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The Commodore Review: How Vanderbilt Really Looked in Their 17-44 Loss to #12 Georgia

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Stephen Rivers has given Vanderbilt fans no reason to believe that he can handle the pressure of being a starting quarterback in the SEC. So why does Derek Mason keep turning to him?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Here's what we know about Stephen Rivers as a quarterback.

  1. He can lead the Commodores on drives from one 20-yard line to the next with moderate efficiency.
  2. He's tall.
  3. He falls apart in pressure situations.

It may be a rush to judgement, but #3 was confirmed on Saturday. The transfer QB finally led this team on a touchdown drive in the second quarter against Georgia, but later erased all that goodwill with one of the most inexplicable plays of the modern Commodore era.

via Dr. Saturday

Now THAT'S how you fail on fourth-and-two: spectacularly. Unfortunately, it's part of a greater trend for the QB.

In three games, we've seen the LSU transfer a) derail a big drive against Temple by eating a sack and "fumbling" in a play that turned into six Owl points. b) fail to identify the ticking of the play clock or the number of time outs Vanderbilt had left vs. Ole Miss, resulting in a delay of game penalty that cost the team a touchdown opportunity (and led to the memorable image of Rivers screaming at Derek Mason as though it were the coach's fault). And c) stumble through a miscalled play and essentially snuff out Vandy's upset bid against UGA.

The story behind the Rivers pick-six is even better. The quarterback read "90" as "60" since the wristband that held all of the Commodores' offensive plays was upside-down. That led to a head-scratching throw-back play call on fourth-and-two. The Vandy coaching staff didn't notice in time to stop the clock and reset, so Rivers decided to Grossman his way through it. The end result was an easy pick six for Devin Bowman.

The bottom line here is that Stephen Rivers cannot be trusted in pressure situations. His game fails to translate from the practice field to the big stage. He's completing less than 40 percent of his passes and has managed to throw an interception in each of his appearances this year, no matter how brief they have been.

More jarringly, Vanderbilt has been outscored 71-13 when he's behind center.

The next time Vandy is reaching for their second (or third) quarterback of the week, why not give Army All-American Johnny McCrary another shot? The clock has run out on Stephen Rivers's tenure as a potential starter for the Commodores. With the 2014 season now fully locked in to rebuilding mode, why wouldn't Derek Mason and Vanderbilt commit to one more freshman? It can't be much worse than the fadeaway pick-six that we saw above.

The Good:

The Running Game. Ralph Webb left the game midway through the second half, but the Commodores proved that they have a platoon of players who can give this team an effective and efficient ground attack. Webb, Jerron Seymour, and Dallas Rivers combined to gain 138 yards on 31 carries (4.45 yards per touch) and scored both Vandy touchdowns.

The most encouraging run of the afternoon came from Rivers, a true freshman. The bulky tailback bounced to the right side of the field and charged through contact to score a six-yard touchdown - the first of his college career. The Chicagoan Georgian has the size to be a valuable addition to any tailback rotation, but he's also got the speed and vision to be a feature back. Despite the problems across Vandy's offense, running back is one position they won't have to worry about in the near future.

Adam Butler, Kick Destroyer. Butler broke through to get a hand on Marshall Morgan's second-quarter PAT. That makes two blocked kicks for the sophomore this season (if you count the fingertip he got on Blake Lucas's last-second kick against UMass) and four in his career. That's a testament to the big tackle's ability to blast through an offensive line and get into the backfield. He'll be an important special teams weapon for the Commodores through 2016.

The Bad:

Todd Gurley's Passing Game. Just a reminder that the Vandy D allowed this:

to happen.

The Commodore Quarterback Carousel. Through six games:

  1. Robinette - Rivers - McCrary - Rivers
  2. Rivers. 60 minutes of Stephen Rivers.
  3. Freebeck - Robinette
  4. Robinette - Freebeck
  5. Freebeck. 60 minutes of Wade Freebeck being slowly compressed into the turf at Commonwealth Stadium.
  6. Freebeck - Rivers - Freebeck

That will certainly ruin any team's offensive rhythm. Was Mason's plan to leave Rivers in this game long enough to force UGA to roll out their second-team defense for Freebeck to practice against? The Commodores' roster management in 2014 has been ...interesting. There's probably a solid thesis topic in there for an enterprising Organizational Leadership major if they're willing to do the work.

First Quarter Defense. Four of Vanderbilt's six opponents this season have taken the opening drive of the game and marched to the Commodore end zone. Georgia didn't stop there, however. The Bulldogs scored on two of their next three possessions en route to 21 points and 182 yards of offense in the first 13:35 of this game. That put the 'Dores four feet into their own grave early. When you've only got shovels, there isn't much success in digging up. Vandy wouldn't outscore UGA's first quarter total through 60 minutes of gametime.

The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Ralph Webb

Webb was the engine that drove the Commodore offense, an attribute that has come to define his tenure as starting tailback in the first half of the 2014 season. He ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on Saturday before leaving for the locker room with what is hopefully a minor injury. Losing Webb would be a big blow for this team, but Jerron Seymour and Dallas Rivers are certainly capable of handling the load in his absence.