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Week 11 Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Kentucky at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from Your Uncle Mike:

The Blackout uniform design. Yes or no?

They grew on me. I know they were supposed to be all black but, I’d like to see them in different combos. Gold or White pants? The Gold helmet. The “Vandy” script helmet.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Meh. I don’t necessarily mind the all-black look, but aside from that the uniforms had kind of a generic look to them, like a high school team that just ordered all-black jerseys with gold numbers. I generally prefer their normal look this season, which is a very good look.

Stanimal: It’s ok, but it definitely needs to be jazzed up.

Doreontheplains: I liked the idea. It did not work though. The pants and/or helmet needed a gold stripe or something. They looked like practice jerseys someone had put shiny names and numbers on to hide that they were practice jerseys.

Paul: Tim Corbin has been quoted saying that the issue with Vandy Football is that their uniforms change so much that they don’t ever have an identity to come back to. I think that’s old school, but I also think toying around with your uniforms a bunch when your team is 2-8 never looks good.

Andrew VU ‘04: It’s a no from me, dog. Don’t get me wrong, the all black part is good... it’s just the gold lame MC Hammer Pants style numbers that throws me. Do a regular gold piped with white, or just a regular, non-MC Hammer Pants gold and I’m in.


Question from Mark Lonergan:

In order to fix VU Football, how many years will Clark Lea need? And how patient will the Trustees and our AD be in letting Clark fix the team?

Can this team be fixed? Permanently? Can we ever become even a consistent .500 team in the SEC? And if so, how?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Clark Lea is going to get three years at an absolute minimum, and that’s only if the team just shows zero improvement in 2022 and 2023 — think three consecutive 2-3 win seasons and something like a 1-23 SEC record. I mean, for starters, it’s kind of the athletic department’s fault that the program is in its current state, both because they haven’t really made the necessary investments in the football program and because they pointlessly brought Derek Mason back for 2020, as though he were going to bounce back from the ridiculously awful 2019 season when he had Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Jared Pinkney, and Kalija Lipscomb as seniors and did... that.

I think if the investments are really coming, and if Clark Lea really is the guy, then you could see something like what Mark Stoops has done at Kentucky, where they’re not exactly challenging Georgia but they can beat basically everybody else in the East on an annual basis.

Stanimal: He’s going to get until the facilities under Vandy United are finished (barring unforeseen delays). Clark Lea was not hired to provide a magical salve to win now. He was hired to right a sinking ship concurrently with the fixing of the years of blatant apathy that the previous administration put on athletics. The difference between Lea and Mason is that if there is not a demonstration in improvement, he will not get the Derek Mason lifeline. That’s because Mason’s extension was largely a financial savings maneuver (i.e. the consequences of a really badly negotiated contract). Lea is not going to get the same benefit for poor performance, but he will be given time to let Barton and his staff recruit to right the ship. So my guess is four years.

I do think your stated goal of being a consistent .500 team can be done, particularly if we can get some renewed enthusiasm for the program from a couple of classes. I don’t mean to knock on our guys who have stayed and played, but going through the doldrums the way we have has a way of hurting morale. It starts with the attitude of the players, and from there we’ll just have to see.

Doreontheplains: What is “fixed”? A bowl game? I think that is probably the first marker. Before Wake started showing life, next year seemed like an outside but plausible chance even with how this season has gone. This team probably should be at 4-6 (ETSU and South Carolina). The problem next season will be getting to 3 SEC wins. The 2023 schedule is pretty friendly, so I would say that should probably be a bowl team barring unforseen circumstances. He will absolutely get at least 2023 if not 2024 unless there is another 2-win season.

