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Vanderbilt Football Mail Bag: Your Preseason Questions Answered

You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers. This is our implied contract.

Mississippi v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Letters... we get letters... we get sacks and sacks of letters...

Question(s) from ask_the doctor:

1. Defense was supposed to be Mason’s calling card, and yet after a fantastic performance in ‘16, the defense has regressed annually. Worse off, our best remaining players graduated last year. Despite the emergence of the Big Three and some degree of comfort with whomever takes snaps as QB on offense, we won’t win games if we can’t stop the other team from putting up video-game numbers. Which defensive position group are you the most worried about going into the UGA game, where have we whiffed in recruiting, and how has the transfer portal helped us?

2. Which SEC/Big 12 game is more of a must-win: USC, UK, or Mizzou?

3. We can beat either UGA or LSU. Who do you pick, and why?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ll answer the 2nd and 3rd question and let my colleagues handle the heavy lifting of the first question.

2. Missourah. It’s likely the first game that could get us to APR bowl eligibility (read into that as much as you want). Both teams have new QBs, and we barely lost the battle of Shurms vs. Lock last year. This year it’s at home. Win and we could go on a run. Lose and we could plateau at 4 wins until Nov. 23rd against ETSU. It is the very definition of a Chutes and Ladders game. Pivotal.

3. No we can’t. Or can we? No. But if we could... I’ve got to pick UGA simply because it’s the first game of the season, and past precedent dictates we can count on a bunch of their starters to be suspended.

Tom Stephenson: As to the first question, it’s the linebackers. The secondary needs to replace some guys (namely, Joejuan Williams and LaDarius Wiley), but that’s the place where I probably trust Derek Mason the most, and at least in terms of recruiting rankings they’ve been pretty good there. The defensive line has struggled, but there’s Dayo Odeyingbo and a bunch of big bodies there. But the linebackers? When I’m having a tough time figuring out who three of the four starters are going to be, that’s a trouble spot.

To the second question, it’s Kentucky, because if we can’t beat Kentucky, we’re not beating the other two. And between UGA and LSU, I pick UGA because (a) they’re the better team, (b) it’s the first game of the season, and (c) it’s nice to have that win in our back pocket as a tiebreaker to get to Atlanta... because while we’re talking about the possibility of beating UGA or LSU, fuck it, why not talk about the possibility of winning the East?

DotP: 1) The defense was significantly better last year than in 2017. Joejuan Williams is the only player I do not see a fairly believable replacement for on this roster. True shutdown corners with that ridiculous size are obviously rare. However, the DBs expected to step in should be good enough. The defensive line is my concern, not because I expect them to be poor but because their play is most important to defensive success. My expectation for the defense is to end up being an acceptably cromulent unit by mid-season, but they could struggle early. The depth should be there because I do not see any real recruiting whiffs. The transfer portal has helped everywhere, but Cam Watkins and Dontye Carriere-Williams are the new faces via transfer who will be most important.

2) I am going to take the opposite stance of Tom. Missourah is the first of those 3 games. They are also probably the best of those 3 opponents. A win against them could start a strobg (*Editor’s note: We assume DotP meant to type “skrong”) second half to the schedule. Even a decent team could painfully be 2-4 at that point if Ole Miss is good (which I doubt). That win would be crucial to bowl hopes, even if the loss would not quite be a death knell.

3) Jawja. Game 1 against the presumed division champion. It would give the team a ton of confidence going to Purdue. A home stumble against LSU (which I think is a MUCH more winnable game) would be almost shrug worthy.

Shawn: To answer your first questions, I am most concerned with the Linebacking unit. Tom previewed it and concluded that it is young and inexperienced, but is talented with good size. Just a matter if they understand the scheme and are willing to stick their head into the run games that so many in the East use to control the game. The DL has three experienced starters, with a ton in reserve plus to transfers- one from UF and one from Oklahoma. That’s great depth. The Secondary has two transfers that will most likely start on the corners and a boon of rangey types patrolling the middle of the field.

