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Vanderbilt 31, Tennessee State 27: Vanderbilt got saved by big plays

This was very close to being a disaster.

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

Five Factors

Five Factors Vanderbilt TSU
Five Factors Vanderbilt TSU
Plays 60 66
Total Yards 563 381
Yards Per Play 9.38 5.77
Rushing Attempts 31 34
Rushing Yards 266 123
Rushing YPP 8.58 3.62
Passing Attempts 29 32
Passing Yards 297 258
Passing YPP 10.24 8.06
Rushing Success Rate 45.16% 35.29%
Passing Success Rate 51.72% 62.50%
Success Rate 48.33% 48.48%
Avg. Field Position 30.2 33.8
PP40 3.44 4.5
Turnovers 2 0

My colleague Poseur at LSU blog And the Valley Shook has a very simple maxim (conveniently called Poseur’s Law), which says that if a team holds the advantage in the run of play but does not turn it into points, the advantage dissipates.

In the first half on Saturday, Vanderbilt had five drives, all five of which resulted in scoring chances. The Commodores ran 37 plays in the first half, averaged 7.5 yards per play, and had a 54.1 percent success rate.

Vanderbilt scored 10 points in the first half. When that is how you are performing, you should be scoring a lot more than 10 points. Instead, Kyle Shurmur threw two interceptions — one on a 4th-and-2 at the TSU 32 (which, fine, we’ll get to why we’re going for it there) and a second one on 3rd-and-3 at the TSU 4 (unacceptable.) And Ryley Guay missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. That’s right, 27 yards.

Tennessee State, in the first half, ran 30 plays for an average of 5.9 yards per play, and the Tigers had a 46.7 percent success rate. The Tigers led 13-10 at halftime.

Vanderbilt mostly dominated the ballgame in the first half and yet trailed by a field goal, and things got dicey in the second half — when Tennessee State suddenly had a 50 percent success rate while Vanderbilt’s success rate plummeted to 39.1 percent. Ugh. Luckily for Vanderbilt, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kalija Lipscomb donned Superman capes after intermission. Vanderbilt averaged 12.4 yards per play in the second half (and 9.4 for the game!) with 184 yards coming on three plays — a 38-yard touchdown pass to Lipscomb, a 78-yard touchdown run by Vaughn, and a 68-yard touchdown pass to Lipscomb. Take those three plays away, and Vanderbilt was averaging 5.1 yards per play in the second half.

Don’t take this as an attempt to put a positive spin on Saturday’s game or to absolve the team or the coaching staff — but I think this game would have played out very differently if Vanderbilt had scored touchdowns on its first two drives and landed an early knockout blow. Then, I’m writing up about a ho-hum walkover against an FCS team. Instead, Vanderbilt let Tennessee State hang around, and Tennessee State started thinking they could win. And they very nearly did just that.


Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Kyle Shurmur 22 29 75.86% 297 3 2 0 0 297 51.72% 10.24


Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Kalija Lipscomb 11 9 174 2 81.82% 15.82 19.33 45.45%
C.J. Bolar 8 7 71 0 87.50% 8.88 10.14 75.00%
Jared Pinkney 3 2 28 1 66.67% 9.33 14 66.67%
Chris Pierce 2 1 11 0 50.00% 5.5 11 0.00%
Trey Ellis 1 1 7 0 100.00% 7 7 100.00%
Jamauri Wakefield 1 1 6 0 100.00% 6 6 100.00%
Josh Crawford 1 1 0 0 100.00% 0 0 0.00%

Not really a whole lot more to say about Kalija Lipscomb. The positive development in the passing game was the emergence of C.J. Bolar, who got targeted 8 times and caught 7 of them. We’d been waiting for another receiver to step up and with Cam Johnson out for the season, Bolar took advantage of the opportunity.


Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 17 146 8.59 1 29.41%
Khari Blasingame 10 88 8.8 0 60.00%
Donaven Tennyson 2 19 9.5 0 50.00%
Ja'Veon Marlow 1 7 7 0 100.00%
Kyle Shurmur 1 6 6 0 100.00%

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better representation of the difference between Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Khari Blasingame than those two stat lines. As mentioned above, Vaughn had a 78-yard touchdown run; his other 16 carries got a total of 68 yards and had a 25 percent success rate. The touchdown run is, obviously, extremely important and explain why fans think he should be the featured back in the offense; the other 16 runs probably go a long way toward explaining why, exactly, Vaughn is bogged down in a running back-by-committee setup with Blasingame (and Jamauri Wakefield, who didn’t log a carry on Saturday.) Blasingame broke a couple of big runs against Tennessee State, but he’s generally more reliable as evidenced by the higher success rate.

Also, true freshman Ja’Veon Marlow got his first carry. He’s presumably redshirting, but the new rules allow him to play in four games this season and still redshirt.


  • Speaking of the new redshirt rule, Saturday’s game was the fifth of the season, and a handful of true freshmen have played in all five games, thus burning their redshirts. By my count, C.J. Bolar, Max Worship, and Amir Abdur-Rahman played in their fifth game on Saturday and will not be redshirting. Bolar started on Saturday and there never appears to have been an attempt to redshirt him. The latter two might be somewhat more questionable, as it appears Worship is playing mostly on special teams and Abdur-Rahman has only gotten into a handful of offensive snaps, with most of his action coming on special teams as well.
  • More interesting, perhaps, is who didn’t play. We knew that Cam Johnson was shut down for the season with an injury and will redshirt, but also not appearing in the participation report: Alston Orji, who’d played in the first four games and apparently didn’t play against TSU.
  • There was a bit of shuffling on the offensive line after starting center Egidio DellaRipa went down with an injury in the first half. Bruno Reagan moved to center, while Saige Young took over for starting left guard Cole Clemens for a while and Bryce Bailey stepped in at right guard. While the tackle spots are pretty well set assuming Justin Skule and Devin Cochran stay healthy, we’ll be watching to see if the interior of the line gets shuffled around.

What’s Next

Athens, Georgia, next Saturday night. We’re probably going to lose. I don’t particularly blame you if you want to check out for the next month until basketball season starts.