Remember: Vanderbilt won the College World Series this year.
I get the feeling that the previous statement is something we'll all have to repeat throughout the 2014 football season. Derek Mason's Commodores didn't look any better in week two than they did when they got wrecked by Temple. Vandy failed to cover even the most pessimistic point spread in a 41-3 loss to Ole Miss. This rebuilding team took one of the SEC's most reliably entertaining rivalry games and ground it into the pavement, leaving a sea of empty seats to watch an ugly second half to which ESPN regrets giving a national timeslot.
The Rebels took the opening drive of the game 75 yards and scored the game-winning points just 4:32 into this matchup. Vanderbilt looked like they might respond early on when redshirt freshman Ralph Webb began carving up the Mississippi defense, but the 'Dores abandoned their run-first approach to take to the air. Then, quickly afterwards, the ground, as that's where 76 percent of Stephen Rivers passes ended up on Saturday.
Vandy stuck with Rivers, the LSU transfer, all afternoon. It was not effective.
The Commodores got their first offensive points of the season on Saturday, but they came after a -4 yard drive deep in Mississippi territory after a turnover. The defense got carved up to the point where Ole Miss's punter got to take the day off. Bo Wallace passed for 320 yards...before leaving with a 34-point lead in the third quarter.
This game was as bad as the Temple loss suggested it would be. Even Ole Miss fans had found a seat at the Gerst Haus before the fourth quarter came to a close. Now, Derek Mason and his staff are facing down a wave of hopelessness and apathy that follows the Vandy fanbase around after decades of losing. Mason can survive if his fans are angry with him - but he'll lose everything if Commodore fans just stop caring again.
Bobby Johnson made a career out of losing competitively and designed this Vanderbilt program into the team that James Franklin would take to three straight bowl games. Franklin built from that momentum and engaged more fans and recruits than any coach had ever done before in Nashville. So far, Mason hasn't been able to emulate either of those traits in his limited tenure. A failure to do so will disengage this team from a fanbase that has become notoriously fickle outside of a small group of dedicated boosters.
Rolling over UMass next week will help, especially if the offense finds some semblance of rhythm versus the Minutemen. If Vanderbilt can't do that, Mason may not be able to reclaim the fans that were praising his name back when he was hired last winter.
- Ralph Webb continues to surge at tailback. Webb looks like the truth in the backfield and has emerged as the team's only true drive-extending weapon. He's stepped up in Jerron Seymour's absence (knee injury) and turned junior RB Brian Kimbrow (one carry in two games) into an afterthought. He gained 95 yards on 18 carries and was responsible for 33% of the team's first downs. His usage picked up after earning only 14 carries against Temple, and he'll likely get even more touches in the coming weeks as one of the few bright spots in Vandy's offensive game film.
True freshman Dallas Rivers, who gained 23 yards on five carries, has also looked like a legitimate SEC tailback in limited action. If these two can avoid injuries they look as through they could be the successor to Vandy's Stacy/Norman platoon of 2009. That would be an enormous development for a team without an answer at quarterback and could be what carries this team to a big afternoon against UMass.
- Oren Burks, Vince Taylor, Caleb Azubike, and Nigel Bowden shine on defense. All four players had standout moments in the 38-point drubbing that Mississippi laid upon the 'Dores. Bowden and Burks look like this team's future in the middle of the field while Azubike and Taylor proved that they could penetrate the Rebel backfield throughout Saturday's contest. Though this team struggled to cover the Rebels from sideline-to-sideline and were picked apart by Bo Wallace through three quarters, it's tough to fault this quartet for their overall play.
- That playcalling. Personnel be damned, Karl Dorrell has a certain scheme for this offense, and he's not going to let a myriad of three-and-outs or a quarterback who completes less than 25 percent of his passes stop him. While it's refreshing to see Steven Scheu earn some looks downfield, the bulky tight end should not be the Commodores' leading receiver. This section could go on for 5,000 more words, but instead I'll just direct you to VandyImport's expertly-written takedown of Vandy's first quarter playcalling in this week's Hangover.
The quarterback selection. Derek Mason heard our complaints about picking one quarterback and sticking with him. That's a strategy that takes two very different arcs when your game one starter completes four of his six pass attempts while your game two starter sputters to a 6-25 performance. Stephen Rivers was awful against Ole Miss, but Mason's staff kept sending him out there and hoping for the best. This led to just one completed pass to a true wideout (Jordan Cunningham).Would Patton Robinette have been given the same kind of leeway? Was letting Rivers squirm out there a learning experience, or did it just become humiliating at some point? Vanderbilt has used to distinctly different approaches to their quarterback management in weeks one and two, and neither has inspired confidence in this coaching staff.
- LP Field. Why, again, was this game played three miles from campus at a stadium that doesn't even fill up for bowl games? The Commodores lost a measure of home-field support by playing on the Titans' turf, and that disadvantage got even worse when many Vandy (and Ole Miss) fans were forced to miss the first quarter due to a severely understaffed security team at the venue's gates. Playing at LP Field only degraded Vanderbilt's gameday experience - and fans didn't even get the NFL privilege of paying $11.25 for a beer at halftime.
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: This piece of string.
It could have been Webb after he proved to be the only semblance of an offensive threat on Saturday. Or it could have been Taylor or Bowden, who seemed to have a hand in most of Vandy's biggest defensive plays. However, this team a) has yet to score an offensive touchdown and b) is giving up 39 points per game. Make it two weeks in a row for this piece of string.