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AoG Reader Mailbag: Kansas St Aftermath

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Special Teams, Rankings, and much more.

Kansas State v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Lots of questions again this week! Keep ‘em coming, I’ll keep doing em!

Vandy has had zero punt returns in the MTSU game and the K State game (we had 5 against Alabama A&M, but that's Alabama A&M). We also had an illegal formation on our punt team in the 2nd half against K State and Loy looked pretty bad. It is frustrating when we don't even try to block a punt, yet nobody blocks anyone and we have to call a fair catch every time. Our Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Genyk is supposed to be one of the best in the country, so why is our punting so bad on both sides of the ball?

VandyTigerPhD: I have to admit that I’m not terribly upset that we’re not going into a full on punt block. Really the only time to really do that is if you’ve got the other team pinned deep already and the only loss is taking the fair catch at midfield. I did notice, however, that there were a few times one of our guys would break through and stop before the wedge. My only guess for why we did that was that if you touch the kicker, you better damned well better be sure you’re touching the ball too, otherwise it’s a penalty. Seems like Genyk is having them be conservative. But, just for you, I went back and rewatched all our PRs against KSU. I can see what you’re talking about here, it seems like we’re just running to the return man and not laying blocks. Though they’re in a swarm of white jerseys as well. I’m sorry I don’t have a great answer for you here, I don’t have a great explanation for what’s going on with the return unit. :/

VandyImport: I’ve seen Jeff Genyk’s special teams in action at Cal. If you want to know why they smoke so much weed in Berkeley, it’s because they were exposed to Genyk’s special teams for too long. If you don’t believe me, ask the crew at California Golden Blogs, they’ll set you right. I do know that Sam Loy is a better punter than we’ve seen from him this year and it makes me suspicious of what the staff is doing, but it hasn’t risen up to bite us in the ass...yet. Check back Sunday morning.

Tom Stephenson: I honestly don’t know what was going on with Loy in the Kansas State game, other than that he seemed to be punting away from D.J. Reed (for good reason.) And I’m trying to remember when we’ve had a good return game. I’ll get back to you.

HOW THE #$%@ AREN'T WE RANKED IN THE TOP 25?!!!!

VandyTigerPhD: In the end, we’re still Vanderbilt and as such, we have a history to overcome. We’re playing like a top 25 team, but we have to do something a little more to break with people’s historical perspective of us. Also see why USC is still ranked as a top 5 even though they struggled against Texas. For what it’s worth though, they’d take it away from us anyway with a loss to Bama.

VandyImport: I said it elsewhere and it bears out: if we lose to Alabama, we’re going to drop like a rock despite the fact that in theory NO ONE should win over the #1 team. The polls are the worst part of college football - well maybe not THE worst, but they’re a part we could fix. But we don’t. It’s all about how good you were when sportswriters and coaches were kids (see also: how UT can start the season ranked, how Notre Dame can...anything, etc etc)

Tom Stephenson: Well, I’ll go a different tack and point out that we’re currently #38 in S&P+ and #42 in Sagarin. Granted, those are still weighed down by preseason ratings, but if anything the polls are giving us too much respect by having us that close to the Top 25.

That said, after watching us vs. Kansas State and Florida vs. THEM on Saturday, I really can’t make a good case to explain why Florida is ranked and we’re not, other than that they’re Florida and we’re Vanderbilt.

So, at this point we've seen that the voters can't get over the fact that we're Vanderbilt, and we know that historically, the bowl games have also been reluctant to take us simply due to the fact that we're Vanderbilt. So, my optimistic question is this: barring going to Atlanta to compete for the SEC Championship and earning a spot in the top tier of bowls beyond question, how well do we have to do to actually get some respect and go to a decent bowl? Because at this point, it looks like most of our schedule is winnable.

VandyTigerPhD: Depends what you mean by “decent bowl”. High non-playoff bowl? 11 wins. High consolation bowl, ten wins. Really, that’s not too different from what other teams have to do. I do share your pessimism though in that it sometimes feels like we could win 10 games and still get stuck with the liberty bowl. If it makes you feel better though, one benefit of the playoff system is a lot of bowls don’t have the latitude to pick like they used to. If we get to 9 wins, I think we’ll get a respectable bowl though. It also depends on who we beat to get nine and how we look in the losses.

VandyImport: We’ve proven that 8 will not get us past Birmingham/Nashville. I think we have to have 9 wins and a lot of other teams have to suck out loud. Bowls will always take anyone else over us because of name recognition and some notion that “we don’t travel.” I was leading that chant in section 40 of Legion Field in 2014 with 30,000 Vandy fans surrounding me, so I call bullshit. But again, it’s all about how you were in the 80s, so it’s going to take a lot of repeated success to change people’s minds.

Tom Stephenson: In all honesty, once you get past the Outback Bowl and the Citrus Bowl, the SEC’s bowl tie-ins are not exactly places I would like to spend time around New Year’s. If we’re playing in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, I’m not really sure that’s much better than playing in Shreveport or Birmingham again. So we probably have to go about 10-2 to get one of the really good bowls.

