AN OPPOSING VIEW
Last week, I talked about how I’ve known the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Mike Strange seemingly forever. Well, familiarity is not the case with this week’s guest for “An Opposing View.” When I shake his hand in the Dan Magill Press Box on Saturday, it will be the first time I’ve met Adam Sparks in person.
That’s because he’s a (relatively) young guy and he just started covering the Vanderbilt Commodores for the Nashville Tennessean. Which is not to say Adams is inexperienced. He was the Middle Tennessee beat writer for The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for past 10 years. Sparks moved over to the Gannett sister paper, The Tennessean, a month ago to cover Vanderbilt. You can read his Vandy coverage on The Tennessean’s website and you can follow him on Twitter @AdamSparks.
Anyway, Adam agreed to answer some Vanderbilt questions for me for this week’s Opposing View. It’s a weekly feature in which we try to gain some objective insight on the Bulldogs’ opponent from the professionals who cover them.
So here’s what Adam had to say about this week’s matchup between No. 13 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) and the Commodores (1-4, 0-3). UGA’s homecoming game will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. at Sanford Stadium (SEC Network). …
Me: So I know James Franklin left in a lurch for Penn State, but I was under the impression he left a pretty good team back in the Music City? How did the Commodores get so bad so fast?
Sparks: “Some think this Vandy team would have the same record (1-4) if Franklin was still here. I’m not necessarily one of those, simply because I think the Commodores would have beaten Temple, at least. But that was a quirky game, which included seven turnovers, an injured starting QB and a lightning delay. Anyway, it does appear like some of Franklin’s recruiting had cycled through, and this was probably going to be a young rebuilding roster this year, regardless of the head coach. I think the QB issues have affected a lot. Patton Robinette left the Temple and South Carolina losses with injuries and missed two whole games. Vandy has outscored opponents 55-24 with Robinette at QB (including 14-0 lead over South Carolina), but it has been outscored 150-30 with other QBs in game.”
Me: I was very impressed with Derek Mason at SEC Media Days in Birmingham and other places I’ve seen him speak. How has he been received by the Vanderbilt community? And was the honeymoon over as soon as he lost big to Temple at home?
Sparks: “Honeymoon was over quickly, not so much because of the losses, but rather the manner of them. No one loses by 30 points at home to Temple. And a loss to Ole Miss is understandable, but not by a 41-3 count. Mason is direct and somewhat polished when he knows the message he wants to get across. I think he has looked uneasy when circumstances changes, like trying to maneuver through questions about QB injury status and criticism over losses and adjustments. These are common for rookie head coaches, but they especially stick out with Mason because he’s not winning. Personally, I’ve found him pretty easy to work with, but he’s never going to feel completely comfortable until more victories come.”
Me: Georgia coach Mark Richt said he wasn’t sure who was going to play quarterback for the Commodores on Saturday? What is the latest on the situation under center?
Sparks: “At his Tuesday press conference, Mason said Robinette is “still doubtful,” but also added that his condition could change. For now, it looks like freshman Wade Freebeck will start, but don’t write that in ink just yet. Just my opinion, I think they need to sit Robinette for another week. Whether or not he’s over the concussion from the South Carolina game, I think it’ll be a tall order to knock off Georgia. If there is a question about Robinette’s health, why not sit him out for another week rather than toss him to the wolves? There are winnable games ahead after the Georgia game.”
Me: It appears Vandy is steadily playing better with each passing week. Where is the team showing the most improvement and what areas of the game or positions on the field are the Commodores fairly proficient?
Sparks: “Defense has gotten better. After giving up a 99-yard TD drive on Kentucky’s opening possession, the defense settled in. It returned an interception for a touchdown and then shut out Kentucky in the second half. Transitioning from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 in the offseason, Vandy’s defense was going to take some time to develop, but I think progress is finally starting to show up. But I’m not sure if that will show up quite so distinctly this week since Georgia has Todd Gurley carrying the ball.”
Me: What’s the buzz or attitude or vibe about Saturday’s trip to Athens for homecoming? Is it mostly dread or would you say it’s hopeful anticipation since there has been some recent success against the Bulldogs and they’ve shown they can be had?
Sparks: “I think Vandy just looks at it as, “Let’s just play and see what happens.” Vandy entered the week as a 32-point underdog. That’s quite a point spread for a conference game, but their resumes lend credence to it. I sense a higher confidence with the Commodores than such a prediction would suggest. But schematically, I think players have to be wondering if their coaches truly have the answers to improve the offense. If not, it will be a long day in Athens.”
Me: Finally, if you could please give us your thoughts on how you think Saturday’s game is going to play out.
Sparks: “I think Vanderbilt’s defense plays better than most would think, but the unforgiving grind of Gurley finally breaks the Commodores. If Robinette plays, the offense will be better. If Freebeck is under center, it can’t be much worse than last week’s game. I say Georgia pulls away in third quarter. Georgia 45, Vanderbilt 14