VMI opens the 2017 season with a lot of new faces on both sides but particularly on offense. Coach Wachenheim will have a quarterback other than Al Cobb for the first time in his tenure at VMI. Cobb leaves holding almost every career passing record in Keydet history despite playing only 3 years. While the win-loss record has not been what the VMI faithful would want, Coach Wachenheim and his team have clearly closed the talent gap losing two games last season by one score or less while being within striking distance until very late in a couple of others. The next step is getting over the hump and learning to close those games out for wins.
Taking the next step will be a challenge, however, as not only is Cobb gone but also two leading receivers including career receptions leader Aaron Sanders. Looking to takeover at QB is sophomore Austin Coulling who played some last season, but struggled with turnovers. The Keydets will likely lean on running back Daz Palmer who led the team in rushing as freshman in 2016. With all the new faces in the passing game, the rushing game will have to improve upon the conference worst 3.0 yards per carry from 2016.
Defensively, the Keydets have a lot of talent returning particularly at linebacker where the core group is essentially intact from a year ago. The defense is led by LB Allen Cratsenberg, LB Ryan Francis, and S Greg Sanders who combined for 290 tackles and 26.5 for loss in 2016. Basically, one out of every 3 tackles is made by one of those three young guys. With a young offense, VMI’s defense will need to be stout and improve upon the 15 forced turnovers from a year ago. Coulling and the offense will need a few short fields to be successful.
It is hard not to pull for the Keydets, it’s a historic institution, the team plays hard and disciplined, and players graduate. Unfortunately, I think this is going to be a tough season. I do think the offense will have some growing pains. The defense will continue to improve with a mix of experience at linebacker and improved atheticism in the secondary. I hope I’m wrong, but from the outside looking in VMI doesn’t look quite ready to take that next step.