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Let’s Try That Again: SEC Championship vs Alabama

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Vanderbilt football has never been here before, but I am not changing the series title.

Alabama v Vanderbilt
Shurmur did a little bit better in this game than in the 59-0 loss in 2017.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Vanderbilt football has won 14 conference championships, but they have never had the chance to play for an SEC championship in Atlanta (or, where it was originally located for 2 years, Birmingham) since it was instituted in 1992. All 14 of those conference championships were won in 1923 or earlier. The SEC would not be founded until 1933.

For our series, Vanderbilt has found their way to the now-flattened Georgia Dome to face off with #11 Alabama. The Commodores lead the Crimson Tide in the rankings by tagged as #6 thanks to the now-defunct BCS. Herbstreit is taking Vanderbilt, but Alabama leads the ratings battles 97 to 86 in overall, 97 to 90 in offense, and 97 to 83 in defense. Vanderbilt will be the away team due to being an odd year (2013) in the game world even though the 2018 rosters are in use. The Crimson Tide will wear their traditional crimson helmets with white numerals, crimson jerseys, and white pants. The Commodores are in gold helmets, white jerseys, and black pants.

Vanderbilt wins the toss because we want the ball and are gonna score! The first play is a pass because that was the voted upon game plan, and Kyle Shurmur hits Jared Pinkney on a corner. Unfortunately, the defensive back hits the tight end at the same time causing the ball to fall incomplete. Shurmur goes right back to Pinkney, from a bunch formation, on a delayed route over the middle behind the linebackers to gain 22 yards. Kalija Lipscomb then catches a slant for 7 yards before getting 2 on an underneath route. Ke’Shawn Vaughn gets the ball on 3rd and inches and runs for 5 yards off right guard. The HB catches the ball in the flat and gains 4 more. Alabama sits in a zone and nothing comes open, so Shurmur throws the ball away. Pinkney catches a slant with the LB trying to go over him for the pass break up then runs for 16. CJ Bolar runs an in route at the sticks and makes the catch for 12 yards. The Commodores are now at the Alabama 12-yard line with a fresh set of downs. Vaughn carries inside for only 1 then loses 2 on a draw. Pinkney is again hit to force an incompletion and bring up 4th down. Ryley Guay knocks through the 29-yard field goal on 4th and 11 after taking 2:48 off the clock.

Damien Harris carries outside for 7 yards. Cameron Tidd bursts through immediately and hits Tua Tagovailoa to force an incomplete pass. Harris catches a pass in the flat but falls out of bounds short of the first down. The zone defense stood up for at least a drive. Alabama punts on 4th and 1 from their own 34. Trey Ellis gets nothing on the return.

Chris Pierce snags a slant for 13. Shurmur looks deep for Lipscomb on play action, but the pass is knocked away in a jump ball scenario. Bolar drops a slant and curl. Lipscomb runs a corner route from a bunch formation, breaks one tackle, gets a block from Pinkney, and races in for a 61-yard touchdown! Wow! He was tackled into the end zone but clearly scored. Vanderbilt leads 10-0 with 2:30 to go in Q1.

Another zone blitz holds Harris to only 1 yard after Josh Smith missed a tackle in the backfield. Harris gets the ball again for the same result. Tight end Hale Hentges gets free up the seam for 31 against the third straight zone. Harris carries twice in a row for 13 and 2 yards. DeVonta Smith drops a slant with a little help from Dayo Odeyingbo, who was dropping into a zone over the middle. Jerry Jeudy makes a catch for 7 but is just short. Bama goes for it on 4th and inches at the Vanderbilt 24. Harris only gets 1 yard, but it is enough for the first down. A perfect blitz puts Smith in the hole to stuff a run right at the line of scrimmage. Henry Ruggs III makes a catch for 6. Smith bobbles another pass, and the Crimson Tide settle for 33-yard FG. It is miraculously good. The score is 10-3 with 23 seconds left in the first frame.

Shurmur barely gets the ball away, and it falls to the turf. Bama shows blitz with both safeties, and Jared Pinkney goes up the seam for 33 against a linebacker who cannot keep up with him. The first quarter ends with Vanderbilt up 10-3, and the offense has clicked while zone blitzes have done well. Shurmur nearly dies on a play action pass, but ducks through then throws incomplete. He gets sacked on the next play. An attempted slant-and-corner to Pierce is nearly picked off. On 4th and 17, Vanderbilt has to punt from the Alabama 43. Parker Thome’s punt bounces out of bounds at the 1-yard line!

