Question from DenverDore:
What can/needs to be done to show up in the first quarter and not go down multiple scores right away before we adjust and play competitively the rest of the game? Or, why are the first 10 minutes so painful to watch the the remaining 50 giving us hope and optimism?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: The first thing to understand is that for most teams, the first drive or two are “scripted” — meaning, they’ve drawn up 10-15 plays that they’ve worked on all week and know they’re going to run before the game kicks off. Sometimes teams will deviate from the script if, for instance, they have a negative play and end up in 3rd and long, but as a general rule, that’s what they’re doing on those first couple of drives. The idea is to create kind of a control so they can see what the defense is doing.
So, one way to read this is that Vanderbilt is bad at stopping the other team when they’re running plays they’ve been working on all week and may or may not be doing things they don’t normally do, but then they’re actually pretty good at making adjustments after that. But that doesn’t explain the other side of the ball, where Vanderbilt seems unusually bad at the “scripted play” portion of the game. I don’t really have a good answer for that but it might get you a pretty long way to understanding why a lot of fans want the offensive coordinator sacked.
Stanimal: Yeah, I just think we’re real bad at initial game planning. Tom pretty much explained why.
Doreontheplains: Completely unsubstantiated thought. What if Raih has more influence on the scripted portion?
Then on the other side it's simply that, as Tom said, we cannot matchup to stop teams when they are doing their best things.
Paul: Maybe our conditioning is just that great compared to other teams. What we lack in talent we make up for in suicides after practice. If we played 10 quarter games, we could possibly have a winning record right now.
Andrew VU ‘04: In addition to what Tom said about the scripted plays, there tends to be two parts of a game when the size/strength disparity of line play shows up: 1) In the first quarter, when players are most fresh, and 2) In the fourth quarter, when players are most tired. I hate to keep banging the same drum, but until we get the Jimmies and Joes in the trenches, this will remain a major problem. If Dayo Odeyingo, Adam Butler, and Stephen Weatherly types are on the D-Line; and Chris Williams, Will Holden, and Justin Skule types are on the O-Line, we will fare much better in these situations.
Question from WestEndMayhem:
Fill in the blank for the mailbag:
Whenever I watch The Derek Mason Defensive Experience at Auburn give up 20+ unanswered points and lose another game, I feel ________.
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Happiness, because Derek Mason just bought the Game Penises an extra year or two of Shane Beamer. (Though really Derek Mason’s defense is... not the problem at Auburn.)
Stanimal: Curious. Why do people think he’s a defensive genius? Have they watched tape?
Doreontheplains: Basically the same pain as watching his Vanderbilt defenses give up 35+.
Paul: Satisfied, but sad. Sure, it validates commodore fans that even with a roster full of top recruits, Mason struggles to schematically defend in the SEC. My hope for CDM, though, was that he would bounce right back and excel as a power five defensive coordinator because he was a great guy and mentor for the players. When it came to everything else about the job, though, he struggled.
Andrew VU ‘04: Vindicated. At Vanderbilt, and even here amongst the fanatics who write for and comment on this sports blog, we are proud to advocate more patience than any other SEC fanbase (and increasingly, more than pretty much all D1 places not named Duke, Wake, or Stansbury). Though this season has been terrible, and we expect next year to be terrible, as well, most of us have decided to reserve judgement on The Clark Lea Experience until at least 2023, as we quite clearly do not have the type of and depth of players needed to succeed in the SEC right now.
We gave Bobby Johnson three years of abject misery (the 2-10, 2-10, and 2-9 2002-2004 start to his tenure) for much the same reasons (see Toll-Booth Woody Widenhofer, and may he rest in peace), before BoJo rewarded us with a different kind of misery when he won the first 4 games in 2005 (against Wake Forest, Arkansas, Ole Piss, and Richmond), only to lose to MTSU (and their 13 man field goal blocking unit), LSU, UGA, The Game Penises (by one score), The Gainesville Jorts (by a flag thrown on Earl Bennet for moving his shoulder half an inch that the refs thought was some form of dancing), and Kentucky by 5 points, culminating with a “what if” win against The Buttchuggers in Jay Cutler’s last game as a Commodore. Still, we could tell The Wild and Crazy Guy had the program moving in the right direction, and though he won 4 in 2006 and 5 in 2007, finally, in 2008, gave us our first Bowl Game since the 1982 Hall of Fame Classic against Air Force. That we would win that ‘08 bowl against Boston College in the ugliest possible fashion such that the MVP was a punter notwithstanding, BoJo did the impossible... eventually... and set the stage for The Brigadoon Era with The Old Bald Poach (who was so obviously the right guy from day one that it still hurts that he left us).
Still, some times you can tell someone’s just not the guy right from the jump. This was the case with Robbie “The Turkey Inseminator” Caldwell’s lone 2-10 abomination in 2010—and you all immediately saw what the talent on that team could do with a cromulent coaching staff the following three years. This was also quite obviously the case with Derp Mason and his attempt to “Man-Ball” the SEC at Vanderbilt University through his patented “Process.” It wasn’t just that this was a dumb strategy from a ‘crootin perspective, it just wasn’t living in reality, as though you may be able to push around some Pac-12 teams (not all, but many), few bulldozers can move The University of Georgia’s current defensive line. Probably not a good idea to have someone who couldn’t see that try to overcome all the structural disadvantages of being the one nerd school amongst the football factories. We gave him seven years—6 too many, in my opinion—with the last two seasons technically counting as war crimes against the fanbase. He took us to two bowls—and we salute him for it—but whether it was giving rambling non-sensical press conferences, losing his personal notebooks containing all his plays, believing Stephen Rivers was the guy at QB, or the game which launched a thousand “Het-O-Meter” jokes, can we all finally admit that Mason was clearly in above his Het from the moment he signed his first contract, and, as such, was a guy we should have Turkey Inseminator-ed after one year?
