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Let’s Try That Again: Week 13 vs Tennessee

I actually have a tall task ahead of me to live up to a 38-13 beat down of the in-state rival.

Tennessee v Vanderbilt
Joejuan, what was it they said about beating UT when you committed to Vandy?
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The 2018 Commodores under Derek Mason needed a win in their final game of the season to be bowl eligible. The in-state rival Tennessee stepped onto Dudley Field needing the same. Only one team from Tennessee was going to a bowl game. Vanderbilt had won the last 2 meetings for the second time since 1927 and were seeking the first three-peat since 1923 to 1926 (no game in 1924). The Commodores dominated the Volunteers in a game where they never trailed and were up by at least 10 points from 5 minutes into the 2nd quarter onward.

The virtual 2018 squad led by Coach Anchor O’Gold is 8-2 (7-1) and has already wrapped up at least a tie of the SEC East crown and the spot in Atlanta. The Vols are at 5-5 (2-5) and needing a win at Vanderbilt or hosting #14 Kentucky to get to a bowl game. Herbstreit thinks Tennessee’s fans will be waiting at least another week for that 6th win.

In terms of ratings, Tennessee has the edge overall (90-86) and on defense (92-83) while Vanderbilt has the slight offensive edge (90-88). The Commodores come out just as they did for the actual game in all black while the Vols also match reality with all white. Vanderbilt Stadium looks amazing with so much black and gold with only a smattering of orange outside of the two visitor-designated sections.

Vanderbilt wins the toss and elects to receive. The aggressiveness continues on the kickoff. A rush of blood spur Jamauri Wakefield to return a kick he should have kneeled. Vanderbilt’s offense will start at the 15. Kyle Shurmur immediately hits CJ Bolar for 6 on an out route. Ke’Shawn Vaughn carries outside for 9 yards then goes up the middle for nothing. The ball goes back to Vaughn, this time on a screen, for 9. Jaire George pounds for 2 yards and a first down. A counter only gets for #5. Shurmur then misses Pinkney and Pierce on consecutive plays to force a punt. Parker Thome lobs a punt to the 18, and Theo Jackson gets a 7-yard return to the 18

Tim Jordan loses 1 on draw then gains 3 on the same concept from a different formation. Brandon Johnson just gets a foot down while being hit by LaDarius Wiley for 19. Wiley blitzes and hits Jarret Guarantano as he tries to throw the ball, which hits an OL in the back and falls to the ground. Dominick Wood-Anderson is going to be short of the sticks on his reception but falls onto the tackler and rolls over him for a first down. Bad luck hurting Vanderbilt? Who would have expected that? Joejuan Williams makes a diving play to knock away an attempted slant to give up nothing on first down. Two more draws for Jordan go 3 yards forward then 2 yards backwards. They love the draw. Tennessee punts on 4th and 10 at midfield.

Bolar gains 19 on a slant after Shurmur let him cross behind the zone before throwing the pass. Ke’Shawn finds 9 yards on a power run. Tennessee shows heavy pressure and press man coverage, so Shurmur audibles to quick routes with Kalija Lipscomb on a go. Lipscomb wins and gets free. Shurmur lobs the ball downfield to him but leads him out of bounds before he can make the catch. Wow. The senior QB has made three bad throws for no reason to crush the last two drives. He has done this before in the season and rebounded. Vaughn carries for 3 yards and the first down. On play action, Shurmur makes a good throw to Bolar on a post between the safeties, but one safety recovers to just tip the ball away. Vaughn only gets 2 yards on 2nd down. A defensive shift leads to Pinkney getting hot routed to a go route, and it works perfectly as the TE beats the LB covering him deep. Shurmur hits his target this time, and Pinkney runs the last 20 yards of the 56-yard TD pass! The first points put Vanderbilt up 7-0 with only 27 seconds to go in the first quarter.

Donovan Sheffield knocks away an attempted curl. Jordan runs outside for 12 then 5 before the first quarter ends. With a 6-man pressure coming, Jordan stays in to block which leaves Jordan Griffin, who was supposed to cover the HB, sitting in the middle of the field when Guarantano tries to hit on a crossing route. The linebacker picks off the pass and takes it back 3 yard to the Vanderbilt 42.

