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Vanderbilt 24, Northern Illinois 18: A win with few positives

Vanderbilt won in the least inspiring manner possible.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Five Factors Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt NIU
Five Factors Vanderbilt NIU
Plays 51 63
Total Yards 378 402
Yards Per Play 7.4 6.4
Rushing Attempts 22 29
Rushing Yards 213 145
Rushing YPP 9.7 5
Passing Attempts 29 34
Passing Yards 165 257
Passing YPP 5.7 7.6
Rushing Success Rate 54.50% 55.20%
Passing Success Rate 37.90% 35.30%
Success Rate 45.10% 44.40%
Avg. Field Position 27.8 20.4
PP40 6 4.5
Turnovers 0 0

On the one hand, it’s hard to complain too much about a win, especially when you came into the game with an 0-3 record. On the other hand, was there anything at all inspiring about the way that Vanderbilt won on Saturday?

Vanderbilt’s first two drives consisted of 9 plays, 111 yards of total offense, and a 55.6 percent success rate. For the rest of the game, Vanderbilt ran 42 plays that generated 267 yards of total offense (that’s an average of 6.4 yards per play) and with a 42.9 percent success rate. Against a team that came into the game ranked 112th in SP+.

Northern Illinois’s first two drives consisted of 7 plays for 25 yards of total offense and a 14.3 percent success rate. After that, the Huskies ran 56 plays for 378 yards (6.8 yards per play) and a 48.2 percent success rate. Again, Northern Illinois came into the game ranked 112th in SP+.

Of course, the first two drives of the game happened, and they were the reason why Vanderbilt won the game. Keyon Brooks hit a home run on the first drive of the game (immediately after a Ke’Shawn Vaughn home run got called back due to a holding penalty) and on the second drive, Vanderbilt started in excellent field position and Kalija Lipscomb converted a 3rd and 6, then Vaughn punched it in two plays later. If you’re in the mood to spin this positively, Vanderbilt showed it was capable of dominating Northern Illinois and then packed it in for three and a half quarters. But it’s not entirely clear why Vanderbilt would do this.

Anyway, if this game isn’t sounding alarm bells with you, I don’t know what will. The offense occasionally strings together some big plays, but most of the time it can’t keep the chains moving. The defense is susceptible to getting burned by big plays (and let’s not talk about the attempt at tackling on one of the NIU touchdowns yesterday.)

Saturday was your big red flag, that the first three games of the season were not simply a reflection of the competition Vanderbilt was playing. This is not a good football team at the moment. 3-9 is very much on the table. Vanderbilt should beat UNLV and ETSU, but even as beatable as teams like Ole Miss, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee look right now — Vanderbilt is not beating those teams if it delivers a performance like it did against Northern Illinois.

Individual Stats

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 20 27 74.10% 181 1 0 2 16 165 37.90% 5.7

It’s really something to complete 74 percent of your passes and also have a 38 percent success rate. Right now, Riley Neal is a game manager quarterback for a team that needs something more than that at the quarterback position. He’s not actively hurting the team, but then, he’s not really helping much either.

Rushing stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 18 146 8.1 1 55.60%
Keyon Brooks 2 61 30.5 1 50.00%
Justice Shelton-Mosley 1 4 4 0 0.00%
Riley Neal 1 2 2 0 100.00%

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 8 7 94 1 87.50% 11.8 13.4 62.50%
Cam Johnson 8 6 64 0 75.00% 8 10.7 50.00%
Justice Shelton-Mosley 2 2 11 0 100.00% 5.5 5.5 50.00%
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 2 2 0 0 100.00% 0 0 0.00%
C.J. Bolar 2 1 6 0 50.00% 3 6 0.00%
Jared Pinkney 2 1 1 0 50.00% 0.5 1 0.00%
Keyon Brooks 1 1 5 0 100.00% 5 5 100.00%
Chris Pierce 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 0.00%

On the one hand, Ke’Shawn Vaughn got 20 touches on Saturday. That’s good!

On the other hand... things apparently have boiled over with Jared Pinkney concerning his usage, to the point that Derek Mason had to address it in his postgame press conference (and his answer, frankly, was not very good.) Now, part of the problem — obviously — is that the team is not doing very well. Pinkney has just 10 catches for 120 yards this season, but that’s something he’d probably be more okay with if the team were doing well — but when the team is 1-3 and barely beating Northern Illinois, Pinkney being targeted just twice all game is a problem.

So where are those targets going? Well, Ke’Shawn Vaughn is getting approximately 20 touches a game, but frankly that’s mostly coming from the touches vacated when Khari Blasingame graduated (Vanderbilt’s other running backs have combined for 17 touches this season.) On the other hand, Cam Johnson now has more catches this season than Jared Pinkney, and actually is doing quite well. It’s developing into something of a “too many mouths to feed” situation; Vanderbilt could easily distribute touches among Lipscomb, Vaughn, and Pinkney; but adding a fourth player to that mix means that somebody is going to get the ball less than they’d like.

And again — that’s something that it’s easy to be unhappy about when the team is 1-3 and barely beating Northern Illinois. (Of course, you might recall that Ke’Shawn Vaughn was expressing unhappiness with his role on this team around the same time last year. So things can be fixed.)

Oh, yeah: the starting quarterback and all of the Big Three are gone after this year.


  • Devin Cochran was back starting at left tackle on Saturday, and on the defensive side, BJ Anderson got what I believe was his first career start.
  • True freshman watch: Jaylen Mahoney and Daevion Davis have now played in four games. I am guessing there was never any consideration given to redshirting Davis, and at this point, I don’t see why they would pull Mahoney and redshirt him, either. Keyon Brooks played in his third game (and scored his first touchdown), and still has one more game left if the staff wants to redshirt him. Justin Harris got into his second game (and got his first tackle), while I believe Anfernee Orji got his first action on Saturday. If I’m not mistaken, those five are the only true freshmen who have appeared in a game this season — I’d guess that anybody else is a guy that the staff is planning to redshirt, though we may see some of them get worked into games later in the season.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt is at Ole Miss on Saturday; game time is 6:30 PM and it will be televised on the SEC Network. Ole Miss is 2-3 and now 1-1 in the SEC after a 59-31 loss to Alabama on Saturday; they’ve also lost to Memphis and Cal. If Vanderbilt is going to turn around the season, that would be a good time to start.