Long-time reader, first-time writer… The obligatory running-game question: This is bound to click at some point, right? We have three returning starters on the O-line (albeit two at different positions), and overall, the quality of talent and coaching seems to be there. Plus they’re pass protecting pretty well. What are the chances that this is a matter of the line learning to gel as a unit – and hopefully before Saturday?

VandyTigerPhD: Hey there, and thanks! I know this is going to sound a bit like a broken record, but KSU... did load the box a lot. We were opening the holes, but every time our OL did for Ralph, a LB was waiting for him. Defenses are keying on Webb any time he’s on the field. That said, I think it’s time to start acknowledging that our run blocking isn’t where I’d like it to be. Nonetheless, as our passing game continues to be strong, the running game is going to open up. I’m not terribly hopeful for a different result against Bama, but that’s because it’s Bama. They’re not going to ignore Webb’s presence ever. I do happen to think we’re “gelling as a unit”, but it’s just coming out as success in the pass game.

VandyImport: I don’t think anything’s gonna gel on Saturday if it wasn’t already working, barring a sudden miracle, someone getting bitten by a radioactive dump truck, etc. My hope is that if we can throw effectively (and make Webb a receiving weapon out of the slot/backfield as well), we’ll start to stretch defenses enough for pinball runs, but I don’t see that happening Saturday. Check back in two weeks.

Tom Stephenson: I’m waiting to see what our offense looks like when the defense is not selling out to stop Ralph Webb.

After this week, I will be waiting to see what our offense looks like when a non-Alabama defense is not selling out to stop Ralph Webb.

We need to use Ralph's talents more. Why didn't we throw to him with either a screen against their aggressive defense or a swing pass?

VandyTigerPhD: I think a lot of it was us holding something back for this week. We have done some screens in our first two weeks, but didn’t seem to do much of it against KSU. As for why we’re not doing more of it, I gotta suggest looking more at what Webb does on passing downs. You may have seen the bodyslam block he laid, but he was making insane blocks all game. Incidentally, that helps draft stock incredibly. NFL teams are going to want a back that’s willing to pick up the block (a lot of RBs don’t really try). So I think Webb not being sent out on more flats/screens is by design to give Shurmur more time.

VandyImport: See above and above. That block Webb laid made me yell “WOOOOOORLDSTAAAAAARRRRR” and also reminded me of the best of Clinton Portis, who enjoyed putting hands to a down lineman as much as any NFL running back I’ve seen in the last decade. If Webb not being there in the flat is the price of Shurmur having time to hit someone 20 yards downfield, that’s good arithmetic.

Tom Stephenson: Huh, I’m not sure I ever thought anyone would ever say that Andy Ludwig needs to use Ralph Webb more often.

While the officials reviewed the Shurmer fumble for the scoop and score in the second quarter, I believe all of us started to get that same sinking feeling. Whether or not it actually was a fumble, I stare at the TV with the full expectation the play will stand because frankly, that's how it always goes. In the years and years of watching games, it never seems like Vandy gets the benefit of the doubt with regards to 'plays under review', ESPECIALLY when playing a ranked team. However, this year feels different. We all know that nagging feeling of just always knowing somehow we will get screwed over. But not this year. The team is better, the refs are on our side,we're winning football games without a bunch of trick plays (a la the Franklin years). Are we living in an alternate reality? Either way, I love it!

VandyTigerPhD: I think we’ve all felt that way. The refs aside, I saw so many moments where “Same Old Vandy” would have given up. This is a team that’s back to believing in itself and not one to give up like they might have even a few years ago. And yes, I feel a lot better about how we’re winning this year and the end of last. Feels like we’re winning through technically sound ball.

VandyImport: Look, we’ve been in the Upside Down ever since the third out of the World Series. I can’t explain anything, but it does seem like during the Brigadoon years, we did a lot of stuff with smoke and mirrors and the skin of our teeth. This year so far feels...more real? More sustainable, more authentic, more “we could get this same result 9 out of 10 times if we repeated it”? That said, if you have any hope of getting ANY call against Alabama, you must be outcha mind, son...

Tom Stephenson: Well, this week is our first SEC game, so we’ll see how far the refs have really progressed. I am not hopeful for any calls going in our favor against Alabama.

How much do you think the Spirit of Gold Marching Band adds to the game experience? As an alum (Sousa) I think they're hype, and was happy to hear them loud and clear on the broadcast Saturday. Obviously, size is an issue, and we're no HBCU band, but I think the SoG does the best with what they can. Are there things you would change about our marching band?

VandyTigerPhD: Well, as I may have said in the past, I was a marching band dork in high school... I was pretty impressed with SoG though this year. Understand though that this is the first time since I graduated that I even paid attention to them. I don’t mean that as a slight y’all, it’s just that on TV it’s hard to pay a lot of attention to ‘em. I will say though the band’s presence was actually felt at that KSU game, and they looked a lot bigger than they were last year. Maybe they’re not, but they looked and felt it. Keep it up, SoG.

