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Week 9 Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Missouri at Vanderbilt
Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from Dore Fan in Dallas:

Like many folks, I think Vanderbilt should have beaten South Carolina and Missouri, except for some poor coaching and play calling (both offense and defense). So do we have a problem with HCCL or is it the OC and DC again, or something else?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So as I pointed out in the Statistical this week, Vanderbilt had a 4% postgame win expectancy against South Carolina and 15% against Missouri, which sounds weird but is best read as “Vanderbilt had no business being competitive in those games, but they were.” (They also had an 8% win expectancy against Colorado State and actually won that game.)

I’ve said this numerous times but I think a lot of the criticism of Lea is coming from folks just not wanting to admit how bad the talent gap is between Vanderbilt and most of the teams on the schedule. Now I think the OC does need to go, but that’s in spite of the fact that I’m not sure any OC could make an offense look good with this offensive line.

Stanimal: Look, I’m not going to sit here and say you can’t be skeptical of the Lea hire right now, especially because as we’ve said ad nauseum he had complete control over his OC hire and he screwed that up badly. That being said, this roster isn’t good and hasn’t really shown any evidence we should feel differently about it. When the impact players for a coach are not on the team, you can’t go and hit the head coach too hard. This is going to be a process and the question is whether the process starts to progress in a positive direction, something I’ll be demanding to see next year. (By the way, can we just skip to next year or talk about hoops or something?)

Doreontheplains: The offensive decisions have been bad way too often. The offensive line is a serious limitation, but too often the the play calls have either ignored or exacerbated the OL issues. Defensively, I think we have generally had a good plan. The execution has been decent, too, but the lack of speed emphasizes every mistake and presents too many options for opposing teams.

Lea appears to be letting his coordinators do their jobs. As someone who lived the the Gus Malzahn experience at Auburn, I much prefer this approach. Let the people you hired do their jobs. If they are especially bad, you make staff changes. Lea cannot afford to miss on the OC again though.

Paul: Same story, different week. These players are very bad. Lucky for us, we just lost two commits for 2022, so we can look forward to repeating this same discussion for years to come!

Andrew VU ‘04: It’s 99% the Jimmies and Joes and 1% the coaching decisions. Get ‘crootin!

Question from ForceJC10:

QFTMB - After more than 50 years of mostly bad-to-terrible football, as a fan, isn’t it time to simply say enough is enough?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Serious question: why now?

Like I get not wanting to watch a bad-to-terrible team but I’m at a loss to figure out why Clark Lea’s first year is the jumping off point and not, say, the team that actually went winless. Or, hell, Derek Mason’s first year. Or the Robbie Caldwell year. Or Dowhower. Or Woodyball.

Stanimal: Yeah I don’t really get how this is any different than Woody years or early Bobby Johnson. If that wasn’t enough to drive you off, I don’t know that this is all that bad. At least we aren’t committed to an obviously bad coach anymore, just a possible one.

Doreontheplains: Stockholm syndrome is real.

Paul: What we’re seeing this year is no different than any other 2 win campaign over the past half century. What does worry me, however, is that Vandy is doing a much worse job of engaging their current student body to make them be loyal future alumni when it comes to supporting their athletic teams. While we currently have an entire generation or two that supports Vanderbilt sports unconditionally and, let’s say it, to their own mental detriment, I don’t see that being the case down the road. Unless there’s a turnaround in performance, I don’t see this pool of loyal supporters lasting.

Andrew VU ‘04: Not for me. I’m in for life.

Question from DeweyDore:

Given we are predicting 1-2 out of 12 quarters of football remaining to be remotely competitive, will the status quo to enter the comment section remain the same, as the standard 2 drink minimum seems emotionally dangerous?

Additionally, for those of us who will subject ourselves to watching 12 miserable quarters of football, what are some silver linings we can watch for in these games to perhaps give us hope for next year?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think the silver lining to watch for is whether Vanderbilt can keep any of these games competitive. Because, really, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Tennessee remaining on the schedule, you’re expecting to lose all three of those badly. If any of them (but especially Tennessee) are competitive games, you can build on it for next year.

Granted, you’re getting into the point of the season where some guys have decided they’re not coming back and will check out on the season, and while a lot of those guys probably won’t play if they visibly don’t care, there’s going to be some of that. (I will prepare everybody for this by saying there are approximately five guys on this team who I would be upset if that specific player entered the transfer portal.)

Stanimal: Just hope to see some better football. Some splash plays. Some potential for the future. As far as the two drink minimum for the comments, I always far exceeded that so I don’t see the status quo changing. (Can we really just stop talking about football season? It’s. Over. I can’t even do previews because it’s basically a waste of time!)

Doreontheplains: Really, your best bet for enjoyment is to ignore the scoreboard and appreciate any good plays, whether that comes from individuals or scheme. Because I am weird, I am always fixated on things like that, though I am looking for good AND bad. For your own sanity, just focus on the good.

Paul: Have a watch party and do the same game you do for super bowl squares. If nothing else, cheering for random score combinations and bounces of the ball will be entertaining. The Commodore scores that end in “0” will be especially favorable.