Vaughn grinds inside for 4. The 2nd down pass is knocked away when Shurmur tries to hit Vaughn on an out from the backfield. Bolar extends the drive by catching an out for 13 yards. Shurmur misses Pinkney on an intermediate route. A draw to Vaughn loses 2. Chris Pierce gets 16 on a screen and punctuates it by putting a shoulder into Mikah Abernathy’s chest and powering through him. Vaughn gets 3 on a rare pitch. Pierce catches a slant for a TD, but someone on the line is busted for holding on a very quick throw. It was completely unnecessary with how quickly the ball came out of Shurmur’s hand. Bolar gets back 6 yards on a hitch. Pierce is hit and drops the pass right at the goal line. Guay nails the 28-yard FG on 4th and 11. Vanderbilt is up 10-0 with 3:35 left in the first half but gave up 4 points on an unnecessary penalty.

Jauan Jennings makes his first appearance with 6 on curl. Charles Wright knifes through and stops Jordan for nothing. Jennings catches a slant for 10 yards. Wood-Anderson makes a catch through contact by Wiley for 7. A glitch on a jet sweep ends with Guarantano taking off. He jukes Donovan Sheffield before Joejuan Williams tracks the quarterback down at the 22 after a gain of 37. Wood-Anderson gains 9 after a play action where he released on a delay. The Vols takes their first timeout with 1:40 on the clock. Josh Palmer gets open for a 13-yard TD. Tennessee pulls within 3 at 10-7 with 1:37 to go in the 2nd. Rocky Top is just as annoying in the game.

Shurmur throws the ball away…or not? He tucked it after completing the throwing motion and took the sack for a massive loss. Ke’Shawn Vaughn gets another crack at a toss and gains 9. The 2nd UT timeout occurs with 1:02 to play and still facing 3rd and long. Tennyson gets free up the seam for 27! The offense hurries to the line, but Shurmur is forced into a throw away. He hits Bolar on a hitch for 5, and Coach O’Gold takes a timeout with 46 seconds to go in the half and the ball at the Vanderbilt 43 facing 3rd and 5. Pierce converts and gets 5 behind the sticks, and the offense goes no huddle again. Shurmur finds Bolar for 11 on a pivot route. The no huddle rhythm continues, and Kyle Shurmur finds Chris Pierce on a dig for 21. Shurmur hurries to the line and calls for a handoff to Vaughn. The play loses 4 after looking like there would be a seam until Pinkney whiffed on the block. The second Commodore timeout happens with 24 seconds on the clock and the ball at the Tennessee 18 facing 2nd and 14. Shurmur drops a dime to Pierce on a corner route from a tight 4 WR formation for 17 yards AND out of bounds. Vaughn slams up the middle for the 2-yard TD. Vanderbilt goes up 17-7 with 18 seconds left in the first half.

Apparently, the score gives Ke’Shawn Vaughn the school record for the most rushing TDs by a Vanderbilt player in a season at 15. I thought it had been broken since the game came out, but it had not. The record was shared by Jerron Seymour (2013) and Zac Stacy (2011) at 14 TDs. Ralph Webb had 13 rushing touchdowns in 2016, so he was close. Ke’Shawn had 12 in real-life 2018. Also, along with Webb’s total in 2016, Khari Blasingame had 10 ground scores in 2016.

Back to the game at hand, Guarantano misses on an out, and Jordan only gets 2 on draw. The half ends after that run.

At halftime, a couple of things are becoming apparent. I have been bringing more pressure with UT running the ball more. I know the poll (by one vote) said to use more coverage, but I was trying to stop the rushing attack Tennessee was using. It has worked for the passing game, too. To that point, Vanderbilt has gained 225 yards passing and 17 yards rushing while Tennessee has gained 75 yards through the air and 59 yards on the ground. Those huge passing numbers have come courtesy of catching UT trying to blitz too much, specifically zone blitzes.

