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Let’s Try That Again: Week 14 vs Georgia Tech

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The Commodores DID play the Yellow Jackets in 2016, so this is a chance for revenge for the remaining members of that squad.

Vanderbilt v Georgia Tech
Kalija scored in both games, so he gets to make the cover due to limited choices.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Vanderbilt’s remaining FBS opponent from 2018 Middle Tennessee State was not available to play due to scheduling conflicts. Tennessee State does not exist in the game since FCS teams were not included, and I was not going to play any of the stand-in FCS teams. As such, fellow gold-clad team and the cause of a painful 2016 loss for the Commodores Georgia Tech was added as the final non-conference opponent. The game will take place in Nashville as a virtual return game from the 2016 beatdown in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Vanderbilt has a decided advantage in all three ratings categories: 86 to 77 in overall, 90 to 77 in offense, and 83 to 78 in defense. The home team will repeat last week’s all-black uniform ensemble as the visitors arrive with gold helmets, white jerseys, and gold pants. The battle between the triple option and a prolific passing offense is almost underway. Ironically, the Commodores rank above Georgia Tech in rushing TDs at 4th in the country as compared to 23rd. The ground game apparently gets the job done in the dirty areas.

The Yellow Jackets win the toss and defer with rain coming down steadily on a chilly November evening. The weather would seem to benefit the ground-based attack, but it could make the ball handling involved tricky. The first play from scrimmage is an inside handoff from shotgun that gains 11 for Ke’Shawn Vaughn. The second play is a 10-yard out route to Jared Pinkney from play action that results in a 24-yard gain. The pass gives Kyle Shurmur 3,202 yards on the season which is a Vanderbilt record surpassing Kurt Page’s 3,178 yards in 1983. The real-life Shurmur finished the season with 3,130 yards passing to reach 2nd on Vanderbilt’s single-season passing list. He adds 11 yards to his passing total by hitting Chris Pierce on a slant. Vaughn carries a stretch for 3 yards. The 2nd down play ends in an ugly sack when a spacing concept creates no openings. Shurmur looks for Kalija Lipscomb on a corner route, but the pass is knocked away. Ryley Guay is short on the 54-yard FG attempt. Maybe I should have checked his kick power rating in the game, but I have seen him have plenty of leg for those before in reality.

Due to the poll results, the defense comes out with 4-4 personnel. Dayo Odeyingbo, Drew Birchmeier, Cameron Tidd, and Dare Odeyingbo form the defensive line from their left to right with Charles Wright, Jordan Griffin, Colin Anderson, and Josh Smith comprising the linebacking corps. Donovan Sheffield and Joejuan Williams are the corners with LaDarius Wiley as the lone safety. Georgia Tech comes out with Paul Johnson’s famous triple option. The first play is read then given on the dive handoff for 7 yards by Kirvonte Benson. Taquon Marshall keeps the ball around the end for 6. Benson gets the ball twice more up the middle for 4 and 5. On 3rd down, Smith crashes in and stops Benson at the LOS to bring up 4th and 1 at the Vandy 41. Coach O’Gold goes with punt safe but no fake happens. The punt goes for a touchback.

An attempted WR screen is jumped and nearly picked when Dobbs misses his block. A curl is knocked away. Pinkney only gets 9 yards on an in route. Too deep in their own territory, Vanderbilt calls out Parker Thome, who goes with the trusty rugby punt for 46 yards to the Georgia Tech 25.

Marshall gives to Benson on the dive for 2. Surprisingly, Marshall drops back to pass but ends up lobbing the ball way out of bounds. An option pass gets the defense moving all sorts of directions, which frees up Brad Stewart on a curl. He jukes Joejuan Williams and goes for 46 yards. That play stings because the fear is passes over the top while crowding the line. Stewart caught the ball short and made a big play due to a missed tackle. Benson gets the ball again and cuts back for 7 before gaining only 1 on another give to him. Marshall then pitches to Qua Searcy for a loss of 2 yards. With 4th down and 4 to go at Vanderbilt 21, the Yellow Jackets settle for the 38-yard FG. The kick is good with 39 seconds left in the 1st quarter and gives Georgia Tech a 3-0 advantage.