Harris gets half a yard against a blitz then 6 against the same. A 5-man pressure nearly gets home, but Harris catches a short pass for 5 and a first down out of the backfield. He slams inside on the next play but only gains a yard followed by a similar run for no gain. Hentges catches for 11 to reset the downs. A blitz makes Tua scramble. Charles Wright is first to him, and Dare Odeyingbo and Jordan Griffin quickly help their teammate make the 1-yard sack. Dayo slices through with only a 4-man rush to get Najee Harris for a loss of 4. A zone blitz ends with Tua throwing the ball to avoid a sack. Ellis gets a 10-yard return on the punt to the Vanderbilt 47.

Alabama brings an 8-man blitz, and Shurmur quickly gets the ball out to Pinkney on a stick route. The tight end shoulders through 2 DBs before being tracked down after 37 yards. A throw to Dobbs in the flat is knocked away. Pinkney gets the ball in the flat for only 2. Another blitz leaves only Pinkney free underneath for a 4-yard gain. It is 4th and 4 at the Alabama 9, and Coach O’Gold is going for it. The ball goes to Bolar on a slant and is barely short. Damn.

Tua throws the ball away. The blitzes are working. Tyrell Shavers catches on a short curl then runs for 18. The defensive tackle dropping into zone got switched to manual control right at the snap on accident. Jaylen Waddle makes his first contribution with a 15-yard reception. Tua scrambles again but Daley, in shallow zone, gets to him for a 3-yard sack. Alabama calls timeout with 2:01 remaining in the half. Ruggs drops a deep pass off his fingertips. A heavy zone blitz gets an 11-yard sack by Drew Birchmeier. The play was intended as a HB screen, and there were 3 more white jerseys following #91 to the quarterback. Now, Vanderbilt calls timeout with Alabama facing 4th and 24 at their own 37 with 1:44 before the break. Ellis gets another 10-yard return to the Vanderbilt 47. Two straight punt returns have been of the same yardage to the same yard line.

Lipscomb catches on a wheel route from a bunch formation, and Pinkney’s block helps him get 19 yards. Vaughn catches a short pass over the middle and spins upfield for 12. Shurmur hits Bolar for 13 on an in-cutting route. The QB nearly throws an interception on a slant when he failed to recognize a linebacker underneath the route. Vaughn, on a rare carry, gets 5 yards on a stretch run. Vanderbilt has 3rd and goal at the 3. Vaughn loses 1 to bring up another 4th down close to the end zone. Vanderbilt calls timeout with 4 seconds to go. The offense comes back out, and Kyle Shurmur throws underneath to CJ Bolar…and he scores! The touchdown gives Shurmur the Vanderbilt single-season passing TD record at 23. The game’s records are flawed as Shurmur had 26 TDs in 2017. He would throw 24 in 2018 including the bowl game. Vanderbilt leads 17-3 with only 2 seconds until halftime, which expire on the kickoff return of a high, short kick.

At halftime, WHAT IS HAPPENING?! The offense is killing their blitzing attempts while the defense is destroying Alabama’s offensive line with blitzes. The total offense statistic is heavily in Vanderbilt’s favor. The Commodores hold a 264 to 96 advantage in passing yards while Alabama holds a slim rushing edge at 14 to 2. Coach O’Gold will take the 266 to 110 totals along with the 17-3 lead.

To start the second half, Josh Smith bumps the WR running a slant and throws off the timing and causes an incompletion. Tua throw the next pass away with no open receivers. Hentges gains 13 to allow the Crimson Tide drive to continue. Jeudy turns a catch in the flat into a 13-yard gain. Tua scrambles for 5. Damien Harris gets his first two carries but only gains 3 yards total. Alabama is going for it on 4th and a long 2 at the Vanderbilt 42. Pressure comes, and Tua rolls left then throws to Ruggs III. Daley separates the man from the ball though! Turnover!

Starting near midfield, Lipscomb cannot hang onto a pass through contact. Shurmur tries to get the ball to Pinkney over middle, but the linebacker let Lipscomb go and nearly took the ball away. Bolar’s 3rd down catch goes for 14 on an out route. Vaughn carries up the middle for 10. Mo Hasan’s time has come at the Alabama 32. He keeps the ball for 10 yards. Hasan fakes the handoff then sets to throw and lobs a pass to the end zone for Bolar…and he catches it! Touchdown! Vanderbilt…VANDERBILT leads Alabama 24-3 with 4:33 to go in Q3. For reference, this is the moment when I first Tweeted and commented about the game.

With the game starting to get away from the Crimson Tide, Alabama starts an important drive. Irv Smith Jr makes a 7-yard catch. Damien Harris then puts the drive on his back with carries for 11, 9 and a half, 5, and 4 with the last one due to a lucky spin out of a tackle behind the line. Two straight incomplete passes, one due to Jordan Griffin knocking it away and the other simply thrown away, bring up 4th down at the Vanderbilt 39. Alabama lines up for the field goal. HOW DID BULOVAS JUST MAKE A 56-YARD FIELD GOAL?! Oh well. Vanderbilt still has a 24-6 lead with 3:21 to go in the 3rd.