Question(s) from M. Whitehurst:

1. What happened to the four-star wide receiver who transferred from Ohio State to Vandy in 2017? Did he ever play a down? It seems like he disappeared after his transfer.

2. Best candidate for special teams breakout star and/or jet sweep experimentalist a la Darius Sims.

3. Best true freshman name (because best overall name is obviously still Max Worship)?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ll answer your first and third queries and leave the second question to other AoG writers. The WR to whom you are referring is Alex Stump. According to his bio:

Stump saw his initial action as a Commodore in his second year with the program… Participated on special-team units and as reserve wide receiver in ten games, including the Texas Bowl against Baylor… Missed three late-season games due to injury… Did not register a catch on the year… Participated as scout team wide receiver during fall practices…

Further, his Twitter bio currently says “Former Vanderbilt Wide Receiver #11.” Seeing as he was at An Ohio State University for 2 years, sat out a year due to transfer, and then played primarily on special teams, he likely graduated with a year of eligibility left (citation needed). So... no, he never recorded a catch, but he did play in four games more than you or I.

As for your third question, the answer is Anfernee “Lil’ Penny” Orji. There is to be no debate on this. This is my hill and I will die on it.

Tom Stephenson: Andrew gave a perfectly cromulent answer to the first question. The answer to the second question is Justice Shelton-Mosley.

To the third question, I am cheating and naming walk-on defensive lineman Tolu Thomas-Ailara, because we have a player named Tolu Thomas-Ailara.

DotP: 1) Stump's Commodore career was as impressive as a live oak post-Spike 80DF treatment. *cries in orange and blue*

2) Justice Shelton-Mosley is the obvious answer with his return ability. I'll take Cam Johnson for the jet sweep option, though JSM make be used there, too.

3) I'm going Christian James just because this school of heathens needs some piety.

Shawn: In order based on trying to say a mouthful of syllables: Tula Thomas-Ailara, JR Tran-Reno, Donald Fitzgerald

Question from VandyImport:

What do we consider a success condition this year? Have we reached a point where 5 wins is a mandatory hard floor? Is it six yet? Does having the Three Horsemen on offense raise the stakes? Is the fact that we’re not playing a CFP participant on the road reason for optimism? Have we come to terms with the fact that we can send the first class of Vawls since Prohibition home without ever having beaten Vanderbilt once? And most important, who has the beer list for the Dud and why isn’t there a decent milk stout on it?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: Had Mason not burned Shurms McKenzie’s redshirt his freshman year, I would be confident saying 6 is the floor—further, I would set the over/under at 7 wins. However, until I see Deuce Wallace or Riley Neal in action, my answer is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That said, whomever wins the QB competition will have the Three Horsemen, and that raises the expectation stakes for me.

My answer: I’m not happy with anything less than a hard floor of 6 at this point in Mason’s tenure. I’m not sure I expect to be happy.

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, the program has gotten to the point where worrying about beating the likes of Northern Illinois and UNLV is mostly a thing of the past, so unless we completely shit the bed in SEC play, we’re winning five. Of course, shitting the bed in SEC play is something we did do in 2017, bailed out only by facing a team coached by Brady Hoke.

Mason’s had some bad luck in that the Three Horsemen sadly aren’t going to be paired with the Zach Cunningham-led defenses of 2015 and 2016, because those hypothetical teams could have won nine games. Instead, we’re stuck with a team that will have to win games by scores of like 42-35, and that sort of limits the upside of the team.

DotP: 6-6 is the floor for any sort of happiness with the season. 5-7 is the floor if you want to talk about Mason keeping his job. It needs to be a VERY competitive 5-7, too. These statements hinge on not being injury stricken.

Shawn Allen: Considering Vandy’s bowl appearance history, I am pleased to say that the program’s floor is a hard six wins. This year, out of conference scheduling benefits the ‘Dores. There are three wins in that alone. The East is improving, but only UGA is elite. UF and UT will have sophomore slumps under their new head coaches, UK will be down, can we finally beat USCe? Notice I did not recognize the Tigers in the East.

