Dec. 31
3:30 p.m.
ABC                           Cincinnati vs Vanderbilt

Jeff Lockridge, of The Tennessean, answered some questions about Vanderbilt


 BS: THE COMMODORES ARE GOING BOWLING! How would you assess this season overall?

Jeff Lockridge: A success. This was probably a four- or five-win team on paper given the struggles of the previous two seasons and the fact these players were adjusting to a third head coach in as many years. But through the staff overhaul and a necessary midseason quarterback change, the Commodores won six games and were in contention for a victory in four additional games - something a Vanderbilt team has been unable to claim in decades. The close losses to ranked SEC powers said more about this group than the blowout wins over weaker opponents.

BS: Please talk about the job James Franklin has done with this program, turning a 2 win team into a competitive team in the SEC.

Jeff Lockridge: Franklin's high-energy, youthful approach rubbed off on the players. No question about it. But just as important as getting the players to believe in themselves again was the need for a new offense and better in-game management. Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan delivered that with a creative stance on play-calling in their "multiple" system. The dedication to Zac Stacy and the running game during the second half of the season was pivotal as well, allowing Vanderbilt to balance time of possession and give its aggressive defense under coordinator Bob Shoop some lengthy rests.

BS: The offense certainly seems to have gotten a spark from QB Jordan Rodgers. How important has he been to the offense and who are the offense's top weapons?

Jeff Lockridge: Rodgers has been huge spark for several reasons, not the least of which is his gutsy effort on every play. His ability to scramble away from pressure and run for first downs - or simply execute a designed run for him on an option read or quarterback draw - has forced opposing defenses to play him as a dual threat. That's often translated to man coverage against young wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, who have emerged as the team's big-play threats on the outside. Stacy is a workhorse at running back, piling up 1,136 yards - the most by a Commodore rusher in a single season. Brandon Barden is an agile, pass-catching tight end.

BS: The defense has been very solid, finishing in the top 30 in the country. Who and what makes this unit successful?

Jeff Lockridge: The success on defense has stemmed from stopping the run, solid senior leadership and Stoop's call to change from a "read" front to an "attack" front in Vanderbilt's 4-3 scheme. Green-lighting the front four to charge into the backfield on just about every play produced big seasons for end Tim Fugger, tackle Rob Lohr and several others. Chris Marve, a four-year starter, is the consummate leader at middle linebacker and the team's top tackler. Casey Hayward and Trey Wilson have been playmakers at cornerback, combining for eight of the defense's 17 interceptions. In all, the Commodores forced 27 turnovers.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Jeff Lockridge: By breakout, I assume we're talking about someone who has been flying under the radar or isn't that well known yet. In that case, let's go with sophomore defensive end Walker May. The Birmingham, Ala., product has quietly put together an excellent second half of the season as his role has increased. In the season finale at Wake Forest, May had a sack and a fumble recovery. If Cincinnati doesn't pay him much attention opposite the higher-profile Fugger, he could have a big day in the Bearcats' backfield.


Thanks a lot to Jeff Lockridge. Check his work out at and follow @jefflockridge.





Matt Opper, of , a blog devoted to Cincy sports, answered some questions for us.

BS: The Bearcats went 9-3, and shared a Big East title. How important is it for the program to have that Big East title and how would you rate this season overall?

Matt Opper: I think that this season is important for the program from a perception stand point more so than it is for the players if that makes any sense. Most of the players who make up the core of this team played major roles in the rise of the program in 2008 and 2009 under Brian Kelly. So they know what it takes to reach that level and sustain it because they went through it as young guns on veteran teams.

But the narrative projected on them from the outside last year more so than this year was that the Bearcats would go back from whence they came. In other words they would go back to being average which is what most of the long history of UC football has been. Average. A big part of that was the idea that Brian Kelly was so good in his time here at UC that it was all him. That the Bearcats were good from 2007 to 2009 simply because BK was nearly transcendent in his time in Clifton. This season has gone a long way to shutting that narrative up and really establishing UC a relevant force in Football in this region.

If I would rate this season on a 1-10 scale I would give it an 8 or a 9. I thought UC had a chance to have a good year, posting maybe 7 or 8 wins. I certainly didn't expect them to be in position to win a share of the Big East or have a chance to get to 10 wins for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons.


BS: QB Zach Collaros had a very good season, but missed the final 3+ games, perhaps costing the Bearcats a chance at the BCS. What is his status, and who are the other top playmakers on offense?

Matt Opper: Collaros is ahead of schedule in his rehab from the broken ankle. It seems increasingly likely that he will be close to 100 per cent in the Liberty Bowl. I expect him to play, though I am pretty sure that his back up, and the odds on favorite to win the job next year, Munchie Legaux will play as well. Collaros is the heart and soul of the team, and has been for the last two years. But the player that makes the offense go is Running Back Isaiah Pead, a 5'11" 190 pound bolt of lightning. Pead has piled up 1400 all purpose yards and 14 TD's. Every defense sets out with the mission to take Pead out of the game. Sometimes that works, more often than not it doesn't. Pead is also has a knack for producing big plays. Only Oregon's LaMichael James, Utah States Robert Turbin and Houston's Charles Sims produced more 30 yard plays than Pead this season.


BS: The defense was ranked 20th in the country, and had a good amount of success. What makes the defense so good and who are the key players on that unit?

Matt Opper: The success of the defense can be placed primarily on the shoulders of the defensive line which was simply dominant this year. UC has a pretty good history of producing quality defensive lines, but the group this year was a notch or two above the rest. The Bearcats lead the nation in both Sacks and Tackles for Loss. UC is the only team to do that in the last 5 seasons. That quality up front has allowed UC to mask some of the deficiencies in the secondary. The secondary has allowed a ton of yards this year, 3226 of them to be exact. But that has a much to with the approach to the defense as anything else. Defensive Co Cordinator Tim Banks has taken a simple appraoch to the game. He knows that the talent in the secondary isn't great and that there are holes in the defense that can be easily exploited if the Bearcats just sit back in coverage. The bargain he seems to make with opposing offenses is that the Bearcats are coming for the quarterbacks head. If he can stand in the pocket and make plays that offense will have a chance. Very few teams have been able to exploit that bargain. Tennessee did and West Virginia did. But most teams wind up with a QB that spends half the game getting off the ground and very little production where it matters, on the score board.

The guy to watch up front is Derek Wolfe without question. He turned in an all timer of a season for a defensive tackle. 64 tackles, 19.5 for loss and 9.5 sacks. All that from a defensive tackle. He quite simply took some games over all on his own. He was named defensive player of the year in the conference and has been named to numerous All America teams since the conclusion of the season. I know it's not fun to watch interior line play for most fans, but Derek Wolfe is a guy worth paying attention to


BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Matt Opper: I think it would be True Freshman Wide Receiver Alex Chisum. He has come on late in the year and developed into a clutch performer for the Bearcats. He went to the same high school as Calvin Johnson did in Georgia and wound up breaking some of his records. He is a young man with a very bright future in the sport and I can think of no better time for him to breakout than in the Liberty Bowl in front of a national audience.


Thanks a lot to Matt Opper. Check his work out at and follow @downthedrive .




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