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Vanderbilt 2020 Football Mail Bag #3: Answers to Your Questions

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

USPS Tote Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Question from WestEndMayhem:

Was A&M a big red herring, considering the stats from it, and this game’s second half performance?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Oh. Are we playing this game already?

So if I had to make a comparison on the A&M game, it was the Ole Miss game from 2015, right down to the fact that the game was played on September 26. It was a road game against a top 10 team, and while Texas A&M this season is probably as much a top 10 team as that Ole Miss team was a top 3 team, it was a game that on paper should not have been close (and in both cases, the stats basically support that assertion) but that Vanderbilt managed to hang around in not-insignificant part because the other team insisted on trying to fart the game away.

And now, we get to where I am going with this comparison. That 2015 team was a bit better than expected and the Ole Miss game was probably the first real indication of that, but that team was still more than capable of shitting the bed like, say, a 19-10 loss to a bad South Carolina team, or a 34-0 loss to Houston, or a 25-0 loss to Texas A&M. Which is to say this team isn’t good by any stretch but you can square the second half of the LSU game with a belief that this team will probably beat one or two of the bad teams on the schedule and also play a couple of good teams closer than they should.

Stanimal: This team doesn’t have enough horses to run with recruiting behemoths like LSU for four quarters, and that’s all the game showed. It’s one deep can compete, but since LSU’s two deep is as good as Vanderbilt’s one deep the result is a game that got out of control late.

Andrew VU ‘04: It was not a red herring, but only because the logical fallacy of the red herring involves the intent to distract from what’s really going on. To be less pedantic, I can see what you’re getting at, but still no. It was the opening week of a really odd feetball season in which neither team had an OOC warm-up game. I’m not sure if Vandy’s offensive line will look that good again in any future game, and we still may go winless (though South Cackalacky and Missourah may have something else in mind), but I didn’t see anything in the LSU loss to make me think any lesser of Ken Seals or the D-line. In short, we all knew we were in for a long season, but I still think Seals gives us hope for the future.

DoreonthePlains: No. I think if we were less negative about Mason and the current state of the athletic department administration the result against LSU feels a lot different. The score was somewhat close into the latter stages of the third quarter. The frustrating part is that you can actually point to a lot of chances for Vanderbilt to have kept it even closer. They were not just “hope and a prayer” type opportunities. A 22-yard FG would have got the game to 14 points at halftime. The defense forced a 3-and-out then Marlow dropped a gimme pass where a catch results in being deep in LSU territory or scoring. I did not see anything against LSU that said we cannot compete with teams that are not THAT ridiculously more talented than us.

Question from Westboundnup:

By the 2nd game last season, it was becoming clear that something was wrong in the VU locker room (confirmed later by reporting from people like Chris Lee). This season there is no indication of internal dissension and the players seem to be working well with the coaching staff. To the extent any fan can actually know, is this accurate?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean, I have no insider information on this. But the way these things usually work, locker room problems don’t normally carry over from one season to the next because the sources of the dissension — whether it’s players or coaches or some combination of both — normally don’t survive the transition from one season to the next. They’re typically out of the program in one way or another.

Stanimal: I think Tom nailed it, and in addition, this team is so new, particularly on offense. Considering they are playing together for the first time, I don’t think that enough time has passed for finger pointing. The team seems to be comfortable with Seals as their leader, at least at this point.

Andrew VU ‘04: Ditto.

DoreonthePlains: I hate myself for saying it (but feel so snarky getting to say it), but I have it on pretty good authority that the locker room is much improved.

Question from JesseCuster44:

The Kicker. Why can’t VU seem to find one that executes? I’m not saying they have to make 80% of 40 yard FGs (because even Alabama doesn’t have one of these), but you ought to be automatic from < 25 yards.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Scouting and recruiting kickers is, for whatever reason, terribly difficult, as seen by the fact that Alabama can recruit All-Americans at every position while having sub-replacement level kickers for most of the past decade. It’s fairly easy to spot guys who have the leg strength to kick at the college level and really freaking hard to spot the guys at the high school level who have the leg strength and also the mental makeup to handle pressure situations like, say, a field goal with the game on the line.

But the issue right now is simple: Vanderbilt offered a scholarship to Javan Rice in the 2018 class, and now in his third year in the program he’s managed to lose the job to two walk-ons (Ryley Guay and now Pierson Cooke.) And when you whiff on a scholarship kicker, you’re probably not going to put a second kicker on scholarship.