Long term, Mark Stoops probably is the best case scenario. I would take that in a heartbeat. Being a team that is .500 or better 50% of the time or better is pretty reasonable assuming the new level of investment continues going forward. Even if Clark is not the answer, the changes will signal to the next coach that Vanderbilt is ready to support him and do what he needs to be successful

Paul: AOG raised a great point on our twitter account that highlighted the average tenure of FBS football coaches has declined from around 7 years to around 4 years. Simply put, a lot of schools which have no business acting spoiled when it comes to head coaching success are quick to abandon ship if their leader isn’t showing promise 3-4 seasons in. In HCCL’s case, I think we need to give him his due chance. Derek Mason certainly got his.

On this note, though, I think there’s a difference between giving a fair chance and realizing incompetency. If we’re sitting here in 2024, still 2-8 in November, and still losing SEC games by 40+ points consistently, I think that’s an indication that things aren’t headed in the right direction.

Andrew VU ‘04: I would say three more years. If we’re not bowl eligible in the 2024 season, then it has been a complete and utter failure. Right now, aside from the WR position, we just don’t have the talent to compete in this league. Or any P5 league, to be honest. I would follow what Greg Schiano is doing at Rutgers, as he returned home to a team completely bereft of talent in a league which punishes that, as well. If Lea mirrors Schiano’s trajectory, we will have made an A+ hire. If not, let’s hope he can at least be his own coach, Bobby Johnson. Then it’s a solid B.

As for the “can we ever get to .500 in the SEC,” let’s look at our Brigadoon era when the Old Bald Poach brought us to three straight bowls in 2011-2013, and see what our SEC record was then.

2011: 2-6 (Wins over Ole Piss and Kentucky)

2012: 5-3 (Wins over Missourah, The War Tigers, Kentucky, Ole Piss, and The Buttchuggers)

2013: 4-4 (Wins over Ugga, The Jorts, Kentucky, and The Buttchuggers)

So, though Jimmy Franks was 11-13 in the SEC during his 3 year run, he did hit .500 or over consistency in his 2nd and 3rd year. It can be done. You just have to be fantastic, Kentucky has to be a bottom feeder, as do Ole Piss, and The Buttchuggers. At the moment, the only SEC bottom feeding teams are The Game Penises, Missourah (spits), and us—though Florida is aging worse than Steve Bannon as the season progresses. With the state of the league as it is in 2021, I’d take winning three conference games every year once we have the roster Clark wants. You?

Of course, if you schedule it right, you just need 2 SEC wins each year to go bowling.


Question from VandyFan1:

QFTMB from what i saw ken seals didnt seem to do any thing right and appeared to get injured while mike wright got 2 touchdowns what are your thoughts?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah. Pretty much. I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that Lea appears pot committed to Seals and square it with the available evidence and I’m coming up empty.

Stanimal: Yeah I have no clue what’s going on, but that’s not really surprising given the lack of any real plan on offense that we’ve seen. I’m basically punting and waiting until they fix this offense next year, and if they don’t do something substantial to fix it Lea’s leash starts to get much shorter.

Doreontheplains: I haven’t gotten a chance to re-watch the game yet. My thoughts during the game were that the playcalling was even more conservative than normal. Seals finger probably was not 100% like Clark said they would wait to happen. The pick 6 was an ugly throw that looked like he could not grip the ball properly. If Seals is FULLY healthy, I would still use him as the main QB, though ESPN thinks Wright was INCREDIBLE (83.2 QBR). Judging by last Saturday, Seals will not be fully (or even like 90%) healthy, so you go Wright all the way.

At this point, I would also shrug if they said Wright was going to be the starter for the rest of this season no matter what Seals’s health is. I would disagree, but it really is no worth arguing over. Neither of them are the problem on offense, and Wright can hide the most glaring deficiency a bit, even if he makes the one strength of this offense less effective.

Paul: Congratulations - your eyes are not failing you even while your football team is. The staff will have a good eight months to decide what kind of identity this offense wants to take moving forward, so I think Coach Lea himself doesn’t even really know the answer to that question quite yet.

Andrew VU ‘04: You have passed your annual vision test. Go forth and drive without glasses.


Question from ConquerAndPrevail:

Tell me we will beat THEM. Lie if necessary.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Sure. Are we talking about shooty hoops or baseball here?

