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The Crook Eye: A Seinfeldian View of Vanderbilt Football

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Vanderbilt v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I was so wrong about this team. I thought they had all the tools to compete this year. I thought the head coach and his staff were rounding into shape, being comfortable in their roles and learning from previous mistakes.

The SEC East was supposed to be down. Georgia was supposed to be the only good team with new coaches at historic powers, classic underachieving by the Kentucky’s and South Carolina’s of the world. Vanderbilt could win enough games in the division, win 3/4 of the non conference games, and go bowling in their best season under Mason.

Nope. Nope. Nope. They are now firmly getting the Crooked Eye.

The thing is, I should have known better. The lovely folks at AoG have been cynically preparing me since I joined. “Nah,” I thought, “they are just hardened to bad transition from Franklin and a lack of help from the University.” Nope. They were right.

This is a program that recruits below the rest of the conference, and has to make it up with experience and execution. For some reason I thought otherwise.

Lets look at the numbers. From 2014-2017, Vanderbilt has finish DFL in the SEC recruiting rankings. In 2018 they made a jump to 12th. They have signed eight 4-Star recruits during that time and zero 5-Star.

In that time, Missouri and Kentucky have been the East bottom dwellers with us, but they had higher levels of variance. Mizzou finished 12th or 13th with eight 4-Stars and one 5-star. Kentucky has finished 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th with 19 4-Stars and zero 5-Stars.

Meaning, even the teams we think we should compete with are still, on the whole, bringing in better talent. There is no reason Vanderbilt should legitimately content with the other teams in the conference. But through four classes and developing talent to fit a system, it appeared there were key role players at the skill positions that could exploit defenses.

The difference should be in the experience and coaching, so I thought. It is safe to say that Mason, as a first time head coach, felt the pressure and made mistakes early in his time. I have been a big defender of him because I thought Franklin was a shameless carnival barker who took the talent when he left with the the circus.

But now, there should be a level of ease and execution that comes with experienced players that we don’t see exhibited. The best we played all year was probably the second half of the Notre Dame game. We looked deliberate, aggressive, and in control. But lets not forget how we got there. Turnovers causing missed scoring opportunities in the first half.

Yes, as previously stated, our recruiting doesn’t match the level of almost all our opponents. Therefore, expectations of victory should be tempered. The thing is, it’s not the losing, it’s how we are losing. And to rub salt into the wound, it’s the flashes of brilliance that come with Shurmur dropping dimes or Lipscomb snagging catches or Pinkney manhandling LB’s and DB’s.

Then last Saturday happened. You’re never as bad as you look, but this isn’t a small sample size. Turnovers negating scoring chances is this team’s achilles heal. This is who they are. It may have been a look ahead game. There may have been zero preparation for TSU, but that doesn’t mean we should not excel at the fundamentals.

This team is fine. It averages over 6 yards per play, keeps position for nearly half of every football game. They have scored 15 of 21 times in the red zone with 11 resulting in Touchdowns. It has turned it over nine times, five fumbles and four INTs.

Those metrics can be skewed for opponents and turnover luck (which should swing back in the direction of the Commodores). Conference opponents should be more difficult than non conference, so things could get worse.

But maybe it isn’t the fundamentals? Maybe it is the soft skills- the confidence and poise that has to temper passion and effort. Maybe they are trying too hard to make a play. Whether it is trying too hard or not trying hard enough, the mistakes have continued and they have taken four years of experience and put it squarely in the sightline of the Crook Eye.

No more hope. No more fields of daises. Just cynicism with a thin veneer of realism. We’re going to lose our next three games and will be lucky to go 2-2 to finish.