The Volunteers get the ball to start the half. On the first play, Jarrett Guarantano must run for his life with just the 4 DL coming but shrugs off Dayo Odeyingbo before throwing the ball away. He finds Brandon Johnson for 12 on slant on the next play. Jordan carries outside on the right side for 7. A heavy blitz from the offenses right combined with Guarantano reading and keeping that way ends in a 56-yard TD run. The blitz that had so effectively bottled up the Tennessee offense backfired mightily there. 17-14 Vandy with 52 seconds played in the 2nd half.

Shurmur underthrows a corner to Lipscomb and nearly has it picked off. He has to throw the ball away on the next play. Tennyson kills the drive by dropping the 3rd down pass. Parker Thome’s rugby punt rolls out at the Tennessee 34.

Johnson finds a gap to get open for a 22-yard gain against coverage. The blitz is coming back. Guarantano keeps, and Tae Daley reads the play to get him 3 yards behind the LOS. Dare Odeyingbo and Charles Wright combine to get Tim Jordan down for another loss of 3, even with one of them being held. The penalty is declined as 3rd and 16 is preferred to 2nd and 23. Johnson gets 14 on an out but is still short. Tennessee goes for it at the Vanderbilt 36. A high-pressure call expecting the run ends in Josh Palmer breaking for the TD. Tennessee now leads 21-17 with 4:25 left in the 3rd quarter.

Vanderbilt gets a little tricky and tries a Flea Flicker bomb to Sam Dobbs, but Shurmur slightly underthrows it and is lucky the ball falls incomplete. The trick did not seem to fool the defense, but it still ended up being a favorable route up the seam based on the coverage. Pinkney runs a 10-yard in route and catches behind the linebackers to gain 21 then sits down under the zone and gets 10. Vaughn carries on each of the next 3 plays gaining 2, 5, and 1 and a half leaving 4th and a long 1. At the Tennessee 34, the Commodores are going for it. Vaughn muscles ahead for 5. Shurmur gets to throw a pass and hits Lipscomb on a slant for 8. Yes, it is his first catch of the game. Vaughn takes an outside handoff 9 yards before losing 1 on a draw. Blasingame comes into the game and goes powering straight up the middle for 14 yards and a TD! Vanderbilt regains the lead 24-21 with 1:23 left in Q3.

Dayo Odeyingbo saaaaaaaaaaack with only the 4 down linemen coming! Another draw for Jordan only gets 2. Zone coverage results in Charles Wright flattening Tim Jordan for a loss of 5 on a screen.

Trey Ellis gets a 24-yard punt return! The Vanderbilt offense will start at the Tennessee 33. Vaughn goes up the middle for 8 as the 3rd quarter ends. He starts the 4th quarter by gaining 9 more when an off-tackle run gets cut up between center and guard. Pinkney gets hammered and cannot complete the catch at the 2. Shurmur is hit as he throws to cause an incompletion. CJ Bolar catches for 11 on the curl for a much-needed first down. Vaughn goes off guard for 3. He is stuffed on the ensuing carry. The 3rd time is the charm as he finds pay dirt. Vanderbilt gets back to a two-score lead at 31-21 with 5:35 to go.

Randall Haynie misses a golden opportunity when he gets both hands on a Guarantano pass by undercutting an out route. It might have been points, too, with no one ahead of the DB. Drew Birchmeier throws Tim Jordan down for a loss of 2. The defensive lineman literally grabbed the RB by his shoulders and slung him down like a small child. An attempted HB screen implodes when the HB gets caught with Dayo Odeyingbo while brother Dare and Cameron Tidd smash Guarantano. The defense has come up massively on two straight drives after giving up the go-ahead score to allow the offense to score twice.

Ellis gets another decent return, and the Commodores start at the Tennessee 43. Ke’Shawn carries 3 times in a row on 3 different concepts. The first, an inside zone, gains 9. A counter is second and goes for 5. The third handoff is a dive that results in a gain of 6. Mo Hasan gets his first action on 2nd and 4 at the Tennessee 23. The DE plays Hasan, so he gives to Vaughn for 3. The next play is very similar but only gets 2. Blasingame spells Vaughn, and Hasan keeps for 4. Mo then fakes to Vaughn and pitches to Blasingame for 2. Shurmur comes back in after Tennessee takes a timeout with 2:08 remaining and Vanderbilt facing 3rd and 4 at the 12. Pinkney sits down on an option route, and Chris Pierce gets a block on the safety to give the TE space to score a 12-yard TD! Vanderbilt is now out to a fairly comfortable 38-21 lead with 2:04 left in regulation.