Vaughn loses 1 on a counter. Shurmur then holds the ball too long and is hit as he throws. Vaughn catches for only 6, so the offense has gone 3-and-out for the 2nd time in a row. The quarter ends with the poor start looming. Another rugby effort by Thome hops, skips, and rolls to the GT 15 on an all-net 56-yard punt.

As per the usual, the drive starts with the ball going to Benson. He has consecutive carries for 5 and 1. Marshall tries to pass, but a 5-man rush led by Drew Birchmeier gets to the QB and knocks the ball free. The loose ball skitters to the feet of a GT offensive lineman who falls on it. Trey Ellis returns the punt 10 yards to the Vanderbilt 47.

Kyle Shurmur misses Pinkney on a corner route then hands off to Vaughn for 3 yards. The offense is 0 for 3 on 3rd down so far. Shurmur ends the drought by making the throw this time. Pinkney catches the ball and gains 22. Vaughn takes the ball again for a gain of 4. Another handoff to Ke’Shawn goes off guard for 24 yards and a TD! He ran towards a tight bunch of Pinkney, Bolar, and Lipscomb (in that order) against a 3-4 front shifted with the DE between Pinkney and Bolar. Pinkney sealed him out, and RT Devin Cochran pancaked one LB before sealing the next man over while Lipscomb and Bolar locked up DBs. Vaughn sprinted through easily for the score. Vanderbilt leads 7-3 with 4:11 remaining in the 2nd quarter.

Benson loses 1 on yet another give right up the middle before gaining 4 the same way. The triple option offense is really boring when the QB keeps giving the ball up on the dive option. Marshall goes back to pass again but scrambles immediately before sliding down after only 2 with Wiley coming down from his safety spot as soon as he broke the pocket. Trey Ellis’s 13-yard punt return sets Vanderbilt up at their own 38.

An off-tackle run goes right at a blitzing safety and loses 5. I should have audibled but thought it might get picked up just well enough for Vaughn to get by for a big gain. It was not. CJ Bolar runs a hitch that is quickly identified, ending in a nice, diving breakup by the defense. Pierce loses a jump ball battle on 3rd down. Thome knocks the ball out at the GT 5! He comes up big with a 62-yard knock-and-roll effort.

Benson plows ahead for only 2. Georgia Tech takes their first timeout with 2:01 to go in the half. The next play is another inside give for 2 yards. Now, Vanderbilt takes their first timeout with only 3 more seconds gone. Benson gets 4 on his 3rd carry of the drive leaving 2 yards to the sticks. Vanderbilt uses their 2nd timeout. A punt block attempt fails, but Ellis gains 7 to start at the GT 45.

Kyle Shurmur panics under pressure and throws to the wrong receiver (aka I hit the wrong button) and sees the DB nearly pick off his pass. The 5-wide formation moves the buttons weirdly sometimes, and it scrambled me. The QB collects himself and completes an 8-yard out to Lipscomb who gets out of bounds. Vaughn crashes up middle for 7, and the hurry up comes into play. Kalija catches for 5 more yards, and the drive keeps rolling at high tempo. A little trickery on a screen to Pierce only gets a yard, but Shurmur goes back to him for 16 yards on a hitch thanks to 2 broken tackles. The ball is on the Georgia Tech 8 with 51 seconds left. A pass to Vaughn on an angle route is knocked away. A dive only gets 2 as the clock keeps moving. Lipscomb comes up big on a slant for a 7-yard TD with only 20 ticks of the clock left before halftime. Vanderbilt now leads 14-3.

