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Missouri 37, Vanderbilt 28: The Commodores need to start better

Once again, Vanderbilt got off to a bad start.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Missouri
Five Factors Vanderbilt Missouri
Plays 65 71
Total Yards 380 505
Yards Per Play 5.8 7.1
Rushing Attempts 34 42
Rushing Yards 268 287
Rushing YPP 7.9 6.8
Passing Attempts 31 29
Passing Yards 112 218
Passing YPP 3.6 7.5
Rushing Success Rate 44.10% 45.20%
Passing Success Rate 35.50% 48.30%
Success Rate 40.00% 46.50%
Avg. Field Position 23.7 33.3
PP40 5.6 4.63
Turnovers 1 1

So, here’s an interesting statistic for this season:

  • First Quarter: Opponents 110, Vanderbilt 23
  • Second Quarter: Opponents 71, Vanderbilt 45
  • Third Quarter: Opponents 62, Vanderbilt 34
  • Fourth Quarter: Opponents 77, Vanderbilt 32

Let’s state the obvious: Vanderbilt isn’t a good team, and that’s reflected in the fact that they’ve lost all four quarters this season — though they’ve actually won the third quarter 34-24 if you throw out the beatdowns against Georgia and Florida (in which they were outscored by a combined 38-0 in the third quarter.) But while they’ve been competitive in the final three quarters, they’ve been completely lost in the first quarter. Only once have they led after one, and that was 3-0 against ETSU. After the first quarter, they trailed 7-0 against Colorado State, 14-7 against Stanford, 35-0 against Georgia, 6-3 against UConn, 14-0 against Florida, 14-3 against South Carolina, 10-0 against Mississippi State, and 10-7 against Missouri.

No, I don’t have a good explanation for this. Yes, I realize that the 10-7 deficit against Missouri was one of the team’s better performances in the first quarter — but keep in mind that this was a somewhat fortunate break away from being 17-0. Missouri’s first two offensive drives had an average of 6.5 yards per play and a 53.3% success rate; Vanderbilt’s first two offensive drives netted a grand total of 6 yards (on six plays) and had a 16.7% success rate.

If you’re curious, for the rest of the game, Vanderbilt averaged 6.3 yards per play and had a 42.4% success rate; Missouri averaged 7.3 yards per play, but with a 44.6% success rate. Vanderbilt still gave up a couple of huge plays that probably accounted for Missouri’s win — a 45-yard Hail Mary to end the first half, and a 73-yard run by Tyler Badie after the Commodores closed to within two in the fourth quarter and needed a stop — but this was pretty much an even game after the first couple of drives.

Why Vanderbilt struggles so much every week coming out of the gate is a question that I don’t really have an answer to. Most teams run a scripted drive or two to open the game, and the reason for that is more or less to establish a “control” to see what does and doesn’t work. So perhaps the coaching staff is good at in-game adjustments, and that doesn’t show up until after the first couple of drives, but that still doesn’t explain why they’re so bad on the scripted drives.

And finally, a few thoughts on this team. Per CollegeFootballData.com, Vanderbilt had a 15% win expectancy in this game; they had a 4% win expectancy against South Carolina two weeks ago, and an 8% win expectancy against Colorado State in September. On the season, Vanderbilt’s postgame win expectancies add up to 0.89 — meaning that the numbers say Vanderbilt should have 0.89 wins this season, round up to 1. If there’s a takeaway here, it’s that Vanderbilt has had a chance to win in a couple of games (and actually did win one game) that the numbers say they had no business being competitive in. I don’t know what that says about the coaching staff, but it might be a positive. (Then again, you might view it as a negative that the team had a 54% win expectancy against UConn, and 15% and 4% against bad Missouri and South Carolina teams.)

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
Mike Wright 14 28 50.00% 122 3 1 3 10 112 35.50% 3.6

Rushing Stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Patrick Smith 17 95 5.6 1 52.90%
Mike Wright 11 162 14.7 0 27.30%
James Ziglor III 5 16 3.2 0 40.00%
Joseph Bulovas 1 -5 -5 0 0.00%

We’ll probably end up having the quarterback debate into the offseason, I guess, or at least until Ken Seals is available to return. And it’s a tough debate.