Stanimal: It’s all mental, and the mentality it takes to handle a difficult task that looks very simple on demand in high stakes situations is rare in any place in America, but especially with 18-21 year old kids. That’s why it’s hard to identify kickers via traditional recruiting methods. You can’t coach cool.

Andrew VU ‘04: In theory, any of our kickers could put in an application to administer lethal injections. Not sure why you would want this, though. Strange question.

DoreonthePlains: Specialists are weird people. And rarely get the right coaching to help reach their potential. Signed, a goalkeeper.

Question from DenverDore:

What are your thoughts on the use of Mike Wright in red zone situations? On one hand, I’d rather get as much experience as possible, including red zone situations, for Seals. However, clearly Wright provides speed that can be used situationally. Mason’s long history of questionable multi-QB use just has me squirming in my seat.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So: having two true freshman quarterbacks on the roster creates a very interesting situation, but particularly since Wright was actually the higher-ranked recruit of the two. I don’t love the idea of throwing him in there in red zone situations, but I think the bigger concern right now is finding a way to keep Wright engaged so that he doesn’t leave the program. Because that offensive line isn’t going to have Ken Seals not running for his life any time soon.

Stanimal: Mike Wright is too good an athlete to not use and frankly I love wildcat looks in the red zone. At some point the future role of these two players is going to come into question and I say use the hell out of both of them now.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m down with Wright in the wildcat role, but honestly, I’d rather have Seals out there to work on his red zone offense. This year’s a practice year. Honestly.

DoreonthePlains: I hate it only because it never threatened a pass. Wright is an elite athlete and belongs on the field at times. I wish he had gotten a snap or two ouside of the red zone situations, too. He is fast. REALLY fast. The red zone situations put more defenders close to the line to mitigate his speed. Andrew is right about letting Seals work in the red zone, too.

Question from JMLongVU98:

If the NCAA allows the basketball season to begin, but no fans are allowed inside to watch the game, did Jeff Green travel?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yes, much like not allowing fans in the stadium does not mean that MTSU did not have 13 players on the field.

Stanimal: There will never be a situation in which Jeff Green didn’t travel.


DoreonthePlains: You should be banned for even wondering if Jeff Green is ever not travelling.

Question from Tom L.:

I was also disappointed with the LSU game, especially the second half. My questions are:

Due to travel and to avoid quarantine requirements, I have had three COVID-19 tests of late. All three were free, convenient and efficient utilizing CVS drive-thrus. The last was this past Friday before I flew back to Maine from Houston. I got my negative test results within 24 hours on line. Why can’t we host at least 10% of stadium capacity - socially distanced, wearing masks and require a recent negative test result? We are giving up any home field advantage that our opponents are not - none of them.

Why were the students relegated to the South end zone?

Why no band or cheerleaders?

Go Dores!

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m sorry, but are you asking me to attempt to understand any decisions that come out of McGugin? I can sort of get the “not letting fans into the stadium” issue — I mean, let’s be real, I’m sitting here asking why the other 13 SEC schools have fans in the stands and not why Vanderbilt doesn’t. I do find the decision to have all the students clustered at one end of the stadium extremely baffling, just like the decision to leave the band and cheerleaders at home. I still think this team is capable of winning a game or two (I mean, have you seen Missouri?) but probably not more than that.

Stanimal: You’re asking for me to make sense out of something that no one else can make sense out of, so I basically opt out, but here’s a counter-question: do you really want the 10% of fans there for Florida and Tennessee? I’d rather have no fans than let those groups in my house. I know that’s kind of convenient for me as an out-of-stater who mostly watches on TV, but I’ve only been in the majority in my own stadium for an SEC game twice (2012 SC and same year against Tennessee). I think the parents of the players have a gripe, but I am content in this nutso year to not have opposing teams with home field advantage at our stadium.

Andrew VU ‘04: Tom addressed this in The Anchor Drop on Wednesday, and I have nothing to add. The commentariat did a good job on it, as well. As we have seen with the supreme court justice super-spreader event in the Rose Garden, outdoors, but unmasked and packed in like sardines allows the virus to spread.

Mask up, keep your distance, and do your best to protect others.

“6 feet away... that’s how I’m gonna love you...”