A late Kyle Shurmur throw on a slant and curl is knocked down. Vaughn catches a pass for 6. Pinkney makes a diving 1-handed catch over the middle for 8 yards and a first down! Jaire George makes a catch in the flat for 7. The Pinkney show continues with a post for 17 and a shallow corner for the same gain. Are they ever going to cover him? Ke’Shawn goes for 3 on a draw. Shurmur’s 2nd down throw while scrambling is tipped away. Sam Dobbs catches on a corner route for 15 to the Alabama 7. A throw to the goal line is knocked away. Vaughn runs for 1. Bolar gains 4 on a slant to the 2-yard line, but it is 4th down. Vaughn takes a handoff but is blasted at the goal line, and the ball turns over.

Damien Harris breaks past the blitz for 17. Irv Smith Jr snags a pass for 5 before a throw away. Hentges sits down the turns up field for 20 then makes another catch for 1 yard on the next play. Harris breaks free for 55-yard run to the Vanderbilt 1. He takes the ball into the end zone on the next play. Bama goes for 2, and Tua is sacked. The Vanderbilt edge is down to 12 at 24-12 with 5:49 to go in the game.

Shurmur’s pass to Tennyson is knocked away. Vaughn loses 3 on a counter when RT Devin Cochran is shoved back into him. Jared Pinkney cannot make the 3rd down catch, so a punt is upcoming. Trevon Diggs catches the rugby punt on the first hop and returns it 20 yards to the Vanderbilt 39.

Hal Hentges has a 21-yard reception to start the drive. Harris gains 16 on ground. Alabama is quickly down to the Vanderbilt 2. I go from zone coverage to man coverage so close to the end zone, and LaDarius Wiley snags the pass! He tries to return the interception and gets to the 20, which is the same as a touchback.

CJ Bolar uses a delayed release from a bunch to catch a pass for 6 yards. A WR screen gets 5 with Lipscomb on the receiving end. Bolar sprints up the seam for 17 yards. Pinkney finds 6 on a crossing route. A stretch run by Vaughn grinds out 4 yards and a first down. Hasan re-enters the game. The first play is a straight give to Vaughn for 3. Hasan keeps for 4 then reads and gives to Vaughn for 7. Alabama’s first timeout is taken with 1:59 left in regulation. Mo keeps for 10 more yards and forces another timeout. 9 mo’ for Mo! Bama calls their last Tide timeout with 1:50 to go. Vaughn loses one, and Shurmur is back under center. He misses Lipscomb on a short throw. With 4th down and 2 to go while up 12, Coach O’Gold will take the points. Guay makes the FG to make it 27-12 Vanderbilt with 1:03 to go

Tua settles for the check down, and Harris takes off for 29 yards against the backed off defense. Hentges catches the ball behind the LOS and loses 2. Hentges then bobbles a pass that Jordan Griffin takes out of the air! Vanderbilt has the ball back at their own 48.

Shurmur kneels twice, and the Vanderbilt Commodores are the SEC Football Champions! The final score is 27-12.

Game Stats

Vanderbilt Alabama
Vanderbilt Alabama
First Downs 22 17
Rushing Attempts 21 26
Rushing Yards 56 140
Passing (Comp/Att) 30/48 17/31
Passing Yards 409 202
3rd Down Conv. 7/14 5/12
4th Down Conv. 1/3 1/2
2PT Conv. 0/0 0/1
RZ (Trips-TD-FG) 5-1-2 3-1-1
Turnovers 0 2
Interceptions 0 2
Fumbles 0 0

The individual numbers show that Vanderbilt got elite performances from their key players. Kyle Shurmur threw the ball 47 times and completed 29 of them for 386 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions with only 1 sack. Mo Hasan completed the only pass he threw for 23 yards and a TD while also running the ball 4 times for 33 yards. Ke’Shawn Vaughn carried the ball 14 times for 34 yards. Shurmur had 2 kneel downs and the sack for his only rushing attempts, so he is credited with losing 11 yards. Jared Pinkney had a monster day with 10 catches for 162 yards. CJ Bolar snagged 9 passes for 96 yards including 2 TDs. Lipscomb had the other receiving TD as part of a 5-catch and 94-yard day. Vaughn added 22 yards on 3 receptions. Sam Dobbs, Jaire George, and Chris Pierce all had a single catch for 15, 7, and 13 yards, respectively. The defense was a massive group effort. Drew Birchmeier’s only statistic was a sack. Tae Daley also had a sack as part of his 5 solo and 1 assisted tackles. Charles Wright did the same minus the assisted tackle. LaDarius Wiley had the end zone interception and 6 solo tackles. Jordan Griffin’s stat line was the same. With all of the 4th down aggressiveness, Parker Thome only punted twice and grossed 79 yards with 60 net. One punt was returned for the 19 yards, but the other went out at the Alabama one. Ryley Guay made both of his field goal attempts.