Andrew VU ‘04: Next, you’ll want to wear pants. You can’t give an inch with these comments rules! I’ll largely be watching for defensive scheme (really liking the blitzes), the occasional great play by our WR corps, some (hopefully, hopefully) QB development, and the kid RB from NJ.

Question from Jeturn:

IF and only IF an OC position became available who are some potential candidates out there?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think they should give a call to Garrett Riley at SMU (assuming he doesn’t follow Sonny Dykes to a Big 12 job) or Tim Cramsey at Marshall. Both guys who can put points on the board and might be gettable.

Stanimal: So the thing about the OC hire is that I had zero problem with Lea trying to be creative, but he was WAY too cute with that. I honestly don’t know good candidates for it but anything is better than this crew.

Doreontheplains: No names immediately come to mind. I really hate that the Todd Fitch hire did not work out. I almost wish Mason had not reached out to him because he would probably still be at LA Tech. That bridge is burned though.

Paul: Ted Cain. Karl Dorrel. Madden Playbook.

Andrew VU ‘04: I am contractually obligated as a writer of this blog to bring up the name “Bob Stitt.” Though he hasn’t coached since 2019 (when he was the OC/QB Coach at Texas State, after a year of being an Offensive Assistant for the Mullet King himself at Okie State), he blah blah blah [insert joke about Mimes in Colorado here].

Question from Vandy Bias:

With Wright now responsible for every single Vandy play over 38 Yards, and throwing for as many TDs as Ken with three less INTs, throwing for nearly a yard more per attempt, and being ten yards away from being the teams leading rusher on 30 less attempts than the leading rusher (Rocko), why doesn’t CCL say screw it and give him the reins (until a better QB than Mike and Ken comes in) and build the offensive game plan around him. Something that expands upon the one we saw be successful against the Cocks and Mizzou.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So I’d have to go through all the stats, but it seems to me like Mike Wright offers more explosiveness but with less efficiency — meaning, basically, he’s either going for 69 yards or he’s throwing an incompletion or getting stopped at the line of scrimmage.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Ken Seals’ injury to keep him out the rest of the season. It would give Lea an excuse to play Wright the rest of the way while not having to give Seals the indignity of getting benched (and thus probably transferring after the season), and it would let us see what Wright can do against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. Because... uh, remember, he wasn’t good against Mississippi State. Being fine against Missouri and South Carolina (two pretty awful defenses) shouldn’t be the standard.

Stanimal: In my opinion, Wright plays the rest of the season and you put Seals in bubble wrap. Then we figure it out in the spring.

Doreontheplains: Wright had QBRs of 23.1 and 13.4 before posting a 56.3 against Missouri. That brings his QBR for the season to 28.5. Going 14/28 for 122 yards is not a viable route to success though. Wright is still too limited throwing the ball to be the starting QB, but I have been calling for better situational usage of him all season.

To compare QBRs, Seals is at 31.2 for the season, but he is being massively drug down by the 0.6 against UGA and 5.6 versus ETSU. His next worst was the 37.1 at Florida followed by 37.4 against Stanford and 38.8 hosting UConn. Seals earned a 56.6 at Colorado State. QBR theoretically factors in the oppositions defense, though I have an issue with the UGA number for Seals if you factor in how ridiculous good the Bulldogs are defensively.

Paul: Mike Wright makes the team watchable in the short term, while developing Ken Seals now is probably more valuable for the long term. Take your pick.

Andrew VU ‘04: It’s tough, as Mike Wright certainly seems like the right choice given this weak offensive line. However, Wright’s arm just isn’t in the same class as Ken “Loose” Seals. Let them continue to battle for the job, as this year is all one big practice.

Question from Nashville Man:

How much better would the defense be if the offense were competent? There seems to be a lot of things the defense is doing well like getting takeaways, batting down balls, and even pressure.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s hard to say, because the defense’s biggest problem has been in the first quarter, when being gassed from spending a long time on the field isn’t an excuse.

Stanimal: This is accurate. Before Mississippi State destroyed us we had a nice forced turnover and put ourselves in the short field. If you can’t turn turnovers into points, they really don’t matter.

Doreontheplains: To Tom’s point, Vanderbilt has allowed 110 points in the first quarter, 71 points in the second quarter, 62 in the third quarter, and 77 in the third quarter. The starts are the biggest issue. Granted, 35 of the 110 came against Georgia. Of those 35, you can definitely say at least 8 of those points are completely out of the defense’s hands when one UGA drive started at the Vanderbilt 4 and another at the Vanderbilt 21.

The first quarter problems are the issue. There was a quote floating around about the lack of speed on the scout team offense, so the defense was struggling to get a good feel for how other team’s will play. Oof.

The fourth quarter being the second worst frame does speak to that point though, especially with the third quarter being the best. If you want a glimmer of hope, that probably says good things about our halftime adjustments.

Paul: Let’s think about this logically. The defense has been on the field for probably 2-3x as much as the offense has this year, so it makes sense that they’d be a better unit than the offense. They’ve simply had more in-game reps.

