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Lessons in Vanderbilt Football: South Carolina

Keeping you guessing like the Mike Wright offense.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at South Carolina
The offense is exciting even if it is not always effective under Wright.
David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

This article should be about lessons from a win. Vanderbilt should be 3-4 and have Clark Lea’s first SEC win under their belts. Instead, South Carolina was able to drive 75 yards in 8 plays spanning 59 seconds with no timeouts. Thus lives the Chicken Curse. I said I would not pick Vanderbilt under any scenario. That finish is why. It is infuriating but almost hilarious at the same time.

Lessons We Know Well

That “slim margins” thing? Yeah, even I thought 1:36 and no timeouts to go 75 yards for a TD was a good spot to be for Vanderbilt. Instead, a passive pass rush (4 for the first 2 plays then 3 for the rest of the drive) was coupled with clueless coverage that the Gamecocks’ Zeb Noland picked apart. It was the conventional wisdom strategy. Well, I suppose it was not still the conventional wisdom to do so at “and goal to go,” as Andrew has pointed out at every turn. The talent on this team is just not there to cover mistakes.

Lessons We Are Learning

Mike Wright brings an explosiveness to the offense, but he did not fix the consistency issues in the slightest. Wright was 11/21 passing for 206 yards with one TD and one interception. On the ground, the speedster was contained to 13 carries for 57 yards with a long of 15. His QBR was an abysmal 24.0, which is supposed to account for all plays including rushes. It is very reasonable to expect the consistency to improve as Wright gets more comfortable with being the guy in game action. Your first starting being on the road in the SEC is not an easy feat.

Vanderbilt’s defense may be finding its own spark. After forcing two interceptions against Florida, pressure was again the Commodores’ key as they created two more picks. Vanderbilt also caused and recovered two fumbles against South Carolina. The previous week they freed the ball once but could not recover it. You can be a less than solid defense and still be successful if you can find ways to get the ball back without getting a traditional stop. The number of passes Mississippi Stat will throw (averaging 56.5 attempts per game) provides a lot of chances for taking the ball away. A hidden key might be Vanderbilt’s DL getting their hands up to tip balls into the air. The big guys have been credited with 5 passes defended doing just that this season.

Dashaun Jerkins has been one of the guys making a lot of plays. He has 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery the last two weeks along with 5 tackles (3 solo). De’Rickey Wright has continued to be a menace, too. Two weeks in a row having 2 QB hurries have also included a forced fumble against SC and 2 TFLs against Florida. His length and athleticism will also be needed in coverage to prevent quick passes in the slot and over the middle.

Lessons For Further Study

Which running back is going to feature and be most successful? Rocko Griffin had been the primary back until the Florida game when injuries forced the focus to Patrick Smith who exploded. However, with Mike Wright, Griffin’s power might be the better option. Mike Wright is going to be the edge rushing option, so the back is going to be more on a dive or off-guard action typically. Smith has shown nice elusiveness, so I may be overthinking this. The freshman definitely has the speed and quickness advantage. Smith only had 5 carries against the Gamecocks but also only eked out 9 yards.

Can Mississippi State game plan a way to corral Mike Wright’s legs? We can assume their defensive game plan involves keeping him contained to the pocket. If they do that without bringing extra rushers, it may give him more time to survey the field and find targets without scrambling. At the very least, it would give receivers time to get downfield where Wright’s arm strength and touch on deep passes can come into play. The other option is to bring extra rushers to fill more escape lanes. Then it becomes a matter of blitz pickups along with Wright’s ability to accurately deliver quick passes or find escape angles.

What the hell will the special teams do? After missing all 3 FG attempts against Florida, Bulovas hit from 42 and 28. Harrison Smith also had 6 punts for 289 yards (48.2 average) which included a 58-yard BOMB that also hit at the 1-yard line and checked up right there. He used the rugby punt a few times, but the traditional cannon shots are still his best tool. Meanwhile, Cam Johnson tried to field a punt reaching up and over his shoulder while backpedaling. There was also a pooched kickoff that went well out of bounds. Does anyone know what the last kickoff return was where the upbacks acted as if they were called off by Griffin who then watched the ball roll by him.

Ultimately, the real question is if Vanderbilt can find its first SEC win of the season. Coming off giving a signed and sealed win away, they need to go earn this one. The Commodores are facing an opponent that can beat Texas A&M or lose to Memphis. This game is winnable, but winnable only matters if you do the things to win the game. For the entire game.