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Week 5 Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 UConn at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from VandyFanBR:

Last W until?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m going to go with the 2022 season opener at Hawaii. Okay, okay, it’s probably the Week 2 game against Elon.

Doreontheplains: Not tempting fate by picking a game this season. Hawaii to start next season.

Stanimal: Hawaii.

Paul: Missouri at home on October 30th. If Mo Hassan can beat the Tigers, Coach Lea’s team sure can. Circle it. Live it. Believe in it. Get your hopes crushed with me.

Andrew VU ‘04: Why do you guys think we’re beating Hawaii? I’ll go with Elon, our Week Two opponent next year, as I figure they’re still likely to have their hearts broken by Grimes.

Question from BarnDore1950:

In the years leading up to and including James Franklin’s first year, Vanderbilt’s recruiting rankings according to Rivals was: 2008-90; 2009-71; 2010-61; 2011-70. Questions: 1) Was James Franklin just a better motivator of young men? 2) Was James Franklin better at developing players? 3) Was his staff better at scheming plays that utilized the available talent? 4) Did we just get lucky and find some under recruited guys that turned out to be really good players? 5) Did we under appreciate Bobby Johnson’s recruiting ability, even though his rankings were not that high?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: There’s a lot more of 4 than a lot of Franklin’s biggest fans want to admit, but just look at this: Casey Hayward (3-star), Ryan Seymour (2-star), Sean Richardson (2-star), Tim Fugger (2-star), Wesley Johnson (3-star), Zac Stacy (3-star), Jordan Matthews (3-star), Jonathan Krause (3-star), Kenny Ladler (3-star), Andre Hal (3-star.) There you have ten guys who (a) Franklin inherited from Bobby Johnson, (b) were on an NFL roster at some point (and some of those guys played quite a while in the league; hell, Casey Hayward is still in the league), and (c) weren’t thought of all that highly as recruits.

In all seriousness, though, I don’t think you can compare this year’s team to Franklin’s first. Hell, Robbie Caldwell won an SEC game by two touchdowns which should maybe tell you that the roster situation wasn’t as dire as we thought it was entering 2011.

Doreontheplains: Tom broke this down really well. There were an absurd number of diamonds in the rough in those classes, which is probably less likely now with the way recruiting networks have expanded and become so mainstream.

I have been more bullish on what talent there is on the roster, but there are massive, glaring weaknesses such as the offensive line and speed on defense. Those two things are crippling problems that are really hard to mask.

Stanimal: Yeah I have no response. That was perfect.

Paul: Tom did all of the dirty work above here listing out all of the talent James had. Franklin essentially won the lottery with some of the players he inherited. We can certainly give credit where credit is due and say that his coaching enabled those players to be the best versions of themselves, but Coach Lea’s team is nowhere close to what Franklin started out with. We have to give credit to Bobby Johnson for finding the diamonds in the rough that he did throughout his career.

The irony is, Franklin’s recruits, who matured to juniors/seniors in Mason’s first years, didn’t pan out to be NFL-caliber players, with exceptions in Zach Cunningham, Oren Burks, and some others. How much of this is attributed to a lack of player development, who knows, but we’ll have to see what Lea does with the cupboard he’s been given as well as what he fills it with.

Andrew VU ‘04: Franklin is a fantastic monorail salesman, but Unlike Lyle Lanley, his monorails don’t instantly destroy the towns who purchase them. Franklin was an expert motivator. He’s the type of guy who gets the viewing audience to bring Tinkerbell back to life, and fully believe that they have actually done said Lazarus act. Even though I was in my 20s during the Old Bald Poach era, I repeatedly felt the need to run through a brick wall for him... and I was not even in the same state. Franklin’s main flaw was in chasing ‘crootin stars for the stars’ sake, and not really having a plan for what he wanted his team to look like, scheme wise. This led to some commits that just didn’t fit (Brian Kimbrow) and, well, let’s not talk about it right now, but let’s just call it some character concerns, and know that that is a vast understatement.

As for Bobby “The Wild and Crazy Guy” Johnson, I don’t think we (your Anchor of Gold writing staff) undervalued his player development abilities, nor his ability to find diamonds in the rough. He just wasn’t able to get enough depth, so we’d get slaughtered in the 2nd halves of SEC play routinely.

The less said about Derp Mason the better.

Question from McCaffreyFan:

Analyst Kelly Stouffer said: “That was an entertaining first half.” Interesting choice of words. What adjective would you all have used to describe the first half?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean, it was entertaining. There’s something entertaining about watching two evenly-matched football teams even if they happen to be two of the worst teams in FBS. This is basically the NFL’s entire business model.

Doreontheplains: Frustrating was the first word to my brain. Stouffer was not wrong though.

Stanimal: It certainly had its moments. Then the third quarter hit.

Paul: Competitive. Ironic. Fun. I don’t know. I was definitely entertained, so Kelly and I agree there.

Andrew VU ‘04: I was not entertained.