A surprise slant to Jalen Camp gets 20 yards and causes GT to take their second timeout. Only 15 seconds remain for an offense not known for passing when the other team knows it is coming. A 4-man pressure ends with a second Drew Birchmeier sack. Marshall does find a completion on a corner route for 18 as half ends.

At halftime, Vanderbilt leads in passing 111 to 84 but trails 36 to 35 in rushing. The Yellow Jackets have run the ball 19 times to the Commodores’ 9 attempts on the ground. The 4-4 with a pinched DL is bottling up the dive, and Marshall has not tested the edge but once or twice. Benson averaging 2.9 yards per carry is a winning formula for Vanderbilt. However, the offense is odd. I am not sure what they are doing defensively to throw it off, but it is working. More power running might work though. Georgia Tech is one of the few teams Vanderbilt can probably beat man-on-man at the point of attack.

The Yellow Jackets get the ball back to start the 2nd half and go right back to Benson for a loss of 1. Marshall keeps then pitches to Clynton Lynch for 7. The same decision gets the same result on the ensuing play. Did they “learn” something at halftime? Benson goes for 4 before another pitch, this time for Searcy, gains 9. In response, the defensive line stays pinched, but the linebackers are spaced more to the edges. Another pitch to Searcy still gets 6. Benson rumbles for only 2. This 3rd down play could be important. A stop would be massive. Benson converts with a 4-yard carry. Jordan Mason replaces him and takes a dive for 2. On a rare pass play, Jalen Camp gets half a step on Sheffield for the catch in the end zone. The deep fade took the WR away from Wiley in center field. Vanderbilt still has a 14-10 advantage with 1:54 played in the half.

Jamauri Wakefield gets a nice kick return to the Vanderbilt 36. Vaughn carries inside for 1. Pierce cannot get a foot down on the sideline, but the play is reviewed and reversed to be a 10-yard gain. On replay, I do not see why the call is reversed. I think the game has an issue with the sideline detection or something because these incorrect calls happen with this specific animation. Pinkney catches a post for 37 yards before a LB tracks him down. Shurmur finds Bolar for 12 yards on a short corner against a LB. Pinkney gets left alone in the flat for the 3-yard TD. The Commodores are back up 11 at 21-10 with 2:35 to play in the 3rd.

The trusty Benson dive has one of its better gains at 6 yards, but he immediately loses 1 going off guard. Marshall fakes a handoff and sets to throw. The athletic QB takes off when no receivers come open immediately, but Griffin frees himself just in time to reach out and drag Marshall down for a 1-yard sack. The quick stop needs to be used to build a bigger lead.

The Commodore possession starts with 2 for Ke’Shawn on a pistol counter then 4 more going off tackle. The ball goes back to the RB through the air for 13 on a wheel route. The Vaughn-heavy drive sees him gain 12 more on counter. The 3rd quarter ends, but the focus stays the same as #5 in black takes a power handoff for 6 yards then a stretch for 9. The ball finally finds itself to someone else, but Bolar is hit and drops the pass over the middle. Blasingame has understandably entered the game but gains nothing up the middle. A screen to Vaughn on 3rd down gains 2 against zone coverage, which does not follow the crossing routes intended to clear space. Guay makes the 38-yard FG on 4th and 8. The scoreboard shows Vanderbilt up 24-10 with 5:19 to go in regulation.

Consecutive rushes for 3 and 4 yards by Benson are followed by a pitch to Lynch that gains 7. Marshall goes back to Benson for 3 on the new set of downs. Mason again takes his place and gains 2. A pass is completed to Stewart on a slant for 11 after play action. A rare straight drop to pass is heavily pressured, and Marshall throws late off his back foot on a curl. Williams reads it easily and makes the interception, returning the ball 20 yards to the GT 48.

An embarrassing moment happens when I try to make too many changes late (while typing) in the play clock and get called for delay of game. Vaughn gets back the penalty yardage to reset the drive at 2nd and 10. He gets 5 more carrying off guard. Shurmur’s pass over the middle is deflected, and the defender successfully dives to grab the ball just before it hit the ground.

