Oh, your family doesn't trace robust, generational wealth to 1800s railroads and shipping? How quaint, you new money trash. You probably interned at Facebook. Vanderbilt makes oil money look extra nouveau riche.
I sat down to talk love, life, American industry, and football with Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland), Editor-in-Chief of the SB Nation site Anchor of Gold covering Vanderbilt athletics. Tell the help to hurry along, pour a low ball of sour mash, and join us for a discussion, won't you?
Good Bull Hunting: Thanks for joining us. That’s a handsome ascot. Are those loafers Italian? So regal. Let’s talk psychology for a moment. What is the psyche of the Vandy fan base in Year 2 of Derek Mason? Did James Franklin set a new anchor (nailed it) for overall expectations?
Anchor of Gold: Franklin did raise expectations, which made it weird when everyone immediately began calling for Mason's head after a 3-9 start with a team that had been ravaged by roster turnover. I mean, that's normal for most successful programs, so it was equally affirming and annoying to see it start so quickly with Derek Mason. Expectations are higher, but they aren't "Win the East" high. Mainly, fans just want improvement and a visible path back to the postseason. If Mason can consistently get this team to 5-6 wins in down years and 8-9 in good ones then he'll be a beloved figure on West End.
GBH: I wish we could send our fans to a seminar at an airport Holiday Inn about reasonable expectations. Ungrateful little shits. Where were we? Ah yes - if you would, unpack the Vanderbilt offense for me. Remarkably, it is not the worst in the SEC (smh @ Mizzou). Is Derek Mason aware that football is not blackjack and that he should hit on a soft 17? After all, he’s only "busted" over 21 once and it was against something called "Austin Peay". Is there anyone on this offense that we should keep an eye on? Texas A&M is renowned for giving opposing running backs career days.
AoG: A&M might have to be slightly worried, because the Commodores could finally have a quarterback. Freshman Kyle Shurmur had the best performance any Vandy QB has had this season when he put together a 129-yard, two touchdown first half against Kentucky. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig then promptly pulled his foot off the gas and ran the ball on 80% of the team's plays in the second half to protect a 21-10 lead, but Shurmur was accurate and willing to stand up to pressure in the pocket. If he can do that against A&M then there's a chance Vandy goes past 20 points on Saturday.
The playcalling will depend on whether or not the 'Dores have the lead, but expect a healthy dose of tailback Ralph Webb and some intermediate passes to Caleb Scott and Trent Sherfield no matter what. Webb has turned into a workhorse back for this team and has averaged more than 25 carries per game in the team's last four contests. If A&M can't contain him it'll be a long day for them in Nashville.
GBH: Ralph, Caleb, and Trent... those names snugly fit into my uneducated Vanderbilt stereotypes. Take me deeper. The Vandy defense has the makeup of a low-yield corporate bond. I’ll explain. It’s investment grade, robust, steady, safe. It isn’t dynamic enough to win an SEC Championship, but it keeps Mason’s boys in a lot of football games. How do you explain the success of the Vanderbilt defense? Oh, and forgive the desperate business analogy – I just want to join the Vandy country club and I invested all my money at a blackjack table in Shreveport.
AoG: Mason has the most underrated defense in the country, beginning at the defensive line - Caleb Azubike, Adam Butler, Jay Woods, and Nifae Lealao. Those guys set the tone up front by occupying blockers and providing pressure on QB dropbacks. Behind them, Zach Cunningham has played at an All-SEC level and seems to be everywhere on the field. His pursuit skills are out of this world and he finds a way to make plays no matter who is blocking him. Then, a developing secondary has two key pieces - cornerback Torren McGaster and safety Oren Burks. Both are strong in coverage, but McGaster especially can take opponents' top WRs out of the game. Combined they've matured into a force in Mason's 3-4 defense, and their depth has helped them avoid some of the pitfalls that doomed this team in 2014. Combine that with an extreme bend-don't-break mantra - the 'Dores held Kentucky to 0 points on two different 1st-and-goal situations from inside the VU 5 last week - and you've got the recipe for a top 15 defense.
GBH: I want to talk Vanderbilt on a broader, historical level. We know your historical rivals well – Carnegie Mellon, J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller Tech, unions, and Ivy League wait lists. All formidable. Who are your SEC rivals? Tennessee? South Carolina? Illiteracy?
AofG: We try to hate Tennessee more than most schools, but that's a pretty high bar to reach. Florida and South Carolina are rivalr-ish, as long as we're talking about baseball. Otherwise, Ole Miss, our cross-division rival, garners a lot of friendly debate. Typically about whether to use rye or bourbon in your tailgate Old Fashioneds, but still.
GBH: I see the potential with Ole Miss. If you take a Vandy guy's SAT score, cut it in half, replace his generational wealth with savvy credit maneuvering, and weave in some absurd, overcompensating displays of money, well, you have an Ole Miss man. Let's go another direction for a spell. In ten words or less, describe Nashville Bro-Country music.
AofG: Your girlfriend threw up on my boat shoes.
GBH: Sir, our girlfriends listen to music made by men who ditched Nashville - Willie, Waylon, Robert Earl Keen. The girls can also hold their liquor. Mostly. Ok, sometimes. Your analogy is fair and clear though. Consider me an Aggie who wears boat shoes as well (ducks). Let's put a bow on this thing. A lot of Aggies are making the trip up to Nashville. Any tips or suggestions for a newcomer to Vandy game day? Apologies in advance for the gauche wardrobes and goatees that many of our fans will have in tow.
AofG: Well, Vandy fans will be the ones in button down shirts and sundresses. Take your time, see the city, do some tourist stuff on Broadway, and then sink back towards campus or out to East Nashville for some actually decent bars (assuming they aren't choked with hipsters).
GBH: Button downs and sundresses? Well heavens we must invite the Queen! What is your game prediction and do you have any stock tips?
AofG: Texas A&M 16, Vanderbilt 13. And beef stock is an excellent way to jazz up any baked dish.
GBH: .... [invests all Good Bull Hunting institutional capital ($23) into Campbell's Soup]