Did I suggest the ‘Dores go 9-3 this year? Or even 10-2 with loses only to UGA and Bayou Bengals? No. But you can see a path to it. So 7-5, or even 8-4 if the ball bounces our way.

Question from Parlagi:

Why are you picking Memphis over Ole Miss, and by how much?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: 1) My undying love for Three 6 Mafia. 2) 6 pts.

Tom Stephenson: Because last I checked, Ole Miss is still coached by Matt “John Mark” Luke, and Memphis will win by two touchdowns.

DotP: The RebelBearLandShark defense is of the Teddy Bear and Nurse Shark variety. Mike Norvell knows how to engineer offense. Tigers feed the "best team in Tennessee talk" by winning 41-35.

Question from westboundnup:

Will VU win 1 of its first 3 games? Recognizing that no VU team has ever started 0-3 and made a bowl (or a championship which is my way of referring to the time before bowls.)

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: They will win exactly one of their first three games. You know which one.

Tom Stephenson: I think they will beat Purdue. And that’s an interesting tidbit, but the amazing thing is that we haven’t started a season 0-3 since all the way back in 2006, when Bobby Johnson’s first post-Jay Cutler team opened the season with losses to Michigan, Alabama, and Arkansas.

DotP: I will say that Vandy does win at least one. Maybe even 2. I have lots of questions about LSU. They can talk about offense all they want. That discussion as time-honored as THEM being BACK. The Bayou Bengals should have an incredible defense, but we have some game breakers to get us through in a potential defensive struggle.

Shawn Allen: They will be 1-2 before running off at least four in a row.

Question from VUfan43:

How quickly will beer sales by visiting fans generate enough money for a stadium re-do or new stadium? How much beer does each visiting fanbase drink when they are losing to Vandy? Does it get our fanbase into the stadium before the game starts? Also, while alcohol is limited to beer (and wine in premium seats), what would be the perfect mixed drink for each SEC fanbase be?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: Let’s just say Georgia and LSU fans will fund a lot of Vanderbilt baseball scholarships.

Tom Stephenson: We really need to schedule a hardcore drinking fan base like Washington State if we want to fund stadium upgrades. Like, if you think LSU fans drink heavily...

DotP: End of first half against LSU. An early lead (or leads) against UGA and/or LSU could make it sooner.

Shawn Allen: It’s safe to say that bourbon and coke/ginger ale/water/more bourbon will be the choice for most fan bases. Although, based entirely on stereotypes, here are the non bourbon choice drinks for a smattering of fan bases:

Alabama: Canadian Mist and ginger ale

Auburn: No drinking in front of each other, too many AU Christians watching

UK: Woodford- it’s the HBO of Bourbon

LSU: 151 and Kool Aid

UF: Vodka and Red Bull

UT: Shine from a great uncle twice removed

Ole Miss: White Claw and Vodka

Question from DoreJam:

Now that the new English Premier League football season has begun, does Rex Ryan think anyone can challenge Man City for the crown? What about Pulisic, will he thrive with Chelsea? And finally, which promoted side will be most successful, Aston Villa, Norwich, or Sheffield United?

DotP: Yes, I did hold to my word and added this beyond what was originally included. Rex Ryan is too disappointed by the presence of cleats, which are very unsexy footwear, to enjoy association football. Pulisic's season at Stamford Bridge will likely be disappointing. The transfer ban and exits from Chelsea will cause a very bad season by their standards. They might even miss the top 6, and Pulisic will be blamed way too much as the big-money signing. Villa is the "biggest" club of the 3, so they should (did not look at transfers) have been best prepared to handle the move to the Premier League.

Tom Stephenson: Uhhhhh... Forza Viola. This has been “Tom Stephenson talks European soccer.” Sadly, there are no rentals in Tuscany.

Andrew VU ‘04: Get this out of my feetballs mail bag.