Marshall drops to pass then takes off but only gets 3 on the scramble thanks to Donovan Sheffield leaving his man to make the play. Georgia Tech’s receivers running 3 verticals with everyone else in to block implodes as the OLBs join the rush when their men stay to block. Charles Wright is the first man to Marshall and brings him down with the brothers Odeyingbo joining the crush. Wright’s moment of glory is short-lived as he is slightly beat in coverage, but Searcy drops it even before Wiley can make contact. GT is going for it on 4th and 13 down 14 with only 1:22 to play. Stephen Dolphus makes the catch against Daley. Against 4 Verts, Wiley helps to the right while the pass goes over Josh Smith to the left for a TD. I guess they only have deep shots in the playbook. Georgia Tech is back within a single touchdown at 24-17 with 1:11 to play.

Pierce easily recovers the onside kick. Hasan enters to help run the clock out. He keeps but gains nothing. Georgia Tech takes their first timeout with 1:05 in regulation. A give to Vaughn also results in no gain. The Yellow Jackets easily handled the read option attempts and take their 2nd timeout with only 2 more seconds gone. Shurmur comes back and gets fooled by a fake LB blitz. The pass is incomplete but was nearly intercepted. Thome has another great punt to pin Georgia Tech at their own 5.

With the offense backed into a corner and having to pass the ball, the defense reverts to the Nickel package with 2 safeties helping over the top. The immediate result is a 20-yard gain via a corner route. A quick pass is knocked away by Williams. Stewart catches a slant and shoves Williams into Wiley for a gain of 18. Playing press coverage, Sheffield jumps a hitch route and takes the ball back for a TD! The defensive score gives Vanderbilt a 31-17 cushion with 30 seconds to go.

The next drive nearly ends the same way when Sheffield nearly intercepts a pass facing 4 Verts. Marshall smartly throws the 2nd down pass away. GT goes back to the simplistic All-Gos passing concept yet again with 4 receivers out in a “route.” Pressure from the 4-man rush starts to get to Marshall who scrambles then lobs one off his back foot that is 5 yards underthrown. Williams snags it and returns this one for another score! Vanderbilt has turned a one-score game into a 38-17 lead with 13 seconds left thanks to desperation passing going south.

Tech seemingly accepts their fate by going back to the option for 5 yards against soft defense. They do call a timeout but only to run the option again for 2 final yards.

Game Stats

Vanderbilt Georgia Tech
Vanderbilt Georgia Tech
First Downs 11 12
Rushing Attempts 21 40
Rushing Yards 79 103
Passing (Comp/Att) 16/28 9/17
Passing Yards 189 236
3rd Down Conv. 5/12 5/13
4th Down Conv. 0/0 1/1
2PT Conv. 0/0 0/0
RZ (Trips-TD-FG) 2-2-0 1-0-1
Turnovers 1 3
Interceptions 1 3
Fumbles 0 0

The ugly offensive numbers show up for the individuals, too. Kyle Shurmur was 16/28 passing for 189 yards with 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a sack that left him with -12 yards rushing. Ke’Shawn Vaughn carried the ball 18 times for 91 yards and 1 TD. Mo Hasan and Khari Blasingame would both rush once for no gain. Jared Pinkney led all Commodore receivers with 5 receptions for 95 yards and a TD. Chris Pierce caught 4 passes and gained 41 yards. Kalija Lipscomb would add 20 yards and a TD on 3 catches. Vaughn also snagged 3 passes for 21 yards. CJ Bolar had a single reception for 12 yards. Defensively, a lot of guys had impacts. The leading tackler was Colin Anderson with 10 tackles with only 2 of them assisted. Josh Smith’s work on the edge was crucial, and he had 9 tackles, of which 7 were solo, with 3 of them resulting in negative yardage for the offense. Drew Birchmeier’s only stats were 2 sacks, but he was key to making Marshall uncomfortable when he tried to throw the ball. Charles Wright and Jordan Griffin both had 1 sack while Wright made 2 other solo tackles and Griffin tacked on another TFL and 2 other solo tackles. Donovan Sheffield had 1 interception that he took back for a touchdown along with 4 solo tackles. Joejuan Williams snagged 2 interceptions, including the second pick 6, and made a solo tackle. Ryley Guay went 1 for 2 on field goals with a 38-yard make and a 54-yard miss. Parker Thome had a massive day with 4 punts for 203 yards with no returns even attempted AND 3 punts forcing Georgia Tech to start inside their own 20-yard line.

