It was supposed to be a morale-boosting blowout win. Instead, Vanderbilt found a way to make a 17-point road win something to be concerned about.
Vanderbilt let a bad UMass team hang around for entirely too long, allowing the Minutemen several opportunities to pull off a program-defining upset in Foxboro on Saturday. Fortunately for the Commodores, a defense led by a combination of first and second-team players got the stops they needed to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
The 'Dores struggled to put away a FBS bottom feeder, failing where Wisconsin and Kansas State had been so efficient before. UMass had been giving up 323 rushing yards per game and 7.2 yards per carry headed into Saturday's matchup. Vanderbilt managed just 166 yards on 4.3 yards per rush. The Minutemen had also given up 41 points per game to FBS opponents. Vandy tied FCS foe Maine by scoring 24 points at Gillette Stadium.
Vanderbilt was better on both sides of the ball. Their roster had more talent, more size, and more athleticism than their still-transitioning-to-the-FBS opponent. You wouldn't be able to tell any of that in the first three quarters, though. The UMass defense held strong early on, and the Minutemen used a conservative gameplan to slowly move the chains against a Vanderbilt team that seemed to swarm to the ball a split second late. If a team with a 1-15 record at the FBS level can do that against the Commodores, Florida, Texas A&M, and Georgia must all be licking their chops right now.
Fortunately, the 'Dores have another week to tune things up against an overmatched foe. They'll get Alabama-Birmingham at home this Saturday, and the 1-2 Blazers will give this team a rare mulligan when it comes to exorcising some of the mistakes that allowed UMass to hang around last weekend. However, if they play like they did at Gillette Stadium - a win that bordered on the rare "moral loss" - then the Vanderbilt bandwagon will stand to get a little lighter in 2013.
Jordan Matthews.And here I was, thinking that Earl Bennett would be the best Vanderbilt receiver that I'd ever see in my lifetime.
- Austyn Carta-Samuels's deep ball. Carta-Samuels has had his ups and downs in his first year as Vandy's starting quarterback, but his biggest contribution to this team's offense has been his placement on long passes downfield. Commodore fans got another great example of that when he hit Jonathan Krause for a 42-yard touchdown to open up the scoring on Saturday. Carta-Samuels is a player who has a reputation for doing a lot of things well, but not being a master of any one asset of the game. If he can keep finding Krause and Matthews deep down the field, then he'll prove that he he's an "A" player when it comes to big passing plays.
That offense. I went to this game with a few of New England's non-Vanderbilt football fans. Here are the three moments that garnered the most excitement from them: 1. Krause's deep ball touchdown to open the scoring. 2. Matthew's ridiculous screen pass touchdown. 3. Any opportunity they had to yell at the Vandy cheerleaders until they did backflips. It was not a great introduction to the James Franklin era for them.
Vanderbilt's conservative playcalling did little to exploit Massachusetts's biggest weaknesses. Even though the Minutemen had been terrible against the run, Vandy's tailbacks struggled to find space or burst into the second level of defenders. The passing game was more efficient, but ultimately disappointing against a team that didn't have the horses to keep up with the Commodores' athleticism. There's plenty of time for a turnaround, but the Commodore team that showed up on Saturday will struggle to notch a single SEC win if they resurface later in this season.
- Vandy's front line struggles to contain quarterbacks that aren't particularly mobile. Mike Wegzyn and A.J. Doyle ran for 51 yards on just 13 carries, several of which came on designed runs. That's exactly as many yards as UMass QBs ran for in the three games preceding this one. That's good gameplanning from Charley Molnar, but it's a bad omen for the Commodores. Maybe the best news this team got on Saturday was that Jeff Driskel won't have the chance to break his own school rushing record against the 'Dores next month.
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Jonathan Krause
Krause hauled in the first touchdown pass of his career on Saturday and proved that he can fill the role Chris Boyd vacated as this team's #2 wideout. He finished the game with six catches for 105 yards, and he's on pace for about 49 catches and 783 yards this year. Boyd, the guy he's replacing, had 50 catches for 774 yards last year. He hasn't shown that he can match Boyd's intangibles yet, but he's looking like a solid statistical replacement this season.