two-deep, but you’ll be seeing them aplenty (Spead is the first choice at Nickel). The most consistency amongst the DBs this spring has been seen in starting safeties Reshard Langford and Ryan Hamilton. Hamilton shot up the depth chart last spring and did a decent job, though, the room he leaves for improvement is why Joel Caldwell has been bumped back from his starting corner slot. Langford’s worth is validated by his great stat line, so all he has to do is carry over the consistency of his play from spring to improve even more. With a tighter back seven that can now better affect opponents’ short passing games and with a front four who can hold their own, just how much this defense improves with eight returning starters and its budding youth will be a pleasant surprise.


DE Curtis Gatewood (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)


Returning Starters in bold
DE Curtis Gatewood-Sr (6-3, 245) Quavian Lewis-So (6-3, 225)
DT Gabe Hall-Sr (6-1, 288) Greg Billinger-So (6-2, 290)
DT Theo Horrocks-Sr (6-3, 295) Brandon Holmes-Jr (6-3, 295)
DE Broderick Stewart-So (6-5, 225) Steven Stone-So (6-6, 255)
SLB Marcus Buggs-Sr (5-11, 235) Nate Campbell-Fr (6-3, 228)
MLB Jonathan Goff-Sr (6-4, 235) Chris Johnson-So (6-1, 230)
WLB Brandon Bryant-So (6-1, 230) Patrick Benoist-So (6-0, 215)
CB D.J. Moore-So (5-10, 175) Jared Fagan-Jr (5-10, 180)
CB Myron Lewis-So (6-2, 195) Josh Allen-Jr (5-9, 182)
SS Reshard Langford-Jr (6-2, 215) Brent Trice-So (6-2, 205)
FS Ryan Hamilton-So (6-1, 205) Joel Caldwell-So (6-1, 185)
Darlron Spead-So (5-10, 185) (NB)
P Brett Upson-So (5-10, 175) Bryant Hahnfeldt-Jr (5-11, 180)




Punter Brett Upson showed his ability to control his tries, but we think coaches should let him show off his powerful leg to avoid Vandy again finishing ranked 86th for net results. Junior Bryant Hahnfeldt was a Freshman All-American in ’05, and though he only went 8-for-17 last year, he is 8-for-14 in his collegiate career from beyond the 40. Alex Washington didn’t impress at either return slot, so Earl Everett takes over this dual role…a truly apprehensive roll of the risk-reward dice for coaches on each dangerous runback.