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WTF Vandy? Baffling Decisions, Round 1: (4) MFD Forgets the Score vs. (5) Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s Usage

On one end: an intentional foul in the closing seconds. On the other: a criminally underused player.

NCAA Football: East Tennessee State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

(4) Matthew Fisher-Davis Forgets the Score vs. Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament

In the introduction to this, I mentioned that most of the entries in the Baffling Decisions bracket would be coaching decisions, and player decisions would be subject to greater scrutiny because split-second decisions made in the fog of war (or at least a basketball game) would only be considered in egregious cases.

You probably had a pretty good guess what moment I was talking about there.

In hindsight, it took a spectacular effort just to get to this point. As late as February 11, 2017, Vanderbilt’s basketball team was 12-13, 5-7 in the SEC, and sucking wind on a 20-point loss to a Missouri team that would finish with an 8-24 record. (Bryce Drew: the signs this might not work were there in his first season.) But Vanderbilt closed out the regular season by winning five of six, and then made it to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament as a 9-seed, facing a Northwestern team that was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

And that game, you’ll remember, required a hell of an effort just to make it close. Vanderbilt briefly led 5-4 early in the first half, then didn’t lead again until the last two minutes of the game. The Commodores fell behind 49-34 with 13:42 left in the second half and it looked like it was going to be the Wildcats’ day — but then Vanderbilt went on a 12-0 run, keyed by a pair of three-pointers from Matthew Fisher-Davis, who finished the game with 22 points. A Riley LaChance three put Vanderbilt ahead 62-61 with 1:36 to go. The teams traded baskets for the next minute, with LaChance putting Vanderbilt up 66-65 with a layup with 18 seconds left.

And then it happened.

Had Vanderbilt been trailing at the time, this is a smart play. Put Northwestern at the foul line, make them hit their free throws, and get the ball back. Only... Vanderbilt was up by a point at the time.

With 15 seconds left.

With an NCAA Tournament game on the line.

Compounding the issue was the fact that the player Fisher-Davis chose to foul was Bryant McIntosh, who shot 87 percent at the foul line that season (and 85 percent for his entire career.) That’s as close to automatic as you can get in college basketball, and McIntosh predictably made both. Riley LaChance’s last-ditch effort missed with five seconds left, and just like that, the season was over.

Now, of course, Northwestern might have won the game anyway — after all, they had the ball down one with 18 seconds left and would have held for the final shot if not for the foul. But that would have been a 50-50 proposition at best. Instead, Northwestern had its best shooter at the line for two shots. It was the ultimate brain fart.

(5) Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s Usage in 2018

Some of my first writing for AOG was previewing the running back position. When Vaughn transferred in from Illinois, he was promising. He had speed that other Commodores didn’t. I called him a “home run threat,” but like most transfers, I figured he didn’t fit— he was from Nashville, Vandy took a flyer on him, etc.

After a year of sitting out, he got some touches. And oh boy did he run. On the year, he ran for 1,244 yards averaging 7.9 yards per carry. He could explode out of the backfield, make one cut and go. On the year, he had longs of 78, 69, 68, and 66 yards, and he had 12 touchdowns. 12! That’s more than double the next back, and three more than Kalija Lipscomb.

Here’s why this is a WTF. He only carried it 157 times. Here’s the game by game breakdown- 9, 11, 10, 9, 17, 9, and 7. Against Power 5 teams, he averaged 8+ ypc. Against non Power 5 teams, just a hair over six. Sometimes total yardage is misleading, so it’s important to point out how effective he was per carry. Absolutely potent.

Mason and Co. figured it out, but a little too late. By the ninth game of the season (against Arky) he carried it 26 times. Then 15 against Mizzou and 25 against Ole Miss (he sustained an injury against THEM, and toted it only six times). He went for 172, 182, and 127 yards respectively.

The early argument is that Vaughn wasn’t good in pass pro, and keeping him in during passing downs instead of Khair Blasingame put Kyle Shurmur in danger. That’s a fair assessment, initially, and also because Blasingame is an NFL caliber full back. That’s a rarity in the league, but it means he’s a battering ram and can thump anybody who seeks to do harm to whomever he is protecting.

Of the 12 games he played in, he only carried it six times on third down. And he didn’t catch it out of the backfield, either. It was a legitimate concern for the coaches that he may not be an effective member of the offense in third down situations- especially third and long. He never saw a touch with seven or more yards on third down.

But the counter argument is this- he averages eight yards per attempt against Power 5 opponents, so figure out how to get him on the field in space against a heavy linebacker or step slow safety. He didn’t have to be behind the quarterback. Maybe in the slot? Maybe a cool jet sweep? Maybe something we don’t even know about yet, but put the fastest player on the team onto the field when you need the most yardage!

This was was the best Vanderbilt could do offensively- heady quarterback with a good arm and three weapons that affect each level of the defense. Taking him out, other than a spell, signaled to the defense that they don’t have to respect the run game, let alone be afraid that anyone can beat them over the top.

Vaughn would eventually have his day with a 243 yard performance against Baylor in the bowl game. But Just think how the Notre Dame (L, 17-22) or Florida (L 27-37) games would have turned out if Vaughn was given just a few more chances.

Let’s put it this way- when Vaughn was given more than 10 touches against FBS teams, Vandy was 4-2 (counting UT because he touched six times in the first quarter and UT was imploding). When he was given 10 or less, the Dores were 1-4.


Which moment wins?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    MFD’s brain fart
    (83 votes)
  • 27%
    Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s usage
    (31 votes)
114 votes total Vote Now