Before we get to what happens next, the awards for the season have been handed out. CJ Verdell, a HB from Oregon, won the Heisman by 52 points over Will Grier (WVU) and 568 points over Damien Harris (Alabama). JK Dobbins (Ohio State) and Khalil Tate (Arizona) are a very distant 4th and 5th in the race. LaDarius Wiley wins the Bednarik Award but somehow finishes 2nd for the Thorpe. He is the best defender in the country but not the best defensive back.

The Commodores also lead the country in All-Americans. Jared Pinkney, Cameron Tidd, Charles Wright, Jordan Griffin, and LaDarius Wiley all were named to the First Team while Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Randall Haynie, and Tae Daley found their way onto the Second Team. CJ Bolar and Randall Haynie were on the All-Freshman team. The list of players recognized for the All-SEC lists is Bama-esque. For the First-Team, Vaughn, Pinkney, Tidd, Wright, Griffin, Haynie, Wiley, and Daley all carry over from their All-American recognitions along with Bruno Reagan, Dayo Odeyingbo, and Donovan Sheffield. Kalija Lipscomb, Justin Skule, Drew Birchmeier, Joejuan Williams, and Jamauri Wakefield (returner, not RB) made the Second Team.

Vanderbilt did not quite do enough to get into the Top 2 of the BCS. They settle for #4 in both the BCS and Coaches Poll while the Media Poll pegs them one spot lower at #5. The BCS Championship Game will be played between #1 West Virginia (12-0) and #2 Georgia (10-2). This season simulation is obviously perfect. Even when the Commodores win the SEC championship, a team they beat during the regular season and kept from going to Atlanta would still go play for the National Championship. Of course, Vanderbilt will go to the Sugar Bowl, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but they were stipulated to play there by winning the SEC.

Speaking of which, the Commodores will face a very popular opponent in New Orleans. The team they face in the Superdome will be the 7-6 (6-2) Louisville Cardinals. The are surprisingly unimpressive on offense and mediocre at best on defense.

Team Rankings Preview

Vanderbilt Louisville
Vanderbilt Louisville
Points Per Game 32.5 (#14) 20.8 (#97)
Total Offense 379.9 (#42) 337.4 (#85)
Rush Offense 88.6 (#125) 142.3 (#93)
Pass Offense 291.3 (#3) 195.1 (#51)
Total Defense 389.1 (#107) 342.4 (#53)
Rush Defense 86.6 (#1) 159.2 (#64)
Pass Defense 302.5 (#126) 183.3 (#52)
Turnover Diff. 15 (#1) -10 (#122)

They struggle to run the ball and are only slightly above mid-pack in passing yards. The defense is ranked about the middle of FBS in each category. That turnover margin is ugly though. The Vanderbilt defense has been excellent at creating turnovers, too, while the offense has limited them.

Even with the step down in competition, the changes that made the defense so effective against Alabama should probably be kept, but I will leave it to a vote. The result was strange because I have never had much success using zone defenses, but it is possible the sliders changed how the game functions enough to make zone coverage more viable. The struggles of the past could also have to do with how often I play the game cooperatively with family, which makes coordinating zone coverages with varied blitzes difficult.

As for the offense, it worked, but I think the balance needs to be adjusted back more towards where it has been all season.

Finally, what happens next? Do you all want the series to continue. If you vote for it to continue, I would like to get some thoughts about potential changes in presentation or roster or anything really. This series is just supposed to be fun. I am not trying to make myself famous like SOMEONE else doing a video game series. I do wish I could live stream the games though because it is both easier and a lot more fun. Just imagine if you all (specifically thinking of parlagi) had the chance to shout out in a live chat what crazy play you want me to run on 3rd and 15 or yell at me for missing my assignment on defense.

The first two polls will end at 11:59 PM Sunday night while the other will go for another 24 hours since it is not pertinent to whether I can play the next game or not.

Poll

Does the change to more zone blitzing continue?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    Yes, it worked!
    (23 votes)
  • 3%
    No, go back to more man.
    (1 vote)
  • 7%
    No, relax the blitzing.
    (2 votes)
26 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How far back to normal does the offensive plan go?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Back to normal
    (2 votes)
  • 48%
    Stay a little more pass heavy than before.
    (12 votes)
  • 44%
    No change from Alabama game plan
    (11 votes)
25 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Does the series continue after the bowl game?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Yes
    (25 votes)
  • 52%
    No
    (28 votes)
53 votes total Vote Now