Question from Westboundnup:

Does anyone feel like I do every year when we reach early October, that Fall has arrived and it’s time for football, only to realize that the high school / college season is already half-over?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: You’re honestly on to something, because back in the day college football season really did start later and you’d usually have a bye week in the first month of the season (this was before the season was 12 games long.) For instance, in 1990, Vanderbilt had only played three games by October, with the first game of the season being played on September 8 followed by a bye week.

Doreontheplains: For sure. But I also think football season flies by irrespective of any other events.

Stanimal: The season also feels longer though with the CFP. By January I’m still having fun, but I’ve also spent several weekends in a row destroying myself on barbecue, nachos, wings, brats, burger and beer, not even to mention the holidays. Usually ready for it to all end come the National Championship game.

Paul: I’m just excited to read that there is a Vandy fan out there who thinks this season is going by quickly.

Andrew VU ‘04: Fall? What is fall? It’s still in the damned 80s and 90s where I am. Also, I take issue with the notion that this season is “half over.” It’s over, but for the orchestra playing as the ship goes down.

Question from Nashville Man:

Ken Seals was straight up bad running the read option all night. Should we even bother with that type of play anymore?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Not with Ken Seals as the quarterback.

Doreontheplains: Yes. See Tom’s work with The Statistical. Seals only had 5 yards on 7 attempts, but he was successful on 42.9% (3) of his carries. Granted, a couple of them were QB sneaks. I did not like going to it twice in a row from inside the 10. Use it on first down to see if the DE/OLB is too aggressive and lets Seals waltz into the end zone easily. If they are going to be assignment sound, you do not go back to that well. You definitely do not go from read option to designed QB run.

This offensive line is struggling. If you keep teams just a little honest using the threat Seals will keep, you essentially add another blocker because the DE/OLB cannot crash. Ken has enough speed and likes to run hard. He can grit you out 4+ yards when assignments break down. Reactions of “Wright is the better runner” every time Seals carries the ball ignore how useful having as many threats as possible are at keeping a defense off balance. With that said, yes, Seals does need to make better decisions. I think he has been pretty good at reading those plays outside of last Saturday.

Paul: Switching offensive coordinators in August turned out to be every bit of a bad omen as we thought it would be. Some of the calls look like me playing Madden and rolling a die to see which play to pick. Sometimes you get lucky and it works, but most of the time it just doesn’t make any sense. 2nd and goal? Let’s run Hail Mary and see what happens.

This season is kind of shot, so I say we accelerate Seals’ development and let him throw it 50+ times a game.

Stanimal: I agree with Paul actually. Perhaps you can say now, with THESE coaches, we shouldn’t be doing RPOs, but I think the entire offense is so poorly coached that it’s hard to fathom much of any change in offensive scheme being successful. Maybe it’s the “team one” side of things, but they absolutely need to spend a substantial amount of time working on their offensive schemes in the offseason.

Andrew VU ‘04: Not with Seals. Not ever again. With Mike Wright? Yes please.

Question(s) from Jessecuster44 & Tinioril:

Why are there players still getting reps out there who so clearly don’t belong on the field? Effort and intelligence do not exist for them. Is that really the best we have? [...] The two OL who missed their assignments at the same time. The dummies who tried to intercept the 4th and 18 pass instead of batting it down. The players who gave up trying to tackle UGA last week. [...] What does #13 have on HCCL, because that’s the only reason he’s on the field. And I don’t care about the lucky INT.


Related to Jesse Custer’s Q, are there guys who clearly do belong on the field who still aren’t seeing reps? I haven’t really been tracking play time besides “Ken Seals is still starting” or “Will Sheppard got some TDs, who is that?” so I’m curious about productive players from the last few years who still aren’t seeing the field. OLine? Some WRs?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: To the first question, the answer is some variation of “well somebody has to play for this team.” Because really, if you think that some guys on this team shouldn’t be playing, the answer is that their backups are probably even worse. As far as the second, well, Mike Wright should be doing something for this team, I just don’t know if the right answer is to have him play quarterback. Get creative, line him up at wide receiver and make the defense think you might be running a gadget play every time.

Doreontheplains: The guy carrying the clipboard is always better than the starter until he actually plays. Without seeing practice, I cannot really guess at too many guys who should be playing more, except Wright in a better, more creative usage. Amir Abdur-Rahman seems like an obvious candidate to play more, but the WRs have not typically been the problem.

Stanimal: Year one. Team one. Too early to tell re: coach talent evaluation.

Paul: I think it just depends on how much of a throwaway season the coaches view 2021 as. If they had the “no hope whatsoever” stance, I think you’d start to see all kinds of new players on the field at this point. However, given that we’re sticking with the same guys, we should trust the coaches as professional evaluators of talent who either see benefits in 1) chasing the small chances at wins with these guys or 2) continuing to groom them for future seasons.

Andrew VU ‘04: Other than potentially replacing Seals with Wright (so our QB is able to stay alive against SEC defenses), who do you think we have in the coffers? We’re back to early Bobby Johnson days when it comes to depth. Scratch that, we’re worse than that right now. Even our starters on the lines look small. Like Division III small.