Andrew VU ‘04: While the defense would certainly benefit if the offense had good time of possession numbers, if they went full scorch-earth Big XII offense good, the defense would be locked in shootouts each week. So... I don’t know.

Question from RocketCityVandy:

So football season is all but over, if only for our sanity. Recommended viewing to tide is over until Basketball and/or Baseball.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: You’re in luck, because Vanderbilt will play a basketball game before it plays another football game.

Stanimal: Currently binging Game of Thrones. Never saw it before and boy did I miss out.

Doreontheplains: (grumbles about Vanderbilt soccer’s showing at the SEC Tournament)

Paul: Squid game is actually a decent representation of what Vanderbilt Football has to overcome in order to succeed. Pretty light watch also.

Andrew VU ‘04: Curb Your Enthusiasm is back for its 11th season (if you have HBO or HBO Max). I also really like the FX tv version of What We Do in the Shadows. That just wrapped its 3rd season, and you can watch it streaming on Hulu or perhaps somewhere else, I don’t know. Oh, and if you really want to dive deep into some esoteric shit, try the documentaries of Mads Brugger or the dark comedies of Anders Thomas Jensen. For the former, go with The Ambassador and Cold Case Hammarskjold; for the latter, go for Adam’s Apples and The Green Butchers. Oh, and if you were one of the millions who caught Squid Game, there are a lot of really interesting South Korean films. I really dig Park Chan-Wook’s work.

Question from VU1970:

How bad should we expect the beat-down to be in our final three games? Will we have the lead again, at any point, this season? Mason’s first team played THEM close; will Lea’s?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: There’s a decent chance that we don’t score a touchdown against Kentucky, but they have this weird habit of playing things close to the vest so the actual score probably won’t get too out of hand — think something like 24-3 there. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is capable of scoring a ton of points but will probably at least give up a few, so I’m thinking something like 49-14. As for Tennessee, either we get up for the rivalry game and try to end the season on a good note, in which case the game will be stupidly close and we lose something like 35-28, or we’ve quit on the season and lose 65-0. There is no in between.

Stanimal: I look forward to only tangentially watching. Seriously, just give me basketball season.

Doreontheplains: Not really sure. If Kentucky decides to do another Oprah Winfrey impersonation, that game may end up much closer than it should be. Ole Miss will probably go straight up and down the field because their offense, like Mississippi State’s is meant to expose slow defenses. The difference is that Ole Miss is much more vertical than State. I am a little scared of the offensive firepower shown by THEM lately, too.

Paul: I’m two weeks sober from Vandy football and I think it’s the happiest I’ve ever been.

Andrew VU ‘04: At least Gainesville Jorts bad. Though I still hold about 10% hope that Clark Lea will be able to channel his, ours, and every rational person’s hatred for The University of Buttchugging into a year-end upset.

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Will we ever win an SEC game again?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yes.

Stanimal: Yes.

Doreontheplains: Unless you have a reason to believe the world ends in the next month or less, yes.

Paul: Next year we’ll get 2 SEC wins. Take it to the bank.

Andrew VU ‘04: Yes. And a few Big XII ones, too. Possibly next year when the South Cackalacky Game Penises come to our town and get run over by Bachelorette Party Pedal Taverns. Certainly in Year Three. If we go 0-fer in 2023, we should sharpen our torchforks.

Question from Parlagi:

In your opinion, what are 1 or 2 reasonable things the admin could adjust to improve the game day experience?

I don’t mean like “recruit 5-star players!” or “heated leather recliners in the stands.” Just basic stuff. More time for the band and fewer announcements during timeouts, or whatever you’d like to see.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: You know, one thing I’ve noticed from watching European soccer is how many soccer stadiums have these large overhangs at the top of the stadium that cover a large portion of the seating area and I’ve always wondered why college football teams insist on not doing that. As though people want to sit outdoors in 90-degree temperatures... or, alternatively, rain and snow.

Stanimal: Stock enough beer in the stadium and get the bathroom situation fixed (they may have done this already, I haven’t been since 2019).

Doreontheplains: Find a magically amazing band. The Spirit of Gold is better than I ever remember it being, but they are still so undermanned and underfunded that it is painful. The other pretty feasible thing is expanding the concourse to include the sidewalk along Natchez Trace on the home side. That would make it roomier for concessions kiosks.

Paul: The sound system at Dudley set up so sloppily that you hear a half second delay on any music or announcements made on the PA. On top of that, the playlist is taken straight from a 2008 high school prom dance. The product on the field is bad, but what you’re presented entertainment-wise during stops in play is just downright annoying. Nashville has some of the world’s best sound engineers - just figure it out. Maybe get a different live band or performer to play some tunes for an authentic Nashville experience during stops in play. Vanderbilt fans and alumni alone will never fill the seats. They need to appeal to the greater Nashville community.

Andrew VU ‘04: Three words: Over-Stuffed Leather Bleachers. Two more words: Fine Mahogany. Two more words: Laser-Bears. Wait, what was the question?