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Tuesday Talk: Was Tennessee State the canary in the coal mine?

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Today, our writers debate whether the 2018 season can be salvaged.

NCAA Football: Tennessee State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

All right, let’s talk about the Tennessee State game. What went wrong, and can it be fixed?

Tom Stephenson: The easy answer is that Vanderbilt played with zero urgency for most of the game, but that’s belied by the fact that the Commodores, up by four points in the closing minutes, allowed Tennessee State to drive down and very nearly score to take the lead.

In my opinion, the offense should be fine. Kyle Shurmur just isn’t going to throw two interceptions in bad spots on a regular basis, and Derek Mason can go with Javan Rice on field goals to fix that issue. The defense, though, seems to have some pretty severe issues. We saw it, somewhat, in the Notre Dame game, as the Irish were able to move the ball with ease at times (though Brandon Wimbush’s misfires bailed the defense out in that game.) South Carolina pretty much did what it wanted, and the defense couldn’t get a stop late until Tennessee State decided that running clock was more important than scoring.

Andrew VU’04: What went wrong? Well, our highly touted defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver, has not taught any of our defensive backs proper positioning. That’s just grand. Our star QB threw it to an FCS defense twice. Fantastic. Our offensive coordinator has yet to figure out that Vaughn should be given the ball in space. Whoop-de-freaking-do. I’d like to think our guys took this game about as seriously as we did (read: not at all), but mounting evidence indicates this is just what you’re going to get with a Mason coached squad. I’d sharpen my pitchfork if I thought anyone in the administration was paying attention.

Shawner Allen: It was a game where the FCS team in the same city had something to prove. I think the coaches completely looked past TSU to UGA, thinking that we could out talent and out execute them. They were right, but just by a few points.

The lack of urgency came out in a lack of execution. This is the third game (of five) where a turnover in the red zone in the first half has cost a scoring opportunity (Fumble at ND was from a pass outside of red zone but fumble was on the goal line). Turnovers are largely luck, but that’s a bad trend.

DoreonthePlains: The Vanderbilt Commodores laid an egg. Whether it was because the players and coaches overlooked TSU during preparation or were too casual on gameday or whatever else played into the lackluster performance, it was unacceptable. The defense looked unprepared for the running ability of TSU’s QB Demry Croft, so maybe they had done more preparing for a pocket passer like Georgia’s Jake Fromm? Unless you are in the meetings, it is basically impossible to find out if TSU really was the sole focus last week or if some looking ahead happened. Offensively, Vanderbilt only punted once, so that side of the ball did about as well as could be expected outside of Shurmur tossing two early INTs and Guay missing 2 FGs.

At this point, do you think the season can be salvaged?

Tom Stephenson: It really depends on what you mean by “salvaged.” Win six games and get to Shreveport or Birmingham? Eh, sure, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Arkansas are still on the schedule and none of those three are particularly good. Anything beyond that would involve beating an actual good team, though, and that doesn’t appear to be happening.

Andrew VU’04: At the beginning of the year, I predicted they would win 4 games. I still think that is the case. Mason is who he is, and though this may be the most talented team we’ve ever had... meh. The new Goldfather should have Nadia Harvin on speed dial.

Shawner Allen: I thought they’d go bowling this year. So no. We’ll lose the next three and maybe squeak out two wins in the last month. It’s a missed opportunity with the roster this year. But really, I blame Kentucky and Florida. They were supposed to be bad. We just needed three conference wins to get to Shrevegas. Now, those wins look unlikely.

FWIW, bowl games may not matter, but bowl practices do. And they matter to morale and culture of the program. It’s a reward for players who have played a difficult season. They get gifts and gear and get made a big deal of.

Beating Tennessee would be a really nice way to cap off the year, though.

DoreonthePlains: It is well established that the most recent game was pathetic, but should it carry more weight than obliterating MTSU and Nevada along with hanging tough at Notre Dame? We now have 3 games of mostly good Vanderbilt football and 2 games of mostly bad Vanderbilt football. Georgia is probably going to win Saturday while controlling the game. They are the 2nd best team in the country, and they did that to the South Carolina team that our Commodores looked mostly impotent against. Not being totally embarrassed in Athens gives Vanderbilt a chance to really right the ship against Florida. The opportunity is definitely there to salvage at least a bowl game, but the team needs to refocus and regroup pronto. Otherwise, they may be ground into a fine powder and scattered to the wind Saturday.