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Ungunking the Sunshine Pump: Austin Peay at Vanderbilt

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Finally - a reason for optimism for Vanderbilt Football. Or is it?

If you look closely, you can see Grayson Lambert realizing that this trip to Nashville will not be as happy as originally thought.  Okay, you don't have to look too closely since Adam Butler is about to smash him.
If you look closely, you can see Grayson Lambert realizing that this trip to Nashville will not be as happy as originally thought. Okay, you don't have to look too closely since Adam Butler is about to smash him.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It is simple.  Last Saturday, a football team had the ball with 4:33 left in the game.  They were down 10, but were 9 yards from a possible touchdown.  Oh, and this team was playing either the number 9 or number 10 team in the country depending on which major poll you want to use.  What would you have to say about a team who puts themselves into such a promising position against such a highly ranked team?  The losing team is definitely in that game with a good chance to get to overtime, right?

Apparently, that logic does not apply when the losing team is Vanderbilt.  Then, the confirmation bias kicks in when Johnny McCrary throws an interception in the end zone.  However, the team is given another chance when McCrary moves the ball back down the field.  Again, an errant pass finds the hands of a Georgia defender who takes it all the way back for a touchdown to end any attempt at a comeback.  Those negatives do not change what happened in the first 55 minutes and 27 seconds of the game.

Things were not always perfect for the Commodores of course.  They allowed a punt return for a TD.  Nick Chubb also had 189 yards rushing.  Conversely, Ralph Webb only had 68 yards on the ground while the Commodores totaled 109 yards rushing as a team. Those three things along with McCrary's two late INTs were the only real negatives from the game though.  There were some quibbles about the play calling, but it was obviously intentional and kept us in the game.  That makes it hard to disagree with it too much even if it was not perfect either.
However, a quick look into those negatives shows that they might not be as damning as originally thought.  Each of them has some certain qualifying or outstanding factors.  Those few globs of gunk are easily removed.  It is almost too easy this week.  Hopefully, the job remains so easy going forward.

On the punt return, there appears to be a rather clear block in the back which turns a 2 yard return into something more.  Of course, it should have been better covered, but that one block certainly did spring McKenzie into open space.  To be clear, I am not blaming the refs.  I simply want to point out that Vanderbilt was not just totally out of position on coverage.  A single play does not decide a game, but it can certainly have an impact.  This play was incredibly significant as it gave UGA their first points.  (Side note: This play occurred with 4:33 left in the first quarter.  4:33 must be some sort of mystical number of doom for Vanderbilt.)

Nick Chubb had a great day at the expense of the Vanderbilt defense.  However, of his 189 yards rushing, 68 came on one play.  Without having re-watched the game, I remember that we had a guy in position to make the tackle.  Unfortunately, Chubb is no normal running back.  He is a Heisman contender, and Nick broke that tackle and scampered 68 yards before being dragged down.  Again, I am not excusing that play, but if you told me that we would let Chubb free for 1 big run while holding him to 128 yards on the other 18 carries, I would take that option.  Our defense really did well containing him for the vast majority of the game.  Beyond Chubb, they did also allow Michel to break one run for 31 yards and Isiah McKenzie took one carry for 24.  Those three long runs were the only real letdowns for a defense that only allowed 17 points.

Ralph Webb's problems were the same ones he faced for most of last year.  The difference now is that teams know Ludwig wants to use him which contrasts heavily with Dorrell's insistence on throwing the ball first and foremost.  Webb also did not get to face a bench-clearing depth test from UGA since the Bulldogs never opened up a lead greater than 3 scores, as compared to last year when it was 21-0 in Georgia's favor to end the first quarter.    The run game this year also seems to be setup with McCrary's own mobility on read option plays to occupy another defender.  Johnny's nagging injury which carried over from the WKU game prevented him from being much of a threat.  Our offensive line is also still struggling to mesh after moving Holden to the left to replace the injured Andrew Jelks.  Hopefully, the line can continue to gel and make some bigger holes for Ralph in the future.  He is still running well and just needs a little more space to impress.  The same could also be said for Dallas Rivers.  Ludwig has a plan for this offense, and it may not be flashy, but it could be very effective with just a bit better play from the offensive line.

As for McCrary's first interception, it is the same issue he had with the second interception against WKU.  He is trying to force throws into the end zone way too late.  The pressure was even higher than against Western, and he reverted to a bad habit.  Hopefully, we can see him it start to turn the corner with plenty of red zone opportunities against Austin Pay.  The second, which ended up being returned for six, was more puzzling.  McCrary and the receiver seemed to be on different pages.  No, it was not a repeat of reading the wrong play off his wristband like Rivers last year against UGA.  The mistake was not explained in detail, but it was likely an option route that was read differently by QB and WR.  It's painful and looks terrible, but it is something that will be learned in time as the offense comes together as a cohesive unit.

Ultimately, the Vanderbilt Commodores just played a tightly competitive game with a top ten team.  Who would have expected that to happen?  Vegas set the spread at 21 points (which they covered), and lots of people still thought of the game as easy money to bet on UGA.  Our boys proved them wrong.  This team is undeniably moving in the right direction.  The sunshine pump is operating at nearly maximum capacity.  We play Austin Peay this week.  Hopefully, this article is just as easy to write next week.  If it's not, I may need a good bit of alcohol to help ungunk the pump.