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Lessons in Vanderbilt Football: Week 11 South Carolina

Saturday morning schoolin’ before a Saturday morning start.

Vanderbilt v South Carolina
Deuce needs to be able to do more than just hand off to Ke’Shawn, but a big play or two from Vaughn early like in 2018 could be a huge help.
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Vanderbilt went to Columbia, South Carolina coming off a bye week following the shocking win over Missouri. Unfortunately, QB Mo Hasan who stepped in for the Missouri game and changed the tone of the Commodore football team was – and still is – in concussion protocol from a dirty hit. The team had to turn back to Riley Neal, but he lasted only one series before also entering concussion protocol. The offense under Deuce Wallace never found a groove. The defense eventually wore down, and South Carolina found enough plays to hand the Commodores their 11th straight loss in the series.

On some level, it is expected that being on your 3rd QB will stagnate an offense. The odd part is that Deuce was apparently neck and neck with Riley Neal to start. None of us know what those practices looked like. Maybe Deuce looks great in practice. Maybe all the talk of a QB competition was just lip service for Deuce working hard to get back to the program. No one outside of McGugin really knows unless they have an inside source. So, on the morning of another game against a ranked opponent, what can we learn from a painful night in Williams-Brice?

Lessons We Know Well

Ke’Shawn Vaughn is still carrying this team. His 20 carries for 87 yards and 2 catches for 11 yards were 52% of the offense. Unless an RB has a bunch of receiving yards, that should never happen in a “normal” offense, but here we are. Pinkney was targeted 3 times with no receptions and one drop (unofficial). Deuce missed him on one crossing route (slight tug on the jersey might have kept Pinkney from getting to it) while CJ Bolar got jammed up and never cleared the space on another concept designed for Pinkney that led to the ball falling incomplete. A struggling QB should be using his big, athletic TE more. Lipscomb did not play for “personal reasons,” but the broadcast showed him up and active. Mason also said that he would be playing this week, so the reason is even more of a mystery. We can probably count out sitting to prepare for the draft if he is playing today though. When that happens, I do hope the people who rushed to bash him for supposedly doing just that will realize how rash and foolish they look.

Harrison Smith had another good day, though he did have one shank that went out of bounds after only 31 yards. He was also used to punt from the SC 43 after a 4th and 2 at the SC 38 was intentionally extended with a delay of game. The ensuing touchback was not good for his net and showed why the offense should have gone for it instead. The real blemish was not on Smith when he launched a 48-yard punt that had enough hang time for a coverage man to be within 3 yards of Edwards on the catch, but he clearly did not expect the returner to take off and was easily beaten to start a 35-yard return to the Vandy 31. Guay’s only work was a PAT that he did convert. Justice Shelton-Mosley has been mostly kept in check all season, but he almost got free on two of the three kickoff returns. Maybe he can find a crease today to set the offense up or just score himself.

Lessons We Are Learning

This defense might really be molding into something. Yes, they did give up 440 yards against South Carolina, but they also held them to 24 points. Three Gamecock drives started inside the Vanderbilt 31 due to a big punt return and two INTs. Those drives resulted in 3 points due to 2 4th down stands with one of them on the goal line. It was not quite the lockdown performance from against Missouri, but they held up their end of the bargain. They had only allowed 14 points going into the 4th quarter. The frustrating part is that it took this far into the season for them to show up. Performances like this early in the season likely result in wins over UNLV and possibly Purdue. Some of it may be youth, and they were sooooo close as I pointed out early in the season with most teams getting exorbitant yardage on just 2 or 3 plays. Another feisty and opportunistic performance will be needed in Gainesville. Too bad Feleipe Franks will not be playing to give us the ball.

Gdowski is showing some signs of being less terrible. He should still be fired or demoted if Mason is still retained. The crazy stat of the season is that Vanderbilt has scored a TD on 6 of the 8 opening drives. Somehow, an awful offense can move the ball and score on the first drive. Maybe it really is a playcalling issue instead of scheme. Is it possible that Gdowski really gets so caught up in the action that he is not aware of how predictable he is being while having a decent scheme idea? If that is the case, it is no defense of him, just a different reason he should be removed from playcalling duties. The first drive, while also helped with penalties, was a thing of beauty. Gdowski used a lot of different play types and concepts like the read option, a twin back shotgun formation, a sprint out pass, the wildcat formation, and even threw a deep seam pass on 3rd and short for the TD. It was varied and fun, keeping SC on their heels. The second drive had some good elements like a jet sweep and a tunnel screen – one where the WR moves inside with OL blocking help as opposed to just squaring up from where he lined up. The running game was also good enough, without really any threat of the pass, to move the ball a little because plays were designed to attack the edges where Vaughn is hard to bring down with just one tackler. The big, and glaringly awful, problem was that Wallace was never given a chance to use his legs which are a real asset. Deuce was clearly not having a good day throwing the ball, so he needed to be used in other ways to be successful. With the depth issues, it obviously made sense to try and avoid doing so, but at some point, you must go for the win.

Unfortunately, any growth by Gdowski is probably going to be hindered by the QB position. Deuce was bad. Really bad. However, my second viewing made me think it was a step above useless. QBR disagrees. His Raw QBR was 0.8, and the Total QBR was 2.2. On the season, his Total QBR is 5.5. Bluntly, we have no chance of winning unless Wallace plays orders of magnitude better AND is utilized in the QB run game to offset his clear passing deficiencies. Maybe being the starter and getting the full reps this week will help. Or maybe we will be turning to Allan Walters at halftime.

Lessons for Further Study

Are we all going to be wrong again? Everyone expects a slaughter. We did against Missouri, too. We have won in Gainesville once (2013) since 1945. Bennett got jobbed out for his dirty dancing. We shanked a punt in 2015. Oh, and last year, Todd Grantham and Derek Mason almost fought when Grantham started shit while Mason checked on a targeted Dare Odeyingbo. These guys better go in fired up and take it to the Gators early.

Will the offense find any way to do more than pray for Vaughn to break off a big play? Last year, Vaughn had approximately 1000 yards by himself before being knocked out of the game with a concussion. I have to think the Red Mamba will be ready to pick up where he left off. He has a really nasty disposition on the field and loves the trash talk. He needs to have some reasons for talking loud for the Commodores to have any chance, but he needs some help to try and limit the number of 8- and 9-man boxes. Or, if the offense is run-based, at least use Deuce Wallace’s legs to make one man must account for him instead of all keying on Vaughn.