Guarantano misses his target on the sideline on consecutive plays, with Haynie giving a very small window on the second toss. Jordan gets 6 on a HB screen. The Vol go for it on 4th and 4 at their own 31 in desperation mode. Guarantano finds Johnson for 14 on an out to extend any glimmer of hope. The new set of downs starts with a throw away. Sheffield drops a very easy pick when Guarantano tries to lob a go route over his head while Sheffield stays right with the WR. Johnson gets 21 on a rub route where he wheels up the sideline while a slant picks his man. Daley drops a pick after undercutting an out. The sure-fire interceptions have been dropped on the last 2 Tennessee drives. The Vols join the drop party on a slant. Daley misses trying to get the pick on another out, and Tyler Byrd snags it for 21. Guarantano shrugs off Tidd then dodges Dayo before finding Jennings for 10 to the Vandy 1. The game does something really stupid with the coverage assignments after the hurry up. Sheffield and Williams are assigned to cover the opposite side WRs, and I do not realize it in time to call a timeout. Wood-Anderson, who was lined up by himself to the right, is left wide freaking open for a TD while the CBs try to sprint across the field at the snap. The PAT leaves Vandy with a 38-28 lead with 45 seconds left in the game.

Khari Blasingame covers the onside kick. Hasan comes in because I am not kneeling it. Hasan keeps for 12, and Tennessee takes their final timeout with 37 seconds remaining. Hasan misses Bolar deep. Mo keeps for 4. I use a timeout because I want to rub it in their faces a little. Hasan keeps for 3 then gives to Vaugh for a loss of 1 on 4th down as the clock expires.

Game Stats

Vanderbilt Tennessee
Vanderbilt Tennessee
First Downs 20 11
Rushing Attempts 36 17
Rushing Yards 123 95
Passing (Comp/Att) 19/34 18/31
Passing Yards 287 229
3rd Down Conv. 11/16 4/9
4th Down Conv. 1/2 2/2
2PT Conv. 0/0 0/0
RZ (Trips-TD-FG) 5-4-1 2-2-0
Turnovers 0 1
Interceptions 0 1
Fumbles 0 0

Kyle Shurmur failed to live up to the ridiculous 31/35 passing for 367 yards and 3 TDs from the real-life game. He was 19/33 for 287 and 2 TDs while being sacked once for a loss of 15 to further bury his rushing stats. Mo Hasan was 0/1 passing but did carry the ball 4 times for 23 yards. Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 28 rushes for 97 yards and a touchdown. Khari Blasingame got 2 touches for 16 yards and a TD. Jaire George had a single carry for 2 yards. CJ Bolar led the team in receptions with 7 that gained 71 yards. The leader in receiving yards at 99 was Jared Pinkney on his 4 catches. Chris Pierce also had 4 catches but gained 64 yards. Donaven Tennyson got 27 yards on his only catch. Kalija Lipscomb was locked down and only had 1 reception for 8 yards. On defense, it was very much a team effort. The standouts were Jordan Griffin having the interception and 3 solo tackles, Dare Odeyingbo tallying 1 sack and another tackle for loss, Dayo Odeyingbo making 1 sack (his only stat), and Charles Wright making 7 solo tackles with 3 being for loss. Parker Thome had 2 punts for 89 yards and a net of 82. Ryley Guay made his lone FG attempt from 28 yards out.

The rivalry game win helped the Commodores move up in the polls. Vanderbilt stands at #9 in the Coaches Poll, #7 in the Media Poll, and #8 in the BCS. The big shock from the world of college football is Alabama plummeting from the Top 3 of each poll to outside the Top 10 after losing to Missourah 45-26. The bowl projections now expect Vanderbilt to play in the Sugar Bowl, so the prognosticators must expect the Commodores to win in Atlanta which is hilarious. It may happen because I am controlling Vanderbilt, but I wonder what inside the game’s algorithm made that the prediction unless it just uses the rankings, which are also weird for having the Crimson Tide fall that far.

