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Vanderbilt Football Mail Bag #3

You ask, we answer.

Vanderbilt v Purdue
Mason is having a tough time with this week’s questions.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Question from VandyFrog:

Northwestern State snuck in 14 points (all before the half!) against LSU. What are the odds we can match or better that total in the game Saturday given how our offense has looked?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Decent. I think the offense is capable of playing a whole lot better than it’s looked through three games. If I were Gerry Gdowski, I’d be looking to create more opportunities in the nontraditional passing game instead of the “run the ball right into the teeth of the defense” crap, but what the hell do I know?

DotP: I mean, we have Ke’Shawn, Pinkney, and Lipscomb. Anything could happen. But unless the defense can create some turnovers, or the offense really figured some things out with the advantage of an open date, it will be very tough sledding.

Andrew VU ‘04: 10:1. LSU overlooked the Demons. They will come out guns blazing. No sir, I don’t like it.

However, I will take any and all chances to post this:

Question from WestEndMayhem:

Recent comments discussing Vanderbilt’s status within SEC football mostly agree that we will not be winning any champions soon. Consequently, all we need in a coach is someone who can carry us to a bowl game. Sobering, but understandable.

A terse opinion (if not observation) is that James Franklin is a better coach than CDM. We lost Ole Baldy when he decided to move to Happy Valley, where he continues to field ranked teams.

What would Vanderbilt need to do to retain that talent in football coaches? As an institution, we obviously have the ability to keep world-class coaches, so what would the football program require? A tradition of winning (leaving us in a catch-22)? More money? Better facilities? Little of everything?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: To retain that talent, it would have to be an alum who wants to stay until he has a statue. That, or do something bold like hire the first woman coach in SEC football history. It’s Nadia Harvin time, my dudes.

Tom Stephenson: When Steve Sloan had a seven-win season in 1974, his second year in Nashville, his former college coach Bear Bryant reportedly told him to get out while he could. The implication was that it would be next to impossible to keep winning seven games a year in Nashville, and Steve Sloan, blazing the trail that Tom Stephenson would follow 45 years later, bounced to Lubbock, Texas, where he would win 23 games in three years before jumping to Ole Miss — where he would have, uh, five straight losing seasons.

But back to where I was originally going with this. Vanderbilt can certainly afford to pay its coaches what they’re worth; that’s never really been a question. What has to change is the perception (widely held among coaches and the media) that you can’t win at Vanderbilt. And really, perceptions like that are difficult to change, because they’re so ingrained in the coaching mindset. For instance, Kansas State still seems to struggle with this perception in spite of Bill Snyder being there for a long time, while Tennessee somehow doesn’t struggle with this in spite of a decade of irrelevance. Making a real investment in football would be a start, but what would really help is somebody coming in and doing what Franklin did, but for longer.

DotP: It will take a Brinks truck, total change of attitude around the athletics department, and someone who wants to build a legacy for himself (sorry, we’re still a loooong way from a female head coach). I could see Mason being that guy if he ever takes the next step as a head coach. He seems genuine. Malcolm Turner might be pushing for that investment. Of course, that all hinges on Mason actually taking that next step.

Question from dore31:

Think Tom may have posted it but the Bill Connelly article on big plays really being only correlated with high overall success rates was really interesting. Mason’s defenses seem to have really struggled on third and long the past few years. How much of this do you think is Vandy just not being that good on defense and if teams have 3 tries they’re eventually getting a nice gain vs. the defense is actually decent on 1st and 2nd down but the lack of any pass rush from sending just 3 or 4 since Adam Butler went to the NFL gives QBs all the time they need for someone to eventually get open?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I honestly don’t know, because the 3rd and long struggles (perceived or real) have baffled me as well. There’s nothing more deflating than letting the other team convert on 3rd and 8. When I do see it, though, it always feels like we’ve made an executive decision to just let them throw anything short of the first down, which is all well and good until there’s no defender within five yards of the receiver and he runs the additional four yards to get the first down.

But that’s just the frustrating thing about defenses in general these days. It certainly seems as though defenses will basically just give the offense whatever they want underneath, even though that’s all the offense wants to do. And that’s how you end up with the Big 12. Now, what I can’t answer is why so many football fans want all football to be like the Big 12 and hates the idea of a 10-7 football game. Oh yeah, and MLB needs to go back to the old ball because this is ridiculous. This has been a randomly placed rant by Tom, thank you for stopping by.

DotP: I really wish we had the data for things like 3rd and long struggles. If it exists, I am not sure where to find it. The inherent problem is that even one or two 3rd and long conversions can really color a fan’s perspective. The overall defensive 3rd down numbers from the Mason era are interesting though. They were 87th (0.422) in 2014, 6th (0.282) in 2015 , 73rd (0.403) in 2016, 53rd (0.373) in 2017, 116th (0.456) in 2018, and are 44th (0.333) this season.

If a problem exists, it is probably due to what you identified in the pass rush. Coaches want to play coverage to try and force a tight-window throw that might get picked off, but the absence of a pass rush makes Vanderbilt susceptible. Personally, I would rather live and die by the blitz in those long-distance scenarios because we typically have mostly competent secondary play except when coverage is too soft.

Andrew VU ‘04: Not good on defense? But Mason is a defensive genius, harumph harumph harumph!!!

Question from Parlagi:

It seems like there’s a chance only 8 other SEC teams go bowling this year.

Missouri is a good team that will hand out some losses, but they’re ineligible. Tennessee’s looking at 1-6, maybe 2-5, after their next four, with no cupcakes left. South Carolina is already 1-2, still has games left at A&M, at Georgia, and vs. Clemson, and no cupcakes left either.

In the West, Arkansas scheduled 4 OOC wins, but winning 2 conference games with their schedule is tough. Ole Miss is basically in the same boat. They really need a win over Cal this week, but the Golden Bears have already beat Washington.

Vanderbilt’s probably starting 0-3, and needs to go 3-3 in the SEC in October and November. That’s a very tough hill to climb, but if they pull it off, there’s a real chance they’d be guaranteed a spot in the “pool of six” bowls. In fact, there would likely be spots left over…meaning Vandy could pick a pretty good destination.

Anyway, my question is, what’s your favorite ABBA B-side?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I know that ABBA exists and yet I am fairly sure the only ABBA song I have ever heard is “Fernando,” and that is only because every now and then it would come on the radio station at the pizza place I worked at in college.

DotP: I’m too young to remember what a B-side is.

Andrew VU ‘04: Man in the Middle.