Question from VUAllDay:

From what you’ve seen this year, who do you think should be listed in the top 10 polls? After watching a full day of football on Saturday, here’s my list of the best 10 teams in the FBS: 1. Alabama 2. Georgia 3. Alabama 4. Georgia 5. Alabama 6. Georgia 7. Alabama 8. Georgia 9. Alabama 10. Penn State. Others receiving votes: Alabama, Georgia

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I would rank them: Georgia, Alabama, (huge gap), Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ohio State, and uh, fuck it, Michigan State. The SEC is secretly trash this year outside of Alabama and Georgia, by the way, but most people aren’t ready for that conversation.

Doreontheplains: Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Penn State, Cincinnati, Iowa, Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and BYU

Stanimal: Georgia, Bama, Penn State, Michigan, Oregon, Iowa, Cincinnati , Ohio State, BYU, Oklahoma - But really all I know is that Georgia and Bama are top two and they are interchangeable (though I think Georgia is actually better this year).

Paul: 1. Bama 2. UGA 3. Penn State 4. Cincy 5. Michigan 6. BYU 7. Oklahoma 8. Michigan State 9. Iowa 10. Ohio State. My rule of thumb in the Nick Saban era is this: Keep Bama at #1 until they prove you otherwise.

Andrew VU ‘04: Georgia, Ramajama, and then who gives a shit. Barring all of Saban’s or Smart’s starters having to take a Physics test during the playoffs (Stanford baseball team-style), ain’t nobody hanging with either of them. And if the CFP committee does the right thing and ranks whomever of Bama or Ugga loses in the SEC Championship game #2 or #3 (instead of putting them at #4 out of principle), neither of them will lose to anyone but each other. Hell, neither of them will lose to anyone but each other regardless. Have you actually been watching teams like the State Penn and the OK Boomers this year? They’re only ranked highly because no one else is any good in college feetball, either. This is a two team race, and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.

Question from VUAllDay:

So we drive the ball efficiently down the field and have 1st down inside the 10 yard line. What genius decided that Seals around the right end was a such a good a play, that we should run it twice, consecutively gaining zero yards?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I didn’t have too many complaints about the play-calling on Saturday night but holy shit was that a bad play call.

Doreontheplains: The designed run on 2nd down in that area of the field was dumb. If it was right on the goal line and you get the same defensive alignment (would not happen), sure, skip the handoff and just go barreling home.

To be clear, the first play was a read option where Seals mis-read the end who started to slide down but changed his mind last second, which put Seals off on his read. That call I liked because I have watched a lot worse runners at QB amble into the end zone on read options in that are of the field. The guys you are typically reading are so eager to make the goal line stand, so you can get the QB free pretty regularly.

Stanimal: Think these guys summed it up.

Paul: Here’s what went down. We ran it the first time, and it failed. Our mentality then became, “Well, it was so bad the first time, there’s no way that UConn will think we run it a 2nd time.” However, our staff lost this example of game theory, because they forgot that the only program on the field more incompetent than Vandy (FPI 122) was UConn (FPI 128). UConn recognized that they would do the same thing themselves in this situation, and therefore beat us at our own game.

Andrew VU ‘04: I believe his name is Karl Dorrell, though occasionally he goes by Ted Cain.

Question from VandyImport:

Given that it was raining, and that our program has a total of four winning seasons since the Bicentennial, exactly how crowded should our tailgate scene have been on Saturday? Please round to the nearest Bonnaroo.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: You should have been able to throw an empty bottle of bourbon and not even hit the next tailgate.

Doreontheplains: My crew is in the same spot for every home game, so I don’t care who else shows up.

Stanimal: Well, I don’t think you can round when the answer is zero.

Paul: My biggest Vandy conspiracy theory was that James Franklin paid fans to go to games. There’s no way that a football culture just appeared overnight. Coach Lea, if you give me $100,000 in Cash I can turn it into at least 2,000 fans in the stadium next home game. What do you have to lose? (Except a BMW, maybe).

Andrew VU ‘04: Rounding to the nearest Bonnaroo would equal zero Bonnaroos. Hope this helps.

Question from RocketCityVandy:

So, I dressed my new daughter in a Vanderbilt onesie before the game on Saturday. Have I cursed her to a life of misery and pain?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yes, you are a bad parent who should be reported to CPS.

Doreontheplains: You have set them up for a lifetime of sporting misery. However, you are still a much better parent than Paul plans to be.

Stanimal: Yes. My wife just about never lets my daughters wear Vanderbilt clothing. The exception is baseball season. While I am somewhat irked by that, I also recall that wearing Vanderbilt attire on game days is actually a very empty feeling.

Paul: I have amazing parents. However, the worst thing they ever did was raise me as a Vanderbilt fan. Given, it’s my fault for choosing to go there for college as well thus sentencing me to a lifetime of pain and disappointment, but I plan on raising my children as Bama fans and seeing if they turn out more capable and confident than I did.

Andrew VU ‘04: No. You have raised her to understand that things may not always work out, no matter how hard you try, as some times, things are stacked against you. Then, in the spring, there’s baseball, which reminds you that when you work hard, have talent, and do things the right way, you are often rewarded. Frankly, it’s the best thing you could have done for her. Oh, and between those two seasons, there are occasionally Frisbee dogs at halftime.

p.s. She likely to be any good at bowling?