Stanimal: Lie.

Doreontheplains: If 2014 Vanderbilt can get within 7 of beating THEM, this team has to win, right?

Paul: I think there’s a chance. Extremely small, but definitely a chance. Enough of a chance to where I’ll watch, which is about as dangerous a possibility as my mental health can ask for.

Andrew VU ‘04: E. coli outbreak from all the Buttchugging. They cannot field enough players and subsequently forfeit.


Question from BarnDore1950:

You have total carte blanche to install any offensive system you desire and hire any offensive coaches you need. Given the typical three star players that Vanderbilt can recruit, what system gives us the best chance of success?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m not saying I want to go totally conventional, but I don’t think Vanderbilt needs to run something truly out there to succeed... maybe just something like what Dave Clawson does at Wake.

Stanimal: RPO with Mike Wright please. Or let’s do the triple option!!!! ::ducks as hired Auburn man throws bottles at him::

Doreontheplains: Stan, the term you were looking for was “read option” or “spread option.” You do not want Mike Wright running a bunch of RPOs based on his skillset. This is my fault for never running a full explainer because folks not knowing the difference in RPO versus read option makes me want to break things.

Personally, I would like something like unshackled Andy Ludwig. Go look at the offenses in 2016 and 2018 that beat Ole Miss and THEM to become bowl eligible. Use lots of motions and shifts to give your QB a chance to read defenses pre-snap while creating opportunities for undisciplined responses from defenders opening creases for the rushing attack or causing coverage breakdowns for the passing game. You can do that from under center or shotgun and with tons of personnel groupings.

Being multiple in formations and personnel adds to the complexities for a college defense to defend without getting overly complicated with ball-handling like a triple or spread option team. It also sets you up to adapt to who your best players are along with injuries each season. Vanderbilt tends to be light on depth. Having an offense than can plug and play is important.

Paul: Give me the Gus Malzahn RPO offense that Auburn ran with Nick Marshall in 2013. It was the most fun to watch, and allowed an Auburn team to make fools out of the best defenses in the country. I’m not saying Mike Wright is in Nick Marshall’s stratosphere, but including some kind of guessing element to defenses trying to stop us could put us within striking distances of some teams.

Andrew VU ‘04: I actually don’t think it has to be all that crazy. We have had perfectly cromulent offensive coordinators running relatively normal offensive systems which have worked in the past. The Old Bald Poach and John Donovan did it largely with the run game and bubble screens. Even Derp Mason made 2 solid offensive coordinator hires in Andy Ludwig and Todd Fitch (why the New Bald Coach didn’t just keep Fitch is beyond me). Of course, they had Shurms McKenzie, Vaughn, Lipscomb, and Pinkney.

In other words, give me the players, and pretty much any offensive coach will figure out how to make it work

That said, give me that mullet from Coastal Cackalacky, Lincoln Reilly, Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach (no, fuck that guy), the boy wonder who ran the passing game of LSU’s last natty, Byron Leftwich, Andy Reid, or Sean McVay. I mean, if we’re going to get nuts, let’s get nuts.


Question from Admirable Snack Bar:

I’ve heard a lot of rumors about guys checking out and planning to leave at the end of the season. Using hearsay or snaps, can you make any educated guesses about who’s gone?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Let me start by saying this: this is a team with a first-year head coach that’s likely going to finish the season 2-10. It would actually be a shock if some guys on the team weren’t planning to leave at the end of the season. There are also (and you’re not supposed to talk about this) some guys who the coaching staff may not actually want to stick around.

I think most guys who are in their fourth year who aren’t really playing will be gone; it’s actually my understanding that Vanderbilt doesn’t guarantee scholarships beyond four years, so guys who are earning their degree may not have their scholarships renewed. I’m not going to name names, but just about anyone who isn’t a freshman who’s barely seeing the field is a threat to leave as well. I would also posit that almost anybody who isn’t playing for this team is extremely replaceable. (Hell, some of the guys who are playing seem pretty damn replaceable...)

