The Opposition: Vanderbilt’s coverage skills could provide stiff resistance at BBVA Compass Bowl

Sophomore receiver Deontay Greenberry initially chose to play for Notre Dame, but a late visit to UH and his relationship with the coaching staff helped alter his decision. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Sophomore receiver Deontay Greenberry will have his hands full with a stiff Vanderbilt secondary. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

UH is less than a week away from its national television showcase against SEC foe Vanderbilt on Jan. 4. Vanderbilt, which has made three consecutive bowl appearances, will bring its strong defense and All-American receiver to Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. In the following Q&A, Allison Mast, sports editor of The Vanderbilt Hustler, gives insight into the Commodores’ ability to ward off distractions, offensive weapons and ball security.

The Daily Cougar: Everyone knows that Vanderbilt’s All-American receiver, Jordan Matthews, who has set SEC records, is a big-play threat that the UH defense is targeting. With so much attention being paid toward Matthews, who are the other skill-position players whom the Commodores need to step up?

Allison Mast: Wide receiver Jonathan Krause has an opportunity to make some big catches for the Commodores. In addition, a member of the running back corps needs to step up and make plays. I would look toward (sophomore running back) Jerron Seymour to establish a productive game from the get-go. Quarterback Patton Robinette has an opportunity to showcase his mobility, especially inside the red zone.

TDC: Media reports have head coach James Franklin, who has led Vanderbilt to three straight bowl appearances, on the shortlist to be Texas’ next head football coach. Could the team and coaching staff be distracted by the rumors?

AM: I’m not sure what Coach Franklin has told his staff members and players, but I doubt the team will be distracted by mere rumors. Earlier this season, several sources were fairly confident that Franklin would be the next head coach of USC. Despite the speculation, the players maintained focus on this season.

TDC: UH does a good job of creating favorable matchups by playing its two most explosive receivers (sophomore Deontay Greenberry and junior Daniel Spencer) on the inside. Do the Commodores have linebackers and safeties good enough in zone coverage to slow down UH’s inside receivers?

AM: Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer have certainly been explosive, but linebacker Chase Garnham and safety Kenny Ladler will be up for the challenge. Garnham struggled with injuries this season, but his experience will show in a bowl setting. Ladler had a terrific year, earning a place on the All-SEC second team. He ranked second in the conference in solo tackles and interceptions and led the league with five forced fumbles. Both Ladler and Garnham should be able to slow down Houston’s receiving game.

TDC: With redshirt senior Austyn Carta-Samuels recovering from surgery, redshirt freshman Patton Robinette will play quarterback. How will the offense be different with the more mobile Robinette behind center full-time?

AM: When Carta-Samuels went down during Vanderbilt’s midseason matchup against Georgia, Robinette came in and led his team to an upset victory. He took the starting role during the next couple of games, so the team knows which adjustments need to be made for the bowl game. The play calling was certainly more conservative when Robinette was at the helm, as both the running backs and Robinette kept the ball on the ground. However, with more experience and practice under his belt, Robinette will likely be more comfortable throwing the ball in the upcoming bowl game. As a legitimate dual-threat quarterback, the redshirt freshman will direct a dynamic offense.

TDC: UH’s defense has given up some yards, but the team has been excellent at turning over opposing offenses. How good is Vanderbilt at taking care of the football?

AM: Turnovers near the end zone have hurt the Commodores at times this season, but overall, they have done a good job of protecting the ball. Obviously, Robinette has never played in a bowl game before, so it will be very important for him to keep calm and avoid making rushed decisions. However, many of the players are competing in their third consecutive bowl game, so the pressure shouldn’t affect them.

TDC: Prediction?

AM: Vanderbilt 31, Houston 27.

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