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Texas A&M 17, Vanderbilt 12: A very 2015 vibe

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This looks similar to the last time Vanderbilt had a true freshman QB with the initials KS.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Texas A&M Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Texas A&M
Five Factors Vanderbilt Texas A&M
Plays 67 53
Total Yards 255 378
Yards Per Play 3.8 7.1
Rushing Attempts 36 24
Rushing Yards 123 189
Rushing YPP 3.4 7.9
Passing Attempts 31 29
Passing Yards 132 189
Passing YPP 4.3 6.5
Rushing Success Rate 22.20% 37.50%
Passing Success Rate 41.90% 48.30%
Success Rate 31.30% 43.40%
Avg. Field Position 34.3 24.3
PP40 1.67 4.25
Turnovers 2 3

Well, we came into Saturday night expecting a blowout. What we got was a game in which Vanderbilt was sort of overmatched but managed to keep the game within striking distance.

Let’s start with the Vanderbilt defense. Derek Mason’s defenses in 2015 and 2016 — when he was running the defense — weren’t particularly efficient but were pretty good at preventing big plays and bowing up when the other team got into the red zone. There was some of the latter on Saturday night — Texas A&M had four drives that got inside the Vanderbilt 40, with one resulting in a complete disaster for the Aggies with one of three fumbles on the night (all recovered by Vanderbilt) and another ending with a field goal after the Aggies had a 1st-and-10 at the Vanderbilt 15. Then again, Vanderbilt also allowed two pretty easy touchdowns. So some work needs to be done, and there’s also this nagging feeling that thanks to the turnovers and the explosive plays, along with a completely boneheaded play on a punt return, Vanderbilt was very fortunate to hold Texas A&M to 17 points.

And then there was the offense.

So, let’s start with the obvious. 3.8 yards per play is not good. A 31.3% success rate is not good. Averaging 1.67 points on every trip inside the 40-yard line is really not good. Vanderbilt had six drives that gained a first down inside the Texas A&M 40 and came away empty on four of them. Granted, one of those stalled at the 40-yard line and resulted in a punt, but there was also a missed field goal to go along with two interceptions. Each of the two interceptions would have, at the very least, otherwise resulted in a field goal attempt.

In other words, well, all of this sounds a lot like the 2015 team, which followed on the heels of the 2014 team when we all had to sit around for an entire offseason asking whether Derek Mason knew what he was doing. 2015 saw a mostly competitive, if relatively bad, Vanderbilt team that ended the season going 4-8 and 2-6 in the SEC. With all the 0-10 talk this offseason... well, you’d take two SEC wins this year, right?

Passing Stats

Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Ken Seals 20 29 69.00% 150 1 2 2 18 132 41.90% 4.3

While we were all impressed with Ken Seals’ debut — let’s stipulate that the two interceptions weren’t his fault (the first came when a receiver ran the wrong route, and the second came on a tipped ball) — well, averaging 4.3 yards per drop back is not good. That will get better as the coaching staff trusts him and opens up the playbook more, and I’ll grant that some of this has to do with the offensive line, which really limited the playcalling because they couldn’t hold their blocks long enough to allow deep passes.

Of course, having any complaints about a true freshman who completed 69% of his passes in the season opener is probably not something we should be doing.

Rushing Stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ja'Veon Marlow 16 65 4.1 0 25.00%
Jamauri Wakefield 15 37 2.5 0 20.00%
Ken Seals 5 21 4.2 0 20.00%

You can see the effects of an offensive line decimated by opt-outs a bit more here; the run game was basically nonexistent. (That was also partially an effect of projected starter Keyon Henry-Brooks missing the game for undisclosed reasons; we can probably all guess what missing a game for “undisclosed reasons” means in 2020.)

To put this in perspective, behind the 2018 offensive line, Jamauri Wakefield averaged 4.5 yards per carry; last night, he averaged 2.5.

Receiving Stats

Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Amir Abdur-Rahman 7 5 72 1 71.40% 10.3 14.4 71.40%
Ben Bresnahan 4 3 28 0 75.00% 7 9.3 50.00%
Cam Johnson 4 2 21 0 50.00% 5.3 10.5 50.00%
Jamauri Wakefield 3 3 16 0 100.00% 5.3 5.3 66.70%
Chris Pierce 3 2 10 0 66.70% 3.3 5 33.30%
Ja'Veon Marlow 2 2 4 0 100.00% 2 2 0.00%
Tyrell Alexander 1 1 6 0 100.00% 6 6 100.00%
Justin Ball 1 1 -3 0 100.00% -3 -3 0.00%
Jayden Harrison 1 1 -4 0 100.00% -4 -4 0.00%

We knew going in what Cam Johnson could do and got some answers last night about what Amir Abdur-Rahman can do as well; the redshirt sophomore had four career catches going into Saturday night, and made five on Saturday. He also scored Vanderbilt’s only touchdown of the night, the third of three third-down conversions in a row that all went to him. In other words — I think Ken Seals has a favorite target already.

Notes

  • Obviously, redshirts aren’t a consideration this year what with everybody getting a free year of eligibility. In addition to Seals, Donovan Kaufman started at safety, and the participation report indicates that Rocko Griffin, Chase Lloyd, Ethan Barr, Brad Ashmore, and Ben Cox all saw the field. Seven true freshmen playing in the opener is something different.
  • The box score also lists Vanderbilt as having ten starters on defense, which is... interesting, but also obviously wrong.
  • With Dimitri Moore out, Alston and Anfernee Orji were the starting inside linebackers. And yes, Drew Birchmeier started at right guard, an entire week after moving to the offensive line.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt hosts LSU next Saturday at 6:30 PM CT on the SEC Network. LSU, after going 15-0 last season, lost to Mississippi State on Saturday. That’ll be fun.