Stanimal: You’ll never really hear specifics about it so it’s hard to speculate, but any older players who are getting played over are probably gone. That and freshmen who do not seem to have a path to playing time.

Doreontheplains: The only rumor about a specific player was a DB who I will not name because the kid is still out there playing hard. I just overheard a family member (my season tickets are apparently right in the middle of where Vanderbilt now allocates parent tickets) talking about him wanting to move on at season’s end.

Paul: Yeah, look for an exodus of upperclassmen Mason players who believe that getting more playing time at a program like Tulsa or App State will be the deciding factor in allowing them to have an NFL career. Transferring is so easy, though, that we’ll be able to replenish so long as Coach Lea shows up to work each day.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ve not heard any rumors, but of course, I told Jessica that Laney’s new jeans made her look hippy, so I’m pretty much persona non-grata amongst the mean girls at school right now.


Question from Jeturn:

Who is favored this weekend: Commentariat or Total Yards?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: This is, of course, the wrong question to ask.

While Vanderbilt-Ole Miss kicks off at 6:30, the basketball team has a home game against Winthrop that tips off at 7. (Can we not move the game?) The real contest is whether the basketball game thread or the football game thread will have more comments.

Stanimal: The way your question is phrased, I am thinking you might be including BOTH basketball and football games, as “the Commentariat” encompasses both basketball and football. Therefore, the Commentariat shall win.

Doreontheplains: Unless wounded Ken Seals plays the full game while visibly struggling, the yards all day.

Paul: I’ll take yards. Let’s believe in something.

Andrew VU ‘04: This is interesting. Will we start Mike Wright (which, come on, Coach Shine-O Ball-O, how much more do you need to see of Ken Seals behind this offensive line?) and boost our offense? Will our line even be able to hold up against Ole Piss’s formidable pass rushers? Will our overall comments mirror our own depressed state whilst watching the game? Will more people just check out and gear up for the shooty hoops game against Winthrop?

Ole Miss is giving up 190 rushing yards and 237 passing yards per game for a total of 427 yards per game. When we look at those totals against teams whose offenses are crap like ours, Louisville went for 155 rushing and 200 passing (355 total); Austin Peay had 114 rushing and 260 passing (374 total); and fellow SEC lifer Tulane put up 139 rushing and 166 passing (305 total). Let’s just average those three for our line.

As the Coral switch has knocked out our comment archive but for the most recent games, I can only give you a two game trend. Still, I think it will be enough to make the answer quite clear. We had 204 comments for the Missourah (spits) game, and only 100 for last week’s Kentucky beat down.

Let me set the lines for each.

Total Offensive Yards: 345

Total Comments: 150

Take the yards. It won’t be close. Oh, and I am not remotely pleased this question made me do this much research at 6am on a Tuesday.


Question from Dore31:

QFTMB: what area(s) do you see as potential for a big leap forward in 2022 (year 2)?

To Mason’s credit, the defense was vastly improved in 2015 from 2014 and that team pulled off 4 wins, 2 one-score losses, and was competitive in multi-score losses to Ole Miss and Georgia. You could see just enough in 2015 to think a bowl was possible in 2016 with a little more offense (again credit to Mason and particularly Ludwig in the last two games of the 2016 season here).

Where do you see that potentially happening in 2022 or do you think it’s more likely we’re set for another long, miserable season given the relative talent level?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think we need to figure out the offensive side of the ball. The defense, at least in terms of philosophy and scheme, seems fine to me; the biggest issues on that side of the ball seem to be related to athletic ability more than they do to the scheme.

The offense is a different story. It doesn’t really seem like the offense knows what it wants to do, and it actually looks like a situation where you have a titular offensive coordinator making the game plan each week and then a different guy calling the plays, because this actually may be what is happening. You also have your third offensive line coach in as many years and I’m not even 100 percent sure that the offensive line coach is on the same page as the coordinator, given that the coordinator is straight from the Air Raid tree and the offensive line coach comes from the Iowa/North Dakota State Manball tree. So... figure it out, I guess.