VandyImport: I have a problematic perspective on this from two directions. My wife marched five years in the band at Cal. The Cal Band is the Gitmo Marines of Cal fandom. I had to learn like eighteen fight songs before we could get engaged. So on the one hand, military style band, student-run, 220 members, etc. And then, on the other side of the bay, the Stanford Band [sic], whose every show could just as well be called “We’ve Never Been Spanked: A Musical-ish Tribute To Affluenza.” But for some reason, some folks seem to go for it. If I had my way, I wouldn’t go full-on scatter band with SoG, but I would absolutely love some cheeky irreverence (is it too late to get “Birmingham Jail” into the halftime show?) with some actual wit behind it, rather than the “LA LA LOOK HOW MUCH WE DON’T CARE” nonsense in Palo Alto. God, I hate Stanford undergrads.

Tom Stephenson: Two years ago, I went to a football game between Vanderbilt and Houston here in Houston. Guess who didn’t make the trip? Well, Vanderbilt’s football team didn’t appear to make the trip for that 34-0 loss, but also the SoG didn’t. Do you know how it looks on the teevee when we score a touchdown to beat Florida on the road and in response... nothing, except for the sad silence of Gator fans?

Either that, or Vanderbilt’s band should be replaced with Alabama A&M’s band. I can get on board with that.

Whose idea was it to make this video and what were they thinking?!

https://twitter.com/mollycathwalsh/status/909842671786655745

VandyTigerPhD: I gotta say I don’t like how this tweet is painting it as a “Vanderbilt video”. It makes it seem like Vanderbilt put out a trash talk video. It was one player saying something in excitement after shocking KSU. It wasn’t guaranteeing victory, it wasn’t bloviating, it was just good ol’ fashioned excitement. I know ESPN and others tried to frame it as TRASH TALK all day, but I have to say I think this is just artificial drama. So in summary there was no video “made” it was just a offhand comment made on the field during a post game interview. An interview when a guy was soaking in the excitement on the field. Hell, even Jalen Hurts doesn’t care. Mason said this afternoon on ESPN that “we respect everyone, but we don’t fear anyone”. There’s no bulletin board material here.

VandyImport: That. Look, “We Want Bama” has become a meme all on its own, and for good reason, and to paraphrase Newt Scamander, the way I see it is, being afraid means you suffer twice. Nothing Nick Saban does is ever going to be affected by what someone said on YouTube. Alabama is an inexorable joyless football killing machine and it cares what you say about as much as an oncoming hurricane does.

Tom Stephenson: I mean, what the hell are people expecting our players to say? “Please Don’t Hurt Us”? “We’re going to get our asses kicked”? Do you really think anybody involved with the Vanderbilt program got to be where they are by thinking like this? Why even play the game otherwise?

Jay Cutler is winning, smiling on the sidelines and seems to be having fun playing in Miami. What bizzarro world is this?

It IS a VU football question.

VandyTigerPhD: Hopefully the same one that is the 1/10 chance of us winning this game Saturday.

VandyImport: UPSIDE. DOWN.

Tom Stephenson: He gets to get away from his crazy anti-vaxxer wife for a few hours on Sunday, which is nice.

It was obvious from their comments and interactions at the game, that KSU fans ‘got’ us. But several years ago, there was a fanbase that most definitely did NOT ‘get’ AoG. I don’t recall who they were but I wondered if we should check in on them and see if they have acquired a sense of humor yet.

VandyTigerPhD: It’s happened a few times that I can remember. USC fans were furious at Uncle Mike for the Chicken Curse article, Texas fans were furious at VU04 for his article about them during super regionals, etc. On the other hand, some fans get we’re screwing around right away. For example, Ole Miss fans, but they also used to have their own HATE WEEK thread. I don’t really have a point here, just commenting that it seems to be all over the board.

VandyImport: I think K-State is that rarest of things: a middle-of-the-road program that’s had some really great years, some really down years, and understands life in a conference where the great powers get all the oxygen (whether it be Texas and Oklahoma in football or Kansas in basketball), and has learned to appreciate what they have and not take themselves too seriously. I’d like to think we’re on our way to something similar once we can count on winning 8-9 a year every year. I think the big problems are always programs that aren’t where they used to be and live in fear of what it would mean that they could lose to the likes of Vanderbilt. Which returns us to the theme of my entire week’s contribution. WATSON BROWN DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. GET USED TO IT.

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, agreed. I thought for a long time that TCU was our Big 12 doppelganger but no. It’s Kansas State.

The thing you have to remember is that some people take college football, and sports in general, way too seriously. I am dreading next week’s game against Florida because something about that fan base makes them have zero sense of humor. It’s not surprising that South Carolina and Texas fans took things too seriously. That just goes with the territory for some people.