ATHENS — Chris Lee is founder and publisher of VandySports.com, a subscription-based website devoted to covering Vanderbilt athletics.
That may seem like a tough job to some, but things have definitely been looking up for the Commodores’ football program in recent years. And with Vanderbilt’s highly-educated alumni base, its graduates fan out all over the world. So when they’re looking for news on their ‘Dores, Lee has them covered.
If you’re a fan of college athletics, you may have seen Lee’s name around. He does a bunch of freelance work for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Lindy’s other such outlets. He also was part of the Nashville sports radio for a while, and currently hosts The Ultimate SEC Show Podcast (which can be found on Apple Podcasts) with Ollie Connolly and Trey Wallace. And if fantasy football and baseball is your thing, Lee has written books about fantasy football and baseball. Now he gets to add “An Opposing View” to his resume.
Born in London, England, to American parents, Lee has lived in Nashville since he was 4 months old. A degree holder from Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee State universities, Lee lives just south of Nashville with his wife, 6-year-old daughter, 3-year-old son and 15-year-old dog. Georgia fans have to like Lee because Dale Murphy tops his list of all-time favorite athletes, a list that also includes Herschel Walker and J.J. Frazier.
You can read Lee’s stuff at VandySports.com and follow him on Twitter @VandySportscom.
Now for the questions on Vandy:
1. What’s the deal with Ralph Webb this season? Obviously Georgia fans know what a great running back he is, but he clearly hasn’t had as much success this season, averaging just 39.6 yards per game.
Lee: Some think Webb’s been a half-step slow this year, and maybe the poundings that have come with so many carries have caught up. To me, it’s hard to tell. Webb has thrived on two things — patience to wait for blocks in front of him, and the ability to drag tacklers after contact. But Vanderbilt’s offensive line has been pitiful in run blocking. The extra half-second that Webb waited in the past where he found the holes now just results in giving a defender extra time to shoot the gap as teams have brought linebackers and safeties close to the line of scrimmage all year.
Webb also requires a head of steam to be effective. When you’re getting hit by defenders by your third step, it’s hard for the laws of physics to take over. VU had issues in the run game prior to the four-game gauntlet of Kansas State, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and that’s obviously an excruciatingly tough stretch to try to fix things.
2. Tell us about quarterback Kyle Shurmur. He looks like a terrific pocket passer but obviously the Commodores are having difficult scoring.
Lee: He’s been terrific this season. People view him as a game manager, but he’s a four-star recruit who comes from a football family. (His dad is long-time NFL offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur). The combination of talent, brains and experience has really come together in his second full season as starter.The only real knock on him is a lack of mobility.
Shurmur has a strong arm and throws a great deep ball, but he’s also deadly accurate. Alabama put a dent in the completion percentage, but he’s got 11 touchdowns and one interception, and that one wasn’t his fault as a ball was tipped to Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison.
His receivers aren’t great, but by Vanderbilt standards, they’re very good, and he’s got 5-6 good enough to make plays. If the Commodores had any semblance of a running game, that would really help.
3. How’s the overall health of the team? I heard where Coach Mason was talking about them being pretty beat up after playing Bama and Florida back-to-back.
Lee: They seem to be in great shape. Fullback Bailey McElwain has missed the entire season, and probably won’t play this year, and that’s had a tremendous effect on the rushing attack.
But other than that, I don’t know of too many more injuries. Starting corner Tre Herndon missed last week with injury, and that really hurt, but should be back this week. Backup corner Bryce Lewis has been good; he missed last week, but I think he’s back for Georgia also.
Teams always get banged up this time of year, and coach Derek Mason has been almost Bill Belichick-ian in how much info VU gives out on injuries. (Not coincidentally, Mason spent part of the summer picking the Patriots’ coach’s brain.) If there’s much else to be concerned about, it’s a fairly well-kept secret.
4. Tell us about some matchups in this game that will be critical and possibly favor Vandy?
Lee: Shurmur is good enough to put the ball on the money to a receiver with just about any type of throw if he has time. If Vanderbilt pulls an upset, it’s almost certainly because he made huge plays, and probably hit a couple of deep balls.
I also really like cornerback JoeJuan Williams, who could have signed virtually anywhere he wanted out of high school two years ago. Williams is a physical, 6-foot-3 corner who has done a great job locking down receivers so far.
Linebacker Charles Wright did a lot of damage as an edge rusher the first three games. In the last two, bigger, more athletic blockers have made him almost a non-factor. Vanderbilt needs to get him back to his early-season form to have a chance.
5. I saw the clips about Derek Mason and his pregame speeches. Seems to be quite the motivator. What’s the perception in Commodore Nation about the type of coach he is and the job he’s doing?
Lee: He is. He learned a lot from those off-season sessions with Belichick. His standards are higher for both he and his program now. And the guy who once bumbled through press conferences is long gone.
As much as James Franklin had done to raise the profile of Vanderbilt football, he may have done as much in destroying administrative support with a rape scandal that incriminated four of his recruits. At a lot of places, that’s something schools sweep under the rug; at Vanderbilt, it’s taken very seriously. That one thing alone eroded a lot of administrate support for football inside the school and that’s been tough for Mason to overcome.
And Mason dug himself a huge hole by being completely unprepared for his first season (2014), too. But things are on an upswing. Franklin made a living by mostly beating up on bad teams. Mason has really racked up some quality wins — Western Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee last year, and Kansas State this year. The schedule after Georgia is full of teams that the Commodores can beat. If he finishes above .500, that’s always a success at Vandy.
Mason’s current recruiting class is also the best it has ever been at Vanderbilt, and the Nashville area is brimming with football talent like never before. If Mason can finish strong this year and keep his class together, there’s a good argument to be made that he has the program on the upswing.
This is a bad matchup for Vanderbilt. Elite athletes like those possessed by Alabama and Florida have given Vandy fits. Mason is capable of out-scheming teams with equal or better talent, but I think the Commodores have run into a brick wall with the Georgia defense. I think the spread is too low, and I’m expecting something along the lines of 34-10, Georgia.