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WTF Vandy? Quarterfinals: (4) MFD Forgets the Score vs. (3) Karl Dorrell

Yep, we’re down to the final eight.

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 1: Head coach Karl Dorrell of the UCLA Bruins looks on during the college football game against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum December 1, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

(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.

(3) Derek Mason Hires Karl Dorrell as his Offensive Coordinator, 2014

Not counting the time he made himself the defensive coordinator, Derek Mason is, effectively, 1-for-5 in hiring coordinators. But the circumstances that led to Gerry Gdowski’s elevation to offensive coordinator prior to the 2019 season perhaps deserve some slack, and while defensive coordinator hires Dave Kotulski (2014) and Jason Tarver (2018-19) didn’t really work... well, Mason’s fingerprints were all over the defense, anyway.

And then there was Karl Dorrell.

Mason’s first offensive coordinator came to Vanderbilt having been an FBS offensive coordinator for five years in the 1990s. Since leaving Washington after the 1999 season, he’d spent most of his time as an NFL wide receivers coach, with a five-year tenure as UCLA’s head coach from 2003-07. So from the jump, Mason had hired as his offensive coordinator a man who was basically a career NFL position coach.

I understand that the timetable — Mason was hiring an offensive coordinator after getting the job in January 2014 — was a little weird. But still, you couldn’t find someone who had been an offensive coordinator at any level in the previous fourteen years?

Anyway, Dorrell’s offense looked like something straight out of the 1990s, and not in a good way. The best thing I can say about Karl Dorrell’s deep-ball heavy offense is that it’s the kind of offense that can look good when your quarterback is someone like Koy Detmer or Marques Tuiasosopo — two quarterbacks he’d had at his disposal the last time he was a college offensive coordinator. When your quarterback room is a revolving door of Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers (guh), Wade Freebeck, and Johnny McCrary, well... let’s just say there’s a reason why college offenses shifted away from a reliance on throwing it deep.

But this did not stop Karl, of course. Vanderbilt’s quarterback room in 2014 combined to complete barely 50 percent of their passes with an average of 6 yards per attempt. The run game did unearth a hidden gem in redshirt freshman Ralph Webb, but there was very little to write home about in the 2014 offense. The end result was an offense that averaged a paltry 17.2 points per game — and an even worse 12.8 ppg when you limit it to SEC opponents.

There was, in short, a reason why college football programs had largely evolved away from “pro-style” offenses by 2014, and Karl Dorrell gave everyone a reminder as to why.


Which moment advances?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    MFD Forgets the Score
    (64 votes)
  • 42%
    Karl Dorrell
    (47 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now