The offense never got going, especially the passing game. It was a very disappointing display. However, facing the option did shorten the game. The Commodores only had 49 offensive snaps, which means the offense averaged nearly 5.5 yards per play. Meanwhile, the defense did a very good job, though the shot plays had some success throwing against the 4-4 before I switched to the nickel at the end. In the 4-4 with only a single high safety, Georgia Tech’s propensity for all deep routes meant linebackers were isolated against RBs.

Unfortunately, the sloppy offense did have an immediate effect. The offensive recruits who visited were disappointed not to see the excitement they expected. The interceptions did get the attention of the CB that visited. None of them committed after the game though. The game does have a weird Week 15 though to play the Army-Navy game before the conference championships to make programming the bowl season easier. After the extra week of recruiting, the 79-overall ATH (who is listed as a CB but could play QB), the 65-overall G, and 66-overall T commit. Right now, the quality of player is a bit underwhelming but is filling the projected needs.

In the rankings, the Vanderbilt Commodores moved up to #7 in the Coaches Poll while both the Media Poll and BCS rankings slide them to #6. Vanderbilt’s last chance to improve their stock before the bowl season is the SEC Championship Game against #11 Alabama. #1 West Virginia (12-0) does not have to play a conference championship since the Big XII did not hold one for the seasons between 2010 and 2017. #2 Michigan (11-1) has to play # Iowa in the B1G Championship. #3 Georgia (10-2) is not in the SEC Championship Game. #4 Stanford (10-2) is not in the PAC-12 Championship Game since #9 Oregon went 9-0 in conference play, including beating the Cardinal. The Ducks are 11-1, but a 43-29 loss to a 5-7 Tennessee team has hurt their resume. #5 Ohio State (11-1) misses the B1G Championship Game courtesy of their Week 13 loss to Michigan.

Team Rankings Preview

Vanderbilt Alabama
Vanderbilt Alabama
Points Per Game 32.9 (#15) 40.0 (#2)
Total Offense 372.8 (#48) 471.8 (#2)
Rush Offense 91.3 (#125) 204.6 (#19)
Pass Offense 281.5 (#5) 267.3 (#9)
Total Defense 393.0 (#110) 283.9 (#8)
Rush Defense 82.2 (#1) 117.7 (#3)
Pass Defense 310.8 (#126) 166.3 (#30)
Turnover Diff. 13 (#1) 0 (#68)

In no surprise to anyone who remembers the 2018 football season (or really any of the Nick Saban era), the Alabama Crimson Tide are a freaking buzzsaw. I honestly expect to get killed. I really have no idea what to do against that offense. My only hope is that the adjusted playbooks did not adjust Alabama’s offense from the traditional under center and 2 or 3 WR sets to the shotgun 3 and 4 WR sets. If the traditional sets are used, I might have some slight chance, but the talent gap is still insane. Either way, they will probably just rip hole after hole through me. Or just throw bomb after bomb over me. Meanwhile, their defensive front will surely demolish the Commodore offensive line while the secondary blankets the receivers. Herbstreit still thinks Vanderbilt will win though. The Bowl Projections do have us is in the Capital One Bowl while Bama is in the Sugar Bowl, so that part of the game thinks Bama will win. I do like that the different parts of the game can disagree. The polls will focus on what strategy should be employed to find the best hope for victory.

