Anchor of Gold saw a downturn in activity to begin the week. Debate on here was lacking. At least it seemed that way. And it was good for your resident ungunker. Last week, we lost, and the pump was still running pretty smoothly. So what happens when we beat a team 47-7? Yes, a Vanderbilt team with Head Coach Derek Mason scored 47 points while holding the other team to 7 points. As far as I can tell after inspecting the pump, there are only two pieces of gunk to remove. After that, we might be able to turn up the pump's production too!
Gunk chunk number one is that we were losing 7-3 in the second quarter. The sky was getting shaky and looked ready to fall. Clouds were gathering over West End, and Derek Mason's het was about to get very wet. How slowly did we really start though? Well, Johnny McCrary steered our first drive for 61 yards to the Austin Peay 5 yard line. Instead of kicking an early field goal on Fourth and Inches, Mason and Ludwig tried to punch through for at least a first down. Ladarius Banks failed to convert on a FB dive play. The second Commodore possession went 20 yards and earned 3 points thanks to Tommy Openshaw hitting a 40 yard FG. Unfortunately for Vandy, a muffed punt let Austin Peay score a TD to take a 7-3 lead and engage panic mode for some fans. The proper response of TD, FG, TD, TD, missed FG, TD, and TD opened a 40-7 lead to end the 3rd quarter. Sure the points did not come early, but it was not due to an interception or shanked easy field goal. Our coaches knew the game would likely not be in question, so they wanted 7 instead of 3 to start the game. The plan was stymied unfortunately, but it does not mean our offense really started that slowly. Their problems were also not down to the red zone flaws we have seen previously, so that was positive.
Sunshine impedance number two is DeAndre Woods having an ACL failure. He is now our third player gone for the year with an ACL injury. The injury occurred on Johnny McCrary's 16 yard TD scamper. Woods made the block in the front corner of the end zone to ensure McCrary could score. However, as he engaged the defender, DeAndre pulled up his leg then went down. To be completely honest, there is no way to push this away and find a positive in his injury. It is not doom and gloom though. Steven Scheu was out last week and has had a slow start to the season. Hopefully, he can step up and return to All-SEC form to minimize the blow. Nathan Marcus has also been conspicuous in his lack of production. In a weird way, that fact is a bit of sunshine. Marcus had been listed above Woods but seemed to be the third choice behind Woods and Scheu in the passing game, yet his slow start is worth noting. Look forward to that changing, hopefully starting at Ole Miss. Woods going down hurts, but TE is a position at which we have some depth if it can play to its potential.
Our opponent this week could qualify as its own jam. The Black Bear Rebals (Swag!) from Oxford just beat Alabama. Ole Miss is third in the AP Top 25 with 11 first place votes and fifth in the Coaches Poll without any first place votes. In case you are wondering, they are a REALLY good football team. Chad "Swag" Kelly went 18/33 for 351 yards and 3 TDs without an INT. Cody Core, Laquan Treadwell, and Quincy Adeboyejo all had more than 70 yards receiving, although Quincy got help due to a fortuitous deflection that let him turn on the jets for a 66 yard TD. Their running game was lackluster against Alabama, but it is hard to read too much into that considering how good the Tide's Front 7 appears. All of those numbers look pretty rough for Vanderbilt, but our 23rd in the country defense might have something to say about the result. If they can hold Ole Miss to the same scoring total as UGA (17 points), we could very well be in the game.
What about our offense? Is Ole Miss's defense any good? Well, by the numbers, Ole Miss is not Top 50 in either passing or rushing defense even after dominating UT-Martin and Fresno State. Those numbers do not tell you how scary their defense is. They have already forced 7 interceptions and recovered 3 fumbles, so the self-proclaimed Landshark defense is cutting short possessions at a very good pace. The Nkemdiche brothers lead that side of the ball along with a number of other playmakers. Their defensive line is of special concern considering our shaky play from the offensive line, specifically the right side. Fortunately, our team has the weapons to neutralize a pass rush. It is much harder to hit a moving target, so moving McCrary with rollouts could be method number 1. Even if his wheels are not enough to keep him upright, we have other options. Darrius Sims and Trent Sherfield have shown an ability to make things happen after the catch, so screen passes could be used to get the ball out before a rush can get to JMac. Similarly, we can use quick-hitting routes like slants and hitches to get the ball out quickly. In the running game, where we have already had some struggles, Johnny should be back at or near full strength and should be utilized to force Ole Miss to defend all 11 on the field with read option and designed QB runs. Most importantly, our offensive coordinator has shown an ability to adapt his playcalling as games progress. This week, Ludwig better have a great plan to start the game though to put some pressure on early. Since we are going into week 4 and that our offense has played better every week, the expectation that Ludwig is learning and meshing better with the players at his disposal is reasonable.
Now that we have cleaned out last week's gunk and shown why your pump should not be stifled by playing a great team, what about our team should turn up your sunshine output? We are going to look back at what the Commodores have done so far this year and how those performances stand up as opponents play other teams. Brandon Doughty from Western Kentucky that we held to a pedestrian 209 yards passing while completing 19 of 30 passes (63.3%) has thrown for 441 and 484 yards passing in his last two games with a 75% completion percentage. The QB for our week 2 opposition, Greyson Lambert, went off last week against South Carolina and completed 24 of 25 passes for 330 yards one week after we held him to 116 yards through the air on 11 of 16 passing. It is early in the season, but quarterbacks are having significantly less success against our defense than their other games. Someone is going to shout about sample size, but I can only go by the data in front of me.
With some impressive statistics, does this mean Derek Mason's Vanderbilt Commodores might win an SEC game sooner rather than later? The probability of notching that victory this week inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is unlikely, but beyond this game, there is room for lots of sunshine to shine freely. Missouri's offense is positively Dorrellian with the 115th "best" offense by total yardage in FBS while facing the 131st "toughest" schedule (according to Sagarin's rankings). Considering how solidly our own defense has started that game could be a low-scoring affair, and we have some guys who can make big plays that I am not sure Missouri has. South Carolina got dismantled by Georgia in a game that Steve Spurrier always makes at least competitive no matter the talent gap the two schools have had. The Gamecocks were never in that game, unlike our Commodores, so the always reliable transitive property says we will win, obviously. As for the rest of the East, Kentucky has looked shaky on offense, Tennessee's defense has struggled at times and their offense is not nearly as explosive as expected, and Florida found a way to not score less than Kentucky. Predicting wins now is too hit or miss since teams are working their way into the season, even if it is already one-quarter gone. A small collection of SEC wins might be doable, and that possibility is enough to get me pumping sunshine on everything in sight.
Hopefully, your sunshine pump has now been sufficiently ungunked and is firing on all cylinders (or whatever makes a sunshine pump operate). Remember, a game is four quarters. Do not get discouraged if the first one does not go perfectly. Vanderbilt football teams do not fold under the slightest adversity anymore. Trent Sherfield may not beat his own receiving record. Wait, have I not mentioned this yet?! I have not! I am not sure how this point was overlooked, but it IS the best way to send you on your merry way. Vanderbilt wide receiver Trent Sherfield caught 16 passes for 247 yards last week. Commodore offensive players are setting records in a field other than futility. If you need more than that to get excited about this weekend, you might need to schedule some one-on-one ungunking time.