My thoughts right now are that while Mike Wright offers more explosiveness to the offense, his inefficiency running the offense makes him less of a viable option than Ken Seals — on Saturday, Wright had runs of 69 and 70 yards, and also had just one other run that qualified as a successful play (in 9 attempts.) And he had a couple of big passing plays against South Carolina, but those have mostly been gone over the last two games — which was, for one week, the only thing making this a debate.

But as Bruno Reagan said a few weeks ago, Wright might be a better quarterback for a busted team, simply because when efficiency isn’t an option, going for the guy with more explosiveness is at least a defensible choice — but if you think Seals is the better option in 2022, then you probably want him to get as many reps as possible for the rest of 2021. What’s more, Vanderbilt’s remaining three games — vs. Kentucky, at Ole Miss, at Tennessee — are going to be an uphill climb either way.

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
Chris Pierce 7 4 54 0 57.10% 7.7 13.5 57.10%
Will Sheppard 6 1 9 0 16.70% 1.5 9 16.70%
Patrick Smith 5 4 20 0 80.00% 4 5 40.00%
Cam Johnson 5 3 16 2 60.00% 3.2 5.3 40.00%
James Ziglor III 1 1 19 0 100.00% 19 19 100.00%
Gavin Schoenwald 1 1 4 1 100.00% 4 4 100.00%
Devin Boddie 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 #DIV/0! 0.00%
Ben Bresnahan 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 #DIV/0! 0.00%

This was probably the most Cam Johnson has been targeted in the passing game in a while, and he responded with two touchdown grabs. Gavin Schoenwald also caught a touchdown pass — the first of his Vanderbilt career — and overall this was a fine day for the receiving corps. The one exception was Will Sheppard, who was targeted six times and had just one catch, though I really have no idea how many of those passes were catchable. It did seem that Wright wasn’t trying to force as many throws to him as Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks have all season, though.

Defense

  • Vanderbilt’s defense wasn’t credited with a sack on Saturday, though that doesn’t include what probably should have been a sack right before the interception; that was instead called a run for a 4-yard loss by the quarterback. Either way, the defense did come up with four tackles for loss on the game.
  • Leading tackler was Anfernee Orji with 12, followed by Michael Owusu (9), Gabe Jeudy (8), Jaylen Mahoney (6), and Ethan Barr (5.) Orji, Jeudy, Malik Langham, and Daevion Davis were credited with tackles for loss; Mahoney and Davis had a pass breakup; and Davis was credited with the team’s lone quarterback hurry.

Notes

  • True freshman OL Delfin Xavier Castillo got his second career start in place of Ben Cox, who didn’t play and who I’m assuming is injured. Also, Patrick Smith got his first career start with Rocko Griffin out.
  • Updated numbers of games played for the true freshmen: John Howse IV (2), Myles Capers (1), Marlen Sewell (4), Tyson Russell (5), Patrick Smith (8), James Ziglor III (8), Dylan Betts-Pauley (1), CJ Taylor (5), Errington Truesdell (9), Michael Mincey (5), Devin Lee (4), Delfin Xavier Castillo (3), Gage Pitchford (1), Quincy Skinner (7), Marcus Bradley (2), Jacques Hunter (1), Terion Sugick (3.)
  • Obviously, with three games left, everybody who either hasn’t played or has played in one game is redshirting, but that’s a minimum of eight true freshmen who won’t get a redshirt, and with the notable exception of Patrick Smith most of them have had a minimal impact. Ziglor basically had to play because of a lack of depth in the running back room, but you sure can question the practice of burning redshirts for a few special teams plays per game on a team that’s probably going 2-10 anyway.
  • The counterargument, of course, is that some of the true freshmen are probably better athletes than the upperclassmen on the team. (Oh yeah, and Re’Mahn Davis will get a redshirt for this season.)
  • Notable absences, aside from the ones already mentioned: Allan George, De’Rickey Wright (second game in a row), Alex Williams, Brayden Bapst (second game in a row.)

What’s Next

Vanderbilt has a long-awaited bye week before hosting Kentucky on November 13. Game time and television coverage will be announced later today.