First, with the regular season over, the Commodore statistical leaders deserve some spotlight. Kyle Shurmur is #4 in passing yards at 3,367. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is #67 on the rushing yardage list at 992 yards which would be good for #7 at Vanderbilt in 2018 time but less than both his 2018 and 2019 real-life totals. None of the receivers had truly outstanding totals, but Jared Pinkney is #24 in FBS at 882 yards while Chris Pierce and Kalija Lipscomb come in at 712 and 684 yards, respectively. LaDarius Wiley (66), Tae Daley (55), and Jordan Griffin (53) are the top 3 tacklers in the country with 4th at 51 and 5th at 48. Dayo Odeyingbo comes it at #7 in sacks with 9.0. Donovan Sheffield and Joejuan Williams are T-29 in interceptions at 4 each while Wiley, Griffin, Charles Wright, and Randall Haynie all had 3. Parker Thome was the NCAA’s leader in net punting at 39.1 yards per punt with second only having 36.8 yards net per punt. He only finished 21st in average yards per punt at 42.5, but the rugby kicks limited returns enough to get the best net yardage. The game uses longest FG made as the default kicker metric, and I did not bother digging into the percentages and hand counting for Guay. He only missed 2 or 3 kicks all season and none of them were bad misses which is about all you can ask for from a kicker who is not called on a great deal.

Back to Alabama, I have my idea on how I would approach the game, especially since the opening instructions were to think like James Franklin. On offense, even with QBs below Shurmur’s ability, Franklin came out firing against some elite competition like Alabama in 2011 and Georgia in 2013. I think with Shurmur at his disposal Franklin would try to quickly move the ball through air with a lot of quick throws then sneak in a run or two to keep the defense off balance. Unfortunately, Shurmur does lack the mobility of QBs like Jordan Rodgers, Austyn Carta-Samuels, and Patton Robinette. Does that mean Mo Hasan gets used more to try and find another way to attack such a dominant defense, or are his limitations throwing the ball, especially with how the game handles play action (aka almost completely ignores it), too much?

On defense, Franklin and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop would have been bringing pressure every which way to try and create negative plays or turnovers. It would better to give up chunk plays in search of a big momentum shifter instead of being ground down. If the defense gives up long gains and scores, they can come out fresh the next series and try to take the ball away again. If they get kept on the field for death marches, they will eventually wear down and be completely broken.

OR maybe I am thinking about this all wrong? I know the consensus will be to play aggressive on the 4th down attempts though, so I will not even put that to vote. The polls and suggestion box will be open until 11:59 PM Thursday.

Poll

What is the offensive game plan?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Passing Attack Short and Quick
    (10 votes)
  • 36%
    Passing Attack at All Levels
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Run the Ball, Shorten Game
    (0 votes)
  • 18%
    Do Not Change The Plan
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (Reply in Comments)
    (0 votes)
22 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What is Hasan’s role for this game?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Nonexistent
    (5 votes)
  • 39%
    Same as Before
    (9 votes)
  • 26%
    Slightly More Usage
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    A Lot More Usage
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    Redzone Specialty
    (2 votes)
23 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How does the defense try to stop Tua and company?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Blitz from Every Angle (Man)
    (8 votes)
  • 13%
    Stay in Cover 2 with Man Under
    (3 votes)
  • 40%
    Blitz from Every Angle (Zone)
    (9 votes)
  • 9%
    Zone Coverage with Light Pressure
    (2 votes)
22 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What do you think the outcome will be?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Blowout Loss (17+ Points)
    (2 votes)
  • 34%
    Comfortable Loss (10-17 points)
    (8 votes)
  • 30%
    Close Loss (<10 points)
    (7 votes)
  • 21%
    Close Win (<10 points)
    (5 votes)
  • 4%
    Comfortable Win (10-17 points)
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Blowout Win (17+ Points)
    (0 votes)
23 votes total Vote Now