GBH: James Franklin is a fun coach to watch. Do you think he's at Vandy for the long haul, or do you see him leaving in a few years with sustained success?
AoG: It's tough to tell. This winter is going to be difficult for Vanderbilt fans, because openings at USC and (likely) Texas would be extremely tempting for a young, highly-praised coach. Fortunately, Vanderbilt has been doing everything they can keep Franklin on board. This means pay raises (Athletic Director David Williams has said that Franklin is one of the top four highest-paid coaches in the SEC), facilities upgrades (finally), and a lasting commitment to the team's assistant coaches and other staff members. The 'Dores know what they've got, and they're fighting to keep the man who led this team to a once-in-a-decade season last year.
My hope is that Franklin will stay. He's been saying all the right things and his selling pitch to recruits revolves around building a winning tradition at Vanderbilt - and I think the coach is a true believer in his own sales pitch. At the very least, I think he'll stay until his first full recruiting class graduates. However, if any extremely tempting jobs come along, I think every Vanderbilt fan is going to be nervous when the rumor mill starts to touch on Franklin leaving Nashville.
GBH: How badass is Mr. C? What's the story behind giving the fan a bloody nose?
AoG: Funny story about Mr. C - he's actually the combination of a partnership between Jim Henson's Creature Shop and a Carnegie Mellon School of Robotics initiative to bring dead robber-barons back to life in mechanical bodies. The first version of Mr. C actually mangled three scientists and required a localized power surge to keep from escaping.
Vanderbilt ended up with what eventually would be the third version after the second "revitalized" Cornelius Vanderbilt escaped and retired to the depths of the Pacific Ocean (causing the infamous "bloop" sound - not many people know that). His monitoring device suggests that he mostly remains in standby mode but stirs once every six months to hunt and feed on the deep sea's treasures. Anyway, aside from an incident where he dismembered and ate Tennessee mascot Smokey the Bluetick Coonhound (which, upon reflection, likely sealed his place in Nashville), he's been more or less a beloved and horrifying member of the Vanderbilt family.
However, there are still kinks in the design. For instance, anyone who makes eye contact with Mr. C evokes a primal rage from within his robot-ghost soul which, in one famous case, led to a bloody nose and a lifetime of subconscious-haunting nightmares for the student in question. Vanderbilt staffers would like to remind you not to taunt, scream, or look directly at Mr. C. For your own safety. We will recalibrate him and check all wiring before retiring him back to the dank basement in which he lives after basketball season ends.
GBH: Who (if anyone) has stepped up to fill the shoes of Zac Stacy this season?
AoG: Jerron Seymour has become this team's #1 back after beginning the season in a platoon with senior Wesley Tate and sophomore Brian Kimbrow. The diminutive back (listed at 5'7", probably closer to 5'5") runs like a pinball, and he plays bigger and stronger than he is. He's run for over 75 yards per game and about 5.3 yards per carry since emerging as the team's primary back, and while those aren't exactly Zac Stacy numbers, he's been solid as the heir apparent to the greatest running back in Vanderbilt history.
GBH: Other than Jordan Matthews, who should we keep an eye on in the passing game? Because there will be a passing game.
AoG: Jonathan Krause has stepped up in a big way to give this team the #2 receiver they needed when Chris Boyd was dismissed from the team this fall. Krause was a special teams all-star, but he's been huge for the 'Dores, proving that he can play in the slot or as a vertical threat to help take some of the offensive pressure off Jordan Matthews's shoulders.
In his last four games, Krause is averaging five catches for 96 yards per contest. He'll be there to make sure that the Aggies don't just double down on Matthews all afternoon. Other than that...pickings are slim. Vandy doesn't have much production from their tight ends this season, and while true freshman Jordan Cunningham has shown flashes of ability, he's still got plenty to learn to be effective in the SEC. Someone may step up, but it's Krause and Matthews that you have to worry about.
GBH: Which defensive player should we look for to be a difference-maker?
AoG: Andre Hal is an All-SEC cornerback, but sophomore linebacker Darreon Herring could be the biggest factor in Saturday's game. Herring has been a contributor since playing last year as a true freshman, but he's been growing tremendously this season. He's had to step up with senior linebacker Chase Garnham sidelined, and we finally saw him take over a game last week against Georgia. He's done a much better job of identifying plays, and while Vanderbilt is still hot garbage against mobile quarterbacks and the read option, Herring could be the guy that keeps them from getting smoked on third downs.
GBH: OK, Nashville bros. Better country singer name from our rosters: Travis Labhart or Oren Burks?
AoG: Man, I grew up in Rhode Island. Anything that doesn't start with a "Mc" or end with an "-o" or "-e" just sounds southern as hell to me.
[thanks to stringsays for the assist on questions]
Click here to read our answers to AoG's questions.