The final (normal) weekend of the season has some very interesting matchups for those wondering for what a “win-out” scenario for the Commodores looks like. By the way, that would include a win against Georgia Tech then beating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game along with winning the bowl game. Well, it is hard to say where they might find themselves because of the matches (rankings used will be BCS) this weekend. Undefeated #2 Ohio State will play at 1-loss #4 Michigan. Meanwhile, 1-loss #3 Notre Dame plays 2-loss #7 Stanford. If that was not enough of a stacked slate, 1-loss #5 Clemson plays 2-loss #6 Georgia. Could Vanderbilt be at #5 before the SECCG with a dominant win and some blowout losses? And what would still be in store for conference championship weekend? Oh, for completeness, West Virginia is #1 and playing 6-5 Iowa State.

Recruiting had a decent week, but the results were not quite as good as hoped. Only the 68-overall G commits. Four more recruits will be on campus for the game against the Ramblin’ Wreck. They are a 70-overall HB, a 66-overall T, a 65-overall G, and a 79-overall athlete who could be a QB or DB. For the first 3, Vanderbilt is the clear leader but none of them are close to a decision. For the athlete, NIU is in the conversation but still a distant second. He, like the first 3, is not ready to commit any time soon. It should also be noted that the guard and athlete are both JUCO transfers.

Team Rankings Preview

Vanderbilt Georgia Tech
Vanderbilt Georgia Tech
Points Per Game 32.5 (#19) 23.0 (#77)
Total Offense 382.4 (#41) 365.8 (#54)
Rush Offense 92.5 (#123) 250.5 (#4)
Pass Offense 289.9 (#4) 115.3 (#122)
Total Defense 397.9 (#112) 321.0 (#35)
Rush Defense 80.3 (#1) 158.4 (#65)
Pass Defense 317.6 (#126) 162.6 (#26)
Turnover Diff. 11 (#3) 13 (#1)

The offenses are polar opposites statistically. Their defense is good but only average against the run. Like last weekend, turnovers have been a big part of each team’s success. Georgia Tech and their option attack seem like the perfect opponent for a Commodore defense so good at stuffing the run. The problem is that the game, as shown even with QBs that are not particularly mobile, makes defending the option a nightmare. The conventional wisdom is that man defense is the best counter to the option because each player his assignment whereas zone defense can get guys trying to read and react then end with multiple defenders biting on a fake and leaving huge running lanes. This strategy is perfect for me because I much prefer man defenses anyway, especially in the game.

However, there are still 2 major quandaries. The first has to do with Georgia Tech’s typical personnel involving a FB and at least 1 TE unlike most modern option teams, which tend to use spread option attacks. With that offensive personnel, the base 4-3 defense would be the default choice. Should I use a 4-4 (sacrificing a safety to load the box) or even a 5-2 (please no, but I would probably move one of Wright or Smith to DE for it) instead of the base 4-3? The 4-4 obviously gets an extra tackler near the line of scrimmage while risking having runs that break the secondary go even farther since one safety is covering all that space. The 5-2 could help tie up the OL to free everyone behind them to make tackles. Of course, the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage could certainly be applicable to the 4-3 personnel and run defense.

The second question is how to attack (or not) the option. Should I blitz to try and create negative plays, which might force a team uncomfortable throwing the ball to do more of it? Or do I play it safety with safeties sitting back without man assignments to tackle plays that get through the second level while also serving to protect against the shot-play passes that always come from GT? Split the difference and just leave one safety high and bring more pressure (maybe having a QB spy at LB). With the 4-4, it will be pressure or single high just by the nature of the scheme.

Poll

What should the default defensive scheme be for the game?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    4-3
    (7 votes)
  • 50%
    4-4
    (9 votes)
  • 11%
    5-2
    (2 votes)
18 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How aggressive should the blitzing be?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Crush them with pressure
    (4 votes)
  • 18%
    Use two deep safeties for protection
    (3 votes)
  • 56%
    Only leave one safety over the top
    (9 votes)
16 votes total Vote Now