Ladies and whatever gentlemen have intruded upon our community of teenaged girls (who pretend to be middle aged men), Vanderbilt lost to Ole Miss. The Commodores failed to beat the team ranked #3 in the entire world of college football. They went to Oxford, Mississippi, and failed to bring a victory back to Nashville. Another L was added to the win-loss column.
If you have not noticed, I am struggling for anything else to say about the game. Normally, these articles start by outlining the negatives from the last game. Then I apply a little elbow grease to the Sunshine Pump’s inner workings, and we are all filled with visions happiness, rainbows, and unicorns. This week, that formula is failing me. Outside of one article that I will not link, everything this week has been positive except that our team lost. The Pump has basically been running at maximum capacity outside of the few hiccups when the result is mentioned. It has been so efficient this week that multiple commenters have even mentioned a certain B-word that necessitates a 6-win season. That word will not appear in this article because I truly fear what will happen if your resident pump operator has to handle that level of sunshine output. With that said, the only thing left to do is to dive into some rays of sunshine that have come out of the pump this week.
First and foremost, Derek Mason is really good as a Defensive Coordinator. An article from vucommodores.com outlines exactly how impressive his time as a DC is. The most pertinent numbers will be covered here, but the article is worth a look if you want to feel giddy inside about the future of Vanderbilt defenses. Of the 4 teams the Commodores have played, 3 of them are in the top 25 of total offense in FBS. Our only opponent not in the top 25 was FCS competitor Austin Peay. Incredibly, all 4 teams have been held to season lows in total yardage and/or points scored. Western Kentucky’s 14 points and 246 yards were 22 points and 246 yards below their season averages. Yes, we held WKU to exactly half of their yardage output with less than half of their mean points scored. Georgia did manage to rip off 422 yards of offense and 31 points (17 against defense), but they also average 491 yards per game while scoring 45 points. Ole Miss racked up 472 yards while scoring 27 points in yet another below average (544 yards and 55 points) performance.
To get back to season low statistics, Georgia and WKU both tallied season lows for points and yardage. Unfortunately, Ole Miss was only held to a season low in points scored. Alabama kept the Rebels down to 433 yards of offense. Just for fun, Austin Peay’s 144 yards of offense were also a season low, but they had previously been held to 6 and 7 points by Mercer and Southern Mississippi respectively. What we can glean from this information is that Vanderbilt’s defense is stonewalling opposing offenses. Outside of Austin Peay, they are stopping great to elite offenses and elite players. Among those elite players, Brandon Doughty might be the most prolific statistically. Since being held to 209 yards passing in week 1, he has thrown for 441, 484, and 457 yards.
The only gripe about the defense so far had been the lack of turnovers generated. Oren Burks and Jahmel McIntosh both snagged Chad Kelly passes to record the first 2 interceptions and takeaways by the Black Death.
Offensively, we also saw some very positive things while facing Ralph Webb finally got some sort of rhythm going. He averaged 3.6 yards per carry against a very intimidating front 7 from Ole Miss. His 90 yards rushing was also a season high for Ralph. Trent Sherfield was not able to re-set the Vanderbilt receiving yards record, but he did snag 7 passes for 55 yards which is certainly respectable enough. Steven Scheu filled in for the loss of DeAndre Woods and got himself into a more Scheu-sauce like mode by hauling in 5 passes for 57 yards. Johnny McCrary was a respectable 23/42 for 194 yards and 1 TD WITHOUT THROWING AN INTERCEPTION! WOOHOO! In fact, facing the same team that gobbled up 5 takeaways against Alabama the week before, Vanderbilt did not give away the ball once. For the first time in a very long time, the Vanderbilt Commodores won the turnover battle with a +2 due to the aforementioned grabs by Burks and McIntosh. The fact that we did that against a team who was +6 going into the game is definitely promising. Oh, Ole Miss had also not trailed in a game yet this year until Tommy Openshaw kicked a first quarter FG to make it 3-0 for the good guys.
Quite simply, Vanderbilt was one or two plays away from winning this game. In fact, if either of two punts went differently, the Commodores might have picked up their first victory against a top 3 team EVER. On the first one, Ole Miss’s punt returner Carlos Davis called for a fair catch then mishandled the ball. He juggled it twice before knocking the ball forward. Vanderbilt’s long snapper Jacob Schultz did what any player would do and tried to catch the ball flying at him. Unfortunately, on a fair catch attempt, the ball must hit the ground before a kicking team member can try to recover it, even on a muffed fair catch. As such, Ole Miss retained possession and was given a 15 yard penalty. If the ball had been allowed to hit the ground, Vanderbilt would have easily recovered, but Schultz was a bit too eager.
On the other punt, Commodore blockers simply failed to account for an oncoming Rebel. Cale Luke (Skywalker) flew right down the left side of Vanderbilt’s formation, launched himself, turned into a proton torpedo, and blew up the punt right as it left Stormtrooper Tommy Openshaw’s foot. In fact, just like a true Stormtrooper, the left-most blocker in Vanderbilt’s "shield" only put out a half-hearted defense while Luke rushed the target with a very high success rate.
(Author’s Note: It appears that ESPN’s play-by-play record lied to me. It was not Cale Luke who blocked the punt. Marquis Haynes is the man responsible for the block. However, I am not deleting the above paragraph because…well, I do not want to delete it. I am sure none of you thought it was humorous, but I did. My article. My rules.)
So, to reiterate, we were realistically 2 plays away from beating the #3 team in the country. I am NOT saying this is where I want Vanderbilt football to stop though. However, when you consider the fact we were praying to beat the worst teams in FBS last year, our team seems to be, at worst, on schedule. More importantly, this game was not an anomaly. The 2015 Vanderbilt football team is playing against some very good teams and competing. We have just given two top 10 teams the hardest challenge of their season. Now, we can move into the part of the schedule where wins are attainable.
Without running down why each team is beatable, I implore anyone to point out more than 1 game off the rest of our schedule that is not winnable. The Commodores have 8 games left. Is going 5-3 over that stretch possible? That sort of record is certainly plausible. It may not be the most probably result, but it is certainly doable. A certain b-word then comes into play. Considering the quality of offense, our defense has contained through 4 weeks, it seems unlikely we are out of any game this year. Confidence is growing on West End. Wins are coming. The offense is maturing. The defense is getting scarier and scarier. Right now, the only negatives are that these articles are harder and harder to write because I am afraid of the pump going out of control.