Football season is back, and I have to admit, I’m considerably less excited about it than I have been in years. Part of that is that for the last ~3 years New Jersey has been slowly sapping my life force, but most of it is that we’ve been very hard to watch in the last two seasons. "Unwatchable" is a word that I didn't even use while watching the shortest OT in history when we decided to lose in two plays my Sophomore year to GT. We've rarely had an offense worth a damn, and it took pros (some of them NFL pros) to actually make them watchable when they were.
On the other side, we had a strong defense last year. Our offense did little to help them out, with many three and outs (or worse). If you just looked at the points allowed, you'd miss that our defense performed many Herculean tasks. Yes, we had weaknesses, and yes, we still showed a lot of transitional issues that hopefully are cleaned up by now. Even pro teams take years to transition to the 3-4, a lot of those issues being assignments being completely different and some of it being whether not you have the personnel to pull it off. I'm confident the defense will continue to be our strong suit.
So I find myself wondering the simple question of - "Can our offense keep us in the game?" That might seem like a strange question after I just argued that the defense kept us in so many games. While the defense kept us in games, the offense did their damnedest to keep us out of them. A competent offense would have turned more than one of those losses to wins. WKU, USC, Mississippi, all of those would have been winnable if we had an offense that could at the very minimum rest our defense, and ideally, you know, score. While the offense did improve last year, we're going to need a lot more than that in an again weak East. I'm not terribly confident.
I know some of you are excited to see what Shurmur can do. It's easy to get excited, especially with a USC team we should have beaten last year to start the season. I simply cannot get too confident yet. Not until I see a game where we are doing things right. Hit your assignments, run your routes, time your throws properly, turn and catch the ball at the right time, block the right guy, recognize the defense and adjust; these are things I am looking for. The PPG will follow if you can get the technical things down. That's the biggest thing to look for this Thursday - the technical stuff. Don't focus on much of anything else. How we're doing technically is going to tell you a LOT about the way the season will unfold.
Optimistically: I am picking USC as a win for us. I know I just got through saying that I have no faith in our offense until I see otherwise. That is still the case, but this game was neigh unwatchable last year and really neither team deserved to win. Hard to see it being much different except VU has the score to settle and USC does love crapping the bed as much as we do. With a USC win, we carry that into taking 3/4 of the OOC games and either UK, Missouri or even both. 6 wins.
Realistically: Realistically, we win 3/4 OOC games and eek out one SEC victory of USC/UK/Mzzou. 4 wins.
Pessimistically: Loss to USC is crushing, we end up winning 2 OOC games. That's it. 2 wins.
Are you High?: With any semblance of an offense, other games become winnable. I'll revist this article if that happens.
Bear Bryant once said, "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships." This quote has been bastardized over time to say that "offense wins games, defense wins championships". Both are correct and related. Vanderbilt football's curse has been, and always will be a difficulty to attract enough "skill position" players to assemble a formidable offense. That comes from winning for decades on end, and often doing things that an academic school would rather not do. That gets enough boosters (lol what are those?) excited to dump money into getting MORE great players etc.
That does not mean we accept crap though. I find entirely too many people have mistaken this thought process with not having standards for our offense. Our offense has been horrendous. They've most definitely shown improvement last season, but after chest passes, few things wouldn't have looked better. Spring game didn't alleviate my concerns about moving the ball either. To quote John Madden, "Usually, the team with the most points, wins the game." We most certainly have failed in that delightfully simple concept. Badly.
It's hard to say where we're going to be come end of season in terms of coaching. If our offense remains a dumpster fire, we're probably looking for a new coach. Even a middling offense though could win games for us and change the perspective of the University. Ultimately, that's what is going to matter. We all have different metrics for what we want out of this team. We've argued about it for over two years. For now, we can all agree on one thing - we want to see an offense.