Stanimal: I actually think another offseason, if we handle the offensive philosophy issues and really have a plan, will show a good boost in QB. Seals has been awful, Wright has been alright, and I think both could make jumps depending on which one we choose to cater to (and we will have to choose).

Doreontheplains: The offense can be drastically better. Of the key contributors, only Cole Clemens and Chris Pierce are out of eligibility. It will be interesting to see who decides to move on with eligibility remaining. A cogent game plan that consistently caters to whichever QB is the starter would also be a big boost.

Defensively, it depends on if we have any particularly athletics recruits who can be ready to play immediatley. Or find some fast transfers. They could still be better on that side just by having a full offseason with these coaches. I have liked a lot what the defense has shown, even if the execution has fallen apart at times.

Paul: I’m excited for the Wright vs Seals QB battle to occupy my twitter feed from July until Aloha Kickoff. I think Coach Lea’s defense takes a massive step forward in his 2nd season. Having a full offseason to train and develop his personnel will prove crucial.

Andrew VU ‘04: Crootin (I hope). Until we get the Jimmies and Joes, the only improvements you’ll see is regarding coachable things, like not committing penalties, and not making dumb plays. Next year will be bad. No getting around that.


Question from VU1970:

In a league composed of Vandy, Rice, UConn, Mass, Bethune-Cookman, Tulane, Florida International, New Mexico, Akron, Sewanee, Birmingham-Southern and Kansas, who would win the conference, and where would Vandy finish?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Are we still allowed to tell recruits that they’re going to play in the SEC?

Stanimal: Don’t know but I think Tulane would win it right now.

Doreontheplains: No one would care. And that conference would die in no time with Vanderbilt probably ceasing all athletics if it ever joined such a conference.

Paul: With the $300M upgrades coming to our athletic department, Vanderbilt will soon have the best facilities in whatever conference we’re demoted to in 2027. This season, however, I think the ‘Dores finish behind both Kansas and Tulane in the Loser Conference.

Andrew VU ‘04: I reject your hypothetical, as it is unanswerable. If Vanderbilt football were to join such a conference, they would not get players with even a shred of SEC caliber talent. We’re talking a 2 star average, if we’re lucky. Beyond that, joining such a conference would make the fanbase care even less, and donations would plummet. I’d put us square in the middle. Florida International would win, though, as it would be angling to get out of such a shitty conference and cash in on the big bucks.


Question from Parlagi:

I don’t really have a question, but could you please make fun of the new Conference USA lineup?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s pretty stupid, yeah. It’s basically just teams that insist on playing FBS football but can’t find a better home. So it just ends up including UTEP and FIU in the same conference (gets handed a note from Pinman) oh wait you mean to tell me that that was already their conference alignment? Anyway, it’s super hilarious that Middle apparently turned down a MAC invite for... that.

Stanimal: So I get Jacksonville State and Liberty coming to Conference USA as it’s IMHO an upgrade over the ASUN, but why are New Mexico State and Sam Houston State leaving the WAC? (checks current list of WAC teams) Oh....that’s why. The problem with realignment is that I just forget where these teams went.

Doreontheplains: Having patriotic elements as part of your conference branding then having that lineup is an insult to America.

Paul: Don’t make fun of our future peers. Liberty will be our biggest rival before you know it.

Andrew VU ‘04: No problem. 1) Jacksonville is not a state. 2) Even if it were, this is not the Jacksonville you’re thinking about. 3) Both Jacksonvilles suck, but they got the one that’s in Alabama. 4) If you take Falwell U., you have to be obvious religious hypocrites who take awkward pictures with your mistresses where both of your pants are unbuttoned and both FUPAs are showing. I DO NOT MAKE THE RULES. 5) There are only 9 teams in your conference, which is an affront to math.