DoreonthePlains: I would like to see some fans, especially the parents, allowed in the stadium. I can understand the “bubble” concept Vanderbilt is trying to implement on campus, too, though. Although, we all know college kids are not avoiding going out, so it is a bit flimsy. Vanderbilt would also have to incur rather significant cost in terms of game day staffing for a small smattering of fans, likely under 8,000 until at least November. The risk-reward math says they are probably doing the best thing, even if most of the fan base is adding “no fans” to the list of terrible, no good, awful things the university has done to the fans.

The cheeleaders were in the stands, by the way. The band is a bit crippled at the moment because Vanderbilt decided not to limit the bands to Vanderbilt students only which cuts out about half the marching band according to another poster. It would be a very sad representation and not fair to even our low band standards.

Question from BarnDore1950:

Can you discuss the extra year of eligibility that every player supposedly gets due to the pandemic?

Does this mean we may have some 5th year seniors coming back next year for a 6th year?

What about underclassmen? Do we get 5 years of Ken Seals, assuming of course we can keep him that long?

If we have a considerable number of 5th and possibly 6 year players it may be quite a challenge working with the 85 scholarship limit. I assume some will transfer due to lack of playing time. That always happens.

Does Vanderbilt have the ability to move some players who are outstanding academic achievers over to academic scholarships? Or is that not allowed?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The answer to the first question is very basic. Whatever your eligibility situation going into 2020 was, you have the same amount of eligibility remaining going into 2021. So, Ken Seals has five years to play four, Bryce Bailey (who’s opted out of the season) has two years to play two, etc. I assume the rationale is that they don’t want to penalize guys for opting out due to COVID concerns or, worse, losing multiple games because they get sick.

The other questions remain to be seen. I’m not sure what the NCAA is going to do about scholarship limits going forward, because obviously teams are going to have more than 85 players on scholarship after this season. Some players, though, are not going to take the extra eligibility anyway. As we’ve seen in the past, a lot of guys who don’t have a future playing professional football will get their degree and move on, forfeiting their remaining eligibility. And teams are still going to have a roster crunch, because even if you’re allowed to have 100 guys or so on scholarship instead of 85, there isn’t any additional playing time to go around. You’ve already seen a few guys in the Vanderbilt program essentially take advantage of the free year to go elsewhere in search of more playing time or perhaps a better situation and I expect you’ll see more after the season.

And no, moving guys over to academic scholarships isn’t allowed, at least not in football (or men’s basketball.) If you’re on the team and you’re getting any financial aid from the university, whether it’s an athletic scholarship or Opportunity VU or an academic scholarship, you count against the scholarship limit.

Stanimal: What Tom said.

Andrew VU ‘04: What Stan said about what Tom said, but not what Tom said about what Stan said.

DoreonthePlains: Andrew confused me, so just pay attention to Tom.

Question from Parlagi:

Vanderbilt football has always provided gleeful moments through the years — a nuclear bomb disguising itself as Jamie Duncan at MLB, Jay Cutler gunslinging like an even more irresponsible Rex Grossman, and Carey Spear SPEEEEEEEEEEARING through kick returners like a lunatic.

So what have been your favorite fun moments from 2014-present? I know they’ve been there, but my first thoughts are usually stuff like a baby giraffe at QB, giving up 700 yards to Baylor in a bowl game, and last year’s offense wasting Vaughn, Pinkney, and Lipscomb. I feel like I’m being unduly harsh.

(I was going to pick Mo Hasan beating Missouri, but even that wound up with him concussed halfway through. And we never saw him again.)

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: There was that time Zach Cunningham jumped over an offensive lineman to block a kick.

Stanimal: On the 700 yard Baylor game, Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 243 yards on 13 carries was the most fun I’ve had in two years. (Also owning terrible Tennessee teams has been nice.)

Andrew VU ‘04: My favorite moments of the Mason era have been our collective bits of gallows humor on this very website. If you were to give me the Faustian bargain of us keeping The Old Bald Poach, but never having come up with The Het-O-Meter, never openly campaigning for Nadia Harvin to be our next head coach, and missing out on the hilarity of Knoxville’s Elder God, Vocokyteps, I would have to seriously think it over. I may need help. OO.

DoreonthePlains: It The Ole Miss and Tennessee games in 2016 and 2018 were pretty awesome, especially 2016 when it looked like Andy Ludwig’s offense had found its footing with 2 more years of Kyle Shurmur. Also, Adam Butler hugging UMass’s kicker is a really underratedly hilarious moment. You just have to ignore the fact we were a chip shot field goal from OT against UMass.