Question from vandyfan1:
QFTMB though we lost by 14 thought we played well considering we were up against the number 10 team in the country. Thoughts?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I wrote this in the Statistical, but Saturday night felt like when Clark Lea crossed the mythical bridge from defensive coordinator to head coach. Because a defensive coordinator isn’t going for it on 4th and 1 on his own 34.
And that, simply, was the thing that Derek Mason never figured out. Because I think the biggest reason a lot of defensive coordinators fail as head coaches is that they think that they’re going to win games by a score of like 10-7, and that simply isn’t going to fly in college football in 2021. So you can’t be punting away scoring chances. Sure, absolutely, punt from your own 10, but you should never, ever be punting at the other team’s 40.
Stanimal: Yeah, it is somewhat surprising we kept it within reach. We’ll just have to see.
Doreontheplains: The details were good for the most part. The things coaches can control were positives. Penalties and uncharacteristic drops kept that game from being even closer.
Paul: I hate moral victories more than the next guy, but I’ll certainly take the result we saw on Saturday. If anything, the game could have been closer if not for a few mental blunders from our team (namely false start and holding penalties deep in Ole Miss territory). Given, had the game been closer, I’m sure Ole miss could have easily turned up the urgency dial just a bit to put some more points on the board, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead and take the comfortable cover.
Perhaps a sign of things to come with Clark Lea, though. I loved his focus and fervor late in the game, as even down 14 late, he was locked in, hands on knees with every intention of coming back and winning. That kind of mentality will reverberate culturally to your players, so I was proud of the boys.
Andrew VU ‘04: Though the term “Moral Victory” is abhorred ‘round these parts, they certainly performed better than we expected they would against Ole Piss. Further, though they are quite obviously all Sisyphus pushing the boulder (the other SEC teams) up the cliff each week, only to watch it roll back down, I can’t be the only one who thinks each and every guy on the roster keeps getting up to push, no matter what. That’s something to give cause for optimism. Beyond that, as I’ve said these past few weeks, though we currently don’t have the current players to dominate with it, I’ve liked what I’ve seen, scheme-wise, from our defense. We’ve got a plan, we play hard, and we’ll generate turnovers. On offense, though we still need to improve on this side of the ball quite a bit, it was heartening to see Clark Lea stick with Mike Wright at QB, as he’s clearly the leader of the team.
Questions from Your Uncle Mike & Parlagi:
I’m going to throw this out there:
Dan Mullen for OC?
I’d like to tack onto this, and say please share any reasonable suggestions you’d like to see considered.
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: First of all, how dare you. Of course, the serious answer is that Dan Mullen will probably be a head coach somewhere in 2022 if he wants to be, and if he’s going to be an OC, it’s either going to be in the NFL or at a much bigger program than Vanderbilt.
That said, I would also accept Dan having to clean toilets at a seedy motel in Panama City Beach for the next year. Hopefully he can bring Todd Grantham with him.
Stanimal: Mullen will sit out a year before he calls plays at Vanderbilt. Would actually love to have him with Mike Wright, but not realistic.
I don’t know about other suggestions. I typically get more able to evaluate when it gets more clear as to who is interested.
Doreontheplains: Meh. The idea does not even enthuse me. He seems like he'd be a terrible fit with Clark.
Go poach Chadwell's OC(s). Maybe? Something, something Bob Stitt.
Realistically, I'd look at Cincy's OC if Fickell does not bring him to the next stop.
Paul: I mean yeah, just like we would have loved for Gus Malzahn to come call play for us this season. Mullen should absolutely be a head coach somewhere if he wants to be. However, maybe he wants to take that UF contract buyout nest egg and set his roots in Nashville?
Andrew VU ‘04: Dan Mullen will do the Ramajama Former Head Coach Intern Program with Nick Saban for a year and then get another big time Head Coaching gig in 2023. That’s how the game is played. It’s like former members of Congress being hired as lobbyists. Beyond that, I don’t want anyone on our staff who would ever willingly associate with that sentient anus, Todd Grantham.
I’m honestly not sure who I want at OC, besides Todd Fitch and/or anyone else who knows what they’re doing. I don’t necessarily think Clark needs to hit a HR with his OC hire, but it at least better be a double like Ludwig or Fitch. I just hope there’s someone out there who’s smart, talented, intuitive, and close enough to Clark Lea to want to hitch his wagon to him long-term, as anyone signing up to be the Vanderbilt OC in 2022 has to know they’re looking at one or two more rebuilding years before ‘crootin allows them to put their guys in a place to succeed.
Question from VU1970:
Has anyone ever found anything in life more important than beating Them?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: No.
Doreontheplains: That limit does not exist.
Paul: It’s the only thing that I really care about. ESPN’s FPI gives us a 3% chance that I’m convincing myself is a 50% chance. However, I highly recommend taking a chapter out of our neighbors out east’s book and watching this game with moonshine in hand because it won’t be a good one.
Andrew VU ‘04: I’ll yield my time to Carl: