Alabama stomped the Commodores Saturday night, but Vandy played better than the night's 34-0 score suggests. Or, at the very least, better than their last game against South Carolina.
Some thought that Vanderbilt was due for an epically bad offensive showing versus the Tide's swarming defense, but the team's 194 yard output was nearly three times more than the team generated against the Gamecocks two weeks ago. The team's offensive line allowed zero sacks on the day and Jordan Rodgers showed glimpses of genuine talent throughout the team's stunted drives. While none of these developments helped the team put any points on the board, it helped shake off some of the bad feelings from a 77 total yard performance in the team's last outing.
Let's not sugar coat the loss too dramatically - Saturday night's showing was BAD. The team converted just one of their 10 third down opportunities and averaged only 2.2 yards per carry. The rush game, the catalyst for this team's offense, got nine total yards from their tailbacks. Vandy's all-world defense looked merely average against a very good Alabama team as well. As 29 point underdogs, the team couldn't even cover the spread - although a pair of missed field goals from Carey Spear contributed to the shutout.
The loss was a mixed bag for the team's offensive line. While they were strong in keeping Rodgers and Larry Smith from absorbing sacks, they were unable to open running lanes for Zac Stacy and Jerron Seymour to run through. Alabama's defensive line was almost unmovable in the trenches, causing James Franklin and his staff to abandon a traditional running attach early in the game.
This led to an emphasis on the mid-level passing game, which was a mixed bag of results for the 'Dores. Larry Smith left the game late in the first quarter after the team's most successful drive of the game. He went 4-4 for 45 yards to put the team in field goal position before Spear missed his first FG attempt of the game. Rodgers was decent in relief. He showed an accurate arm and quick instincts but also made some mental mistakes that led to a pair of interceptions and one vicious hit that had to have left the junior QB sore Sunday morning.
Good/Bad analysis, plus the PiBB ICE Player of the Week are after the jump...
- Jordan Rodgers's indomitable spirit. Rodgers scrambled upfield under pressure with a clear five yard gain in front of him. However, rather than slide for a modest gain, he stayed on his feet and absorbed a hit so vicious that it gave Larry Smith a concussion on the sideline. While #RIPAaronRodgerslittlebro briefly trended on Twitter, Rodgers sprung to his feet, jogged back to the huddle, and calmly acted as though nothing happened. It's going to take more than some collapsed lungs to keep good ole' JR out of this game!
- Brandon Barden came back. Barden returned to action for the first time in three games after suffering an ankle injury against UConn. His impact was immediate, as his 31 yard reception in the first quarter moved the 'Dores into Alabama territory and eventually set up a field goal try. Though he only had one more catch in the game, he's a dangerous weapon that this team needs to help alleviate the pressure from Smith/Rodgers as the season wears on.
- The linebacking play. Vandy's second line of defense was solid despite the loss of Tristan Strong last week to a knee injury. Archibald Barnes, heretofore known to AoG as "The Duke," performed well in his first start, recording eight tackles. The trio of Barnes, Chase Garnham, and Chris Marve combined for 26 tackles for the night. They weren't lights out, but they played better than fans would have expected at the start of the season.
- Larry Smith's durability. Smith left Saturday's game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. This season, he's been taken out of four of the team's five games due thanks to injury concerns. While none of the problems have been serious so far, Smith's inability to stay in the game isn't helping his argument to remain the starting quarterback for the 'Dores.
- Carey Spear's kicking. Spear missed his first field goal attempts of the season Saturday night, pushing a 47 yarder wide of the uprights and missing a 38 yarder even worse in the second quarter. Both misses were deflating for the Commodores, setting the tone for an underwhelming second half. Vandy fans watched what could have been a 7-6 deficit balloon into a 14-0 Alabama lead after the Tide scored in the drive immediately following the miss. Neither kick was an easy one, but Spear can't afford any misses when the team's offense is this bad.
- The rushing game. The team amassed zero first downs on the ground against Alabama, and Vandy's platoon of Seymour and Stacy combined for eight carries and four yards gained. This absolutely destroyed the Commodores in the time of possession battle - Alabama had the ball for over 36 minutes Saturday, which may explain why the Vandy defense looked so damn tired in the second half.
The PiBB ICE Player of the Week: Wesley Tate