*Earlier this week, Andrew VU '04 asked our writers to roll the season-prediction-dice, creating multiple 2015 Vanderbilt Football Season Timelines. VandyImport and Andrew VU '04 went first - crossing their fingers in prayer as they released their dice at the exact same moment. When they turned over the dice, they saw Derek Mason with a goatee and instantly knew this would be the darkest timeline. Here is what they saw in its entirety.
Dice Roll #1: The Darkest Timeline
The worst thing about the season is that you just don't know what could have been. How things might have worked out if everyone had stayed healthy. If we'd gotten just a little less screwed by the officials. If not for the... but let me not get ahead of myself.
The opener looked like it was going well. Not great, but well. Johnny Mac spent most of his time handing off to Ralph Webb, who was running with purpose and authority, and we were out to a 17-3 lead at halftime. And then, on the first play of the second half, a badly planted foot and a helmet going sideways put our best player on the shelf indefinitely with a damaged knee. How badly, we couldn't tell - they stretchered him off for safety and repeatedly told us it was the knee, not a concussion - but the shock was still enough that you could see the wind go out of the team's sails. This would be the high point of the season.
Two missed field goals, a bad fumble, and an absurd pass-interference call that handed the Hilltoppers first and goal, and before you knew it, we were down 20-17 with moments left. On the 25 yard line, facing 3rd and 5 with ten seconds left on the clock, the call - well, we don't know for sure what the call was. Smoke draw? Screen pass? Whatever it was, it didn't get communicated clearly, someone left a hole open, and Johnny Mac got his bell rung. Ballgame. 0-1, and the quarterback carousel had begun...
Big Red, devouring our happiness.
There was some controversy over whether McCrary would be good to go in time for Georgia, but come Saturday, there he was. With Dallas Rivers behind him, the offense was only slightly less effective, but by halftime, down two touchdowns and struggling to get traction, Coach Mason benched his starter and sent Wade Freebeck in to mop up. Was he trying to spark the offense? Was McCrary worse off than he seemed? No one seemed to know, and the team limped to a 35-24 defeat.
Following the defeat, Mason unleashed 15 minutes of indecipherable convoluted coach-speak, including this gem:
"McCrary, he was, uh, not processing the process the way he knows how to process, so the coaches though, you-know-I-mean, Freebeck, you-know-I-mean, had been doing some things in practice that, uh, we thought, uh - and we weren't going to pull McCrary... we said that all season - his process had, you-know-I-mean, he's a strong-armed kid, and we wanted to, you know, with what it is and what it was, it's not about one guy..."
The villagers were restless, and would have been at the gates with torches if not for the wetness of their hets impeding the torches from catching fire.
Freebeck started the following week and did the best he could in an uninspiring two-touchdown win over Austin Peay, but it rapidly became apparent that we were missing some critical parts, and facing a long road spell, hope began to fade.
Then things started to come undone.
Against Ole Miss, we stuck to a running game that at least ate up clock and didn't give the Rebels time to run up a score anything like they had at LP Field, but one blogger pointed out afterward that at 1-3 through four games, the best you could say for Ludwig's offense was that it took a lot longer to go three-and-out than Dorrell's ever did.
At Middle Tennessee State, a muddy slop-fest in the driving rain looked like a sure win as the Dores lined up for a chip-shot 21-yard field goal to win... before being called for 12 men on the field. Replays showed the Dores only had 10, whereas MTSU had their full roster of 80 scholarship players on the line of scrimage, but the call was not overturned. The re-kick failed, and the 19-17 loss gave talk radio and the blog-o-phere two weeks to rage about whether it was time to fire Mason, whether injuries had ruined everything, how bad the injuries really were, or whether Vanderbilt's entire football program was just built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground. (It was.)
The trip to Columbia to see the Game Penises went about like always - the final was 35-32 and Steve Spurrier was uncommonly generous in his post-game remarks, but three sure touchdown passes that sailed wide of Scheu's grasp led the faithful to agitate for McCrary's actual status, or at least a couple of series for Stankavage. However, Freebeck was still under center for homecoming against Missouri, and the Tigers managed to play keep-away in a 31-14 defeat. Then, at Houston, the Cougars avenged their bowl loss of two years earlier with a vengeance. It came out later that the Vanderbilt defensive secondary had all gotten food poisoning a couple of days earlier, which explained the sudden failure of what had been a fairly robust pass defense, but that was cold comfort after a thoroughly ironic 41-24 loss.
VandyTigerPhD followed this week with a call-to-arms article to rile up the fan base entitled "At Least It Can't Get Any Worse, Right???"
He was wrong.
When Vanderbilt's offense first trotted out in the Swamp, McCrary was back under center. He lasted one quarter, including two pick-sixes, before he was benched for Shawn Stankavage, who opened his own Commodore account with another pick-six. The damage was done, the game was out of control, and the Dores found themselves on the short end of a 49-0 walloping. There were so many cut-off jorts, we didn't notice the het-o-meter break under the stifling humidity of The Swamp. The horror... the horror.
Finally headed home again, the consensus was that Kentucky was probably the last chance for a win in 2015. Well, the consensus amongst the Anchor of Gold commentariat was that Derek Mason had stumbled across an enchanted monkey's paw two years prior and forgot to include the fine print in his wish to be a "Head Football Coach in the SEC."
With McCrary on the shelf for good, and Freebeck's injury from the previous season playing up, Stankavage looked enough like a rookie that by halftime, there was open speculation on whether it would be worth burning Kyle Shurmer's redshirt with two and a half games to go. But Stankavage came to life in the second half, and at one point connected for a 60-yard go-ahead touchdown strike...which was called back despite replay evidence that Scheu's foot never actually touched the white of the sideline. The final was 24-21, Wildcats, and it was getting hard to ignore chants of "MASON OUT" in the student section.
Texas A&M came and left with an oddball 38-11 win, thanks to a pair of safeties from an angry Dore front, but everyone was already looking ahead to the game at a 5-6 Tennessee that once again would need to beat Vanderbilt for bowl eligibility. The game was in Knoxville, the weather unseasonably warm, and a scuffle broke out before the game that saw three Vanderbilt players ejected before kickoff. On the first play from scrimmage, a Vol defender speared Stankavage in the knee, sparking another brawl. We put in yet another QB, but we didn't recognize the number. An angry black and gold defense went hammer-and-tongs for the rest of the game, but the Commodore offense was discombobulated beyond function, and Tennessee's fans actually rushed the field when the clock went 0:00 with the Vols winning 13-9.
The season was over. 1-11 happened. Neither Darrius Sims nor Trent Sherfield touched the ball once on offense all season. The unknown QB removed his helmet, and though we were all too drunk to know what we saw, and though it was never verified by any statistical record, and though he escaped into the woods never to be seen again, we all knew it was true - it was the reanimated corpse of Stephen Rivers.
Come morning, VandyTigerPhD hanged himself from the walking bridge to Peabody, with a simple phrase written on a sandwich board serving as his final words: "They Were Going to Make Me Re-watch Every Minute of This for A Clockwork Vandy Next Fall."
Luckily, VandyTigerPhD made a simple error in the math, and did not account for the specific gravity of his unfathomably large head. The rope snapped, and his life was spared. He did crush and kill four HOD majors in the fall, so tragedy was averted. In a private conversation with Andrew VU '04, VTPhD stated regret. Not that he tried to end it all, but that he allowed himself to be talked into re-watching the 2014 football season for "A Clockwork Vandy" prior to this season.
Derek Mason got a contract extension.