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Vanderbilt 38, ETSU 0: Big Day for the Big Three

A fitting Senior Day.

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

Five Factors

Five Factors Vanderbilt ETSU
Five Factors Vanderbilt ETSU
Plays 57 51
Total Yards 418 106
Yards Per Play 7.3 2.1
Rushing Attempts 29 28
Rushing Yards 230 81
Rushing YPP 7.9 2.9
Passing Attempts 28 23
Passing Yards 188 25
Passing YPP 6.7 1.1
Rushing Success Rate 48.30% 28.60%
Passing Success Rate 35.70% 17.40%
Success Rate 42.10% 23.50%
Avg. Field Position 39.7 20.5
PP40 5.43 0
Turnovers 0 0

At least for one day, this was The Team That Could Have Been.

One of the most telling numbers about the 2019 edition of the Vanderbilt Commodores football team was that entering Saturday, they were 1-9 against the spread. Whatever the oddsmakers in Vegas thought of Vanderbilt, the Commodores repeatedly proved themselves to be worse, even as the oddsmakers repeatedly lowered their expectations. Sometimes, they were close to hitting the number: a 24-point loss to Georgia as a 22-point underdog; a 6-point win over Northern Illinois as a 6.5-point favorite; a 17-point loss to South Carolina as a 15.5-point underdog. Plenty of times, they weren’t: a 25-point loss to Ole Miss as a 7-point underdog; a 24-point loss to UNLV as a 14-point favorite; a 56-point loss to Florida as a 26.5-point underdog; a 24-point loss to Kentucky as a 10-point underdog.

So, with Vegas slotting them as a 20.5-point favorite over ETSU, Vanderbilt did ... that. Complete domination, but especially on the defensive side of the ball, where Vanderbilt notched its first shutout since ... Alabama A&M in 2017. (Ironically, ETSU head coach Randy Sanders was the opposing offensive coordinator the last time Vanderbilt shut out an FBS opponent: Kentucky in 2012.)

Perhaps it was fitting on Senior Day, but this was much more what could have been than what will be, at least on offense. Vanderbilt started a senior quarterback yesterday, its leading rusher was a senior, and its two leading pass-catchers were seniors. What we saw on Saturday was what we thought we might see this season (albeit against very weak competition; ETSU went 3-9 and finished last place in the Southern Conference.) But this really didn’t even seem like something to build on for next season — again, on offense. It was just a nice send-off for the Big Three, and for Riley Neal.

Passing Stats

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
Riley Neal 16 24 66.70% 179 2 0 2 10 169 34.60% 6.5
Allan Walters 1 2 50.00% 19 0 0 0 0 19 50.00% 9.5

With that said, this somehow wasn’t a good day for Riley Neal. Nice completion percentage, but throw out a couple of big plays and Neal really wasn’t doing a lot with his throws.

Now, it’s a bit telling that Allan Walters got the garbage time snaps. I still think that next year’s starting quarterback is not currently on the roster — it might be incoming freshman Ken Seals, it might be another graduate transfer — but one thing we can probably guess based on Walters getting snaps both this week and last is that the coaching staff doesn’t see a future in Deuce Wallace, who hasn’t played since the disastrous performance at Florida. I’d guess now that Walters and Seals will compete for the starting job, along with any incoming transfers. (We can also surmise from the fact that Mo Hasan has been in the concussion protocol for a full month that he’s probably not playing football again.)

Rushing stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 14 139 9.9 2 64.30%
Riley Neal 4 34 8.5 0 50.00%
Keyon Brooks 4 3 0.8 0 0.00%
Ja'Veon Marlow 3 11 3.7 0 33.30%
Mitchell Pryor 2 34 17 1 50.00%
Justice Shelton-Mosley 1 5 5 0 100.00%
Kalija Lipscomb 1 4 4 0 0.00%

Again, this was a nice send-off for Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who had two touchdown runs and ran for 139 yards on 14 carries, which put him over 1000 yards for the season. Take away a 75-yarder to open the second half, and he ran for a pedestrian 64 yards on 13 carries (albeit with a solid success rate.) I still think Vaughn had issues all season because of zero help from the offensive line or the passing game, and that’s also why I’m not reading too much into the season-long numbers for freshman Keyon Brooks (43 carries, 182 yards, 1 TD) and Ja’Veon Marlow (10 carries, 42 yards, 0 TD.) Because if Vaughn can’t run for this team, who could?

Receiving stats

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 7 6 75 0 85.70% 10.7 12.5 28.60%
Jared Pinkney 7 5 76 2 71.40% 10.9 15.2 57.10%
Cam Johnson 4 2 13 0 50.00% 3.3 6.5 50.00%
Justice Shelton-Mosley 2 1 10 0 50.00% 5 10 50.00%
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 2 1 8 0 50.00% 4 8 0.00%
Ben Bresnahan 2 0 0 0 0.00% 0 0.00%
Chris Pierce 1 1 19 0 100.00% 19 19 100.00%
Keyon Brooks 1 1 -3 0 100.00% -3 -3 0.00%

Same story: in a game that didn’t mean anything to the season, Vanderbilt finally got Jared Pinkney the ball, and you see the results. By basically any definition, Pinkney’s 2019 (20 catches, 233 yards, 2 TD) has been a disappointment. Lipscomb’s (42 catches, 462 yards, 2 TD) hasn’t really been much better.

Of course, how much of that is on them, and how much is on the quarterback? Hard to say, and there’s evidence going both ways. At least here, Vanderbilt returns some promising guys, like Cam Johnson, though even in that younger group there have been disappointments: C.J. Bolar has largely been a nonfactor after catching 34 passes as a freshman, and Amir Abdur-Rahman has been hurt, while promising true freshmen Devin Boddie and Jaylen Harrison are redshirting.


  • Notice how I had to repeatedly clarify that the offense was about the seniors? 24 players made a tackle on the defensive side of the ball on Saturday, and just two of those (linebacker Caleb Peart and walk-on safety Gil Barksdale) are seniors. Peart had a big day in his final home game, with two tackles for loss and a sack, but whatever you thought about the defense in 2019, just know that basically everybody returns on that side of the ball. (We assume, anyway; you never truly know in the era of the transfer portal.)
  • Big day for Dayo Odeyingbo, who had 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
  • Starting offensive line on Saturday: Devin Cochran, Saige Young, Sean McMoore, Grant Miller, Tyler Steen. Young is a senior, but the other four return (along with Cole Clemens, who didn’t play and who I assume is hurt.)
  • True freshman watch: Keyon Brooks, Daevion Davis, Anfernee Orji, and Jaylen Mahoney all burned their redshirts a while ago, but as far as I know those are the only four true freshmen who didn’t redshirt this year. Justin Harris played in exactly four games before getting shut down. On Saturday, per the participation report, DL Christian James and OL Julian Hernandez saw their first action. Obviously both will maintain their redshirts, but that might be a clue as to who the coaching staff thinks could contribute in 2020.
  • Actually, walk-on DB Tre Sands also saw his first action on Saturday.
  • Meanwhile, in an interesting development, sophomore LB Alston Orji has played in just four games and still has a redshirt year available.

What’s Next

Oh, you know, just the biggest game on the schedule. Vanderbilt travels about three hours to the east next Saturday at 3:00 PM CT for a game against a team that shall not be named. Said team just became bowl-eligible by beating Missouri on Saturday, and has won five of its last six after a 1-4 start.