Vanderbilt played a great second quarter against Texas A&M. Unfortunately, their other three left something to be desired.
The Commodores fell into their standard first quarter hole in College Station, allowing the Aggies to score on their first four drives of the game and effectively burying this team in the time it takes the average student section to fill up. Vandy came back strong - a 17-0 spurt in the second quarter suggested a South Carolina-style comeback effort - but ultimately couldn't stop Johnny Manziel and the vaunted A&M offense en route to a 56-24 defeat.
It was a humbling loss that exposed the learning curve that Vandy's young quarterbacks are facing in the SEC. Patton Robinette made his first career start on Saturday against one of the conference's softer defenses. A&M was giving up over 41 points per game to SEC opponents before last week's matchup. Unfortunately for the 'Dores, they were still good enough to keep a redshirt freshman from ever finding his groove. Robinette was inconsistent throughout the day in College Station, completing only 15 passes and failing to sustain drives thanks in part to a running game that was similarly ineffective. A porous offensive line kept Robinette on his heels all day, and that inability to get comfortable kept any of the Commodore QBs from finding holes downfield or even planting their feet in a collapsing pocket.
Josh Grady entered the game in relief of Vandy's second-string quarterback, but didn't fare much better before getting injured on a QB draw. Facing a decision to put Robinette back into the game or to burn four-star true freshman Johnny McCrary's redshirt, head coach James Franklin re-inserted his starter in hopes of building up his confidence. To his credit, Robinette led the 'Dores 68 yards for a touchdown against a depleted A&M defense to cut the Aggie lead to 49-24.
Still, that one drive won't be enough to erase the drives that stalled before it, or the backbreaking pick-six that opened up the second half and erased any momentum the Commodores had built. Robinette's growing pains stood out on Saturday, and the rest of this team's offense didn't do much to help take the pressure off of his shoulders. This defeat can be a learning experience for the talented young passer, but he's not going to be able to lead this team to victory on his own in 2013.
That means that the rest of this offense is going to have to stand up. Vanderbilt had room for improvement in every aspect of the game on Saturday, from run blocking to pass catching. We can worry about quarterback play during this upcoming bye week, but Robinette could have been pinpoint accurate with his passes and timing against A&M and it wouldn't have made a difference in terms of winning or losing that game. This offense needs to cultivate its weapons by creating running lanes for Jerron Seymour (and company) as well as finding ways to get the ball downfield aside from Jordan Matthews and (a hopefully healthy) Jonathan Krause. More importantly, this team needs to find the defensive gear it used to limit Georgia to 13 yards in the fourth quarter of last week's game.
Last week's win over Georgia carried a special kind of energy that lifted every dimension of this team in the second half. Whether that was a team rallying around its injured quarterback or a longstanding grudge against the Bulldogs, it was an element that the Commodores missed in College Station on Saturday. Now, they'll need to find a way to inject that energy back into this team's play as bowl eligibility remains two wins away.
- Kyle Woestmann provides a spark. Vanderbilt's defense finally got the stops they needed in a second quarter that kept the A&M fans in their seats past halftime. A big part of that can be attributed to Woestmann, who provided back-to-back sacks that led to a key Aggie punt in the middle of the 'Dores 17-0 run. Vanderbilt hasn't gotten as much of a return as they would like from a defensive end lineup that has paired strong seniors on either side (Woestmann, Walker May). If Woestmann can play like he did on Saturday it will keep opposing quarterbacks from finding the time to pick Vandy's defense apart downfield.
- 10 players, 33 receptions, 376 yards. Vanderbilt's pass defense was supposed to be their strength, but the Aggies were able to use a plethora of receivers to move the ball through the air on Saturday. While the 'Dores were able to stifle all-world wideout Mike Evans, they were unable to keep an eye on A&M's other weapons. This has been a running theme with Bob Shoop's defense all season. While Vandy has the personnel to boast a top-tier secondary, teams that can run the ball or otherwise force this team's safeties and cornerbacks to pull double-duty typically end up wearing this team down through the air.
- Patton Robinette's career as a punter. Vanderbilt recently opened up the competition to be the team's primary punter. Robinette will not be a part of it:
- Jonathan Krause's injury
. This is just unfair. Krause, the senior leader who has stepped up in a major way to fill Chris Boyd's spot as the team's #2 receiver, was helped off the field in the second half due to an apparent knee injury. The scary part is that it was a non-contact injury, occurring when Krause planted his foot to make a cut upfield. There's no official news on his status yet, but serious ligament damage hasn't been ruled out. Losing the deep-threat, do-it-all receiver would take away a key element to a Vanderbilt offense that hasn't had much beyond its two standout pass-catchers on a weekly basis.Good news - Krause is fine, according to his father.
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Jordan Matthews
If you set a SEC record, you get PiBB Ice honors. Matthews confirmed what Vandy fans knew all along on Saturday - that he's an all-time great NCAA receiver. The senior broke Terrence Edwards's Southeastern Conference record in the second quarter when he gained his 3,110th career receiving yard in a play that set up the Commodores' second touchdown of the afternoon. Through eight games, the prolific wideout is on pace to break his own single-season school yardage record even if the 'Dores end the season without going to a bowl game.