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Pre-Season Football Mail Bag #2

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You ask, we answer...

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

Question from Volundore:

I may have asked the opposite of this in an earlier mailbag, but is there any outcome for this season that would make you recoil in horror and believe that we’ve made a huge, tiny mistake?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Coming off an 0-9 season in 2020, the talent level on this team is what it is; if the team is playing hard and goes 2-10 anyway because the players just aren’t there, that’s a problem, but it’s (a) not on Clark Lea, at least not right now and (b) will probably not be fixed until Lea has a couple of recruiting classes to address it.

What will make me believe we’ve made a mistake is if the disorganization and incompetence that we saw from the coaching staff last season isn’t fixed. Are we drawing silly procedural penalties on the regular? Or burning timeouts because players aren’t lined up in the right spots? Or getting delay of game penalties after a timeout? If we’re seeing that kind of crap in the midst of a two-win season, I will not stop the pitchfork brigade. I will probably join it.

Doreontheplains: Yeah, being unprepared will set off alarm bells. Losing to ETSU and/or UConn would also make me go find a bunker where I can pretend Vanderbilt foootball does not exist until next season.

Stanimal: Tom hits the nail on the head: we need to see better discipline. Mason’s last two years were rank with unforced errors. We cannot afford to shoot ourselves in the foot given our talent deficit to the rest of the SEC. One reason Bobby Johnson and James Franklin were successful at Vandy was that their teams were disciplined and did not give their opponents freebies. The new coaching staff must get us back to that. I’ll start worrying about offensive and defensive scheming next year.

Andrew VU ‘04: I hesitate to quantify this in wins and losses, as new coach, new system, blah blah blah. For me, it’s more about beating the three non-conference teams we should beat (ETSU, UCONN, and Colorado State), and staying competitive in games against more talented teams. If either of the three aforementioned teams—especially UCONN after we saw their complete lack of any semblance of offense against Fresno State this weekend—comes in and Wets our Hets Temple ‘14 style, I will become despondent. If, following such a shellacking, Lea is a bumbling mess talking about “process” and trying to explain why he used three QBs, then I will go full Gob Bluth. If the team competes for him, has each other’s backs, and we do some interesting things strategy-wise from time to time, wins and losses won’t matter for me this year—just as they won’t matter for recruits.


Question from Admirable Snack Bar:

What do you make of the game day upgrades that were just announced? Do you expect them to be as neat as they sound, or the typical cheap facsimiles of nice thing that the athletics department has given us in the past.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: As somebody who has not actually been to Vanderbilt Stadium since I was a student at Vanderbilt in 2008, I am probably the wrong person to ask.

Doreontheplains: These seem more tangible. Normally the concessions stuff is just “improved service and options” without giving anything measurably or definitively different. Adding local favorites like Slim & Husky’s and Conecuh Sausage is really nice. Implementing mobile ordering, so I can get concessions without missing much play is also legitimately useful, as long as the wifi and/or cell coverage in the stadium can handle it.

The addition of pyrotechnics is fun because I like booms. I am curious to see what they mean by “New on-field enhancements will greet the Commodores when they take the field this season.” Pre-game having 3 stages for music and the live radio shows is also cool. The more fans we can get to games AND get them there early to build pre-game energy matters. The lengthened Star Walk is also cool. It was a perfect setup coming downhill from McGugin then straight into stadium, but it was too short. I just hope we have enough fans to line the whole path.

Stanimal: I believe that this VU administration “gets it”, so I do think you’ll see nice upgrades to the game day experience. I think it’ll be more and more prevalent as the Vandy United project progresses. I am much more hopeful that Diermeier is going to put us on better footing with the rest of the conference going forward (note: better footing, but it will never be the best footing in the conference).

Andrew VU ‘04: That $300 mil better not just be going to Hot Dog on a Stick.


Question from Force10JC:

For so long we wanted to have nice things and now it seems the Admin is giving them to us. Are these facility improvements really going to help us when football games?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Eventually yes, because having facilities that will not cause recruits to recoil in horror can only help. That said, you still have to recruit the players.

Doreontheplains: This season? Maybe because they have revamped the nutrition situation with the Gatorade FuelBar and other things that were sorely lacking under the previous coaching staff/administration. Realistically, the positive effects from facility improvements will show up over time in recruiting. At worst, Vanderbilt can take away one negative thing for other coaches to use against our coaches in recruiting.

Stanimal: I think so, but you have to have the tools and the talent as Winston Zeddemore would say.....(does quoting Ghostbusters show my age?)

Andrew VU ‘04: On the other hand, I now kind of want to see what a $300 mil Hot Dog on a Stick would look like. Japanese dino robot servers? Wagyu hot dogs dipped in gold leaf batter? What was the question?


Question from Jeturn:

In an alternate universe and reality…where Jeff Green didn’t travel and Nadia Harvin is the HC @ WeTHeT…..you are HCCL and ETSU has just kicked off to start this year’s football season… It’s first and ten at the Vandy 25….what is the very first play you call as the new Vandy HC? Oh, and the game hadn’t been delayed for 4+ hours.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: To really show that this is the dawn of a new era, I send Cam Johnson deep and tell Ken Seals to throw it as far as he can. Derek Mason would have run the ball up the middle and Clark Lea should immediately show that he is not Derek Mason in this manner.

Doreontheplains: Play action to BresnaHANDS up the seam with Will Sheppard and Cam Johnson both running go routes on either side if that’s not open.

Stanimal: What Tom said but throw in a play action out of I formation.

Andrew VU ‘04: The Annexation of Puerto Rico.


Question from DenverDore:

For someone without a technical football background, can you explain what we should expect, in terms of style of play and scheme, from our new offensive and defensive coordinators? What is there to look forward to, and what gaps should we expect for this year while they recruit players to fit scheme?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I don’t really know. I know that offensive coordinator David Raih used to work for Kliff Kingsbury, who of course was a quarterback for Mike Leach. So I suspect there are going to be some Air Raid concepts on the offensive side of the ball, and Ken Seals seems like a good quarterback to run that sort of offense... plus, with this offensive line, I don’t know that we should be running the ball all that much. There’s been some talk that we’re going to see more hurry-up, which can only be a good thing. Basically the offense is joining the modern era after seven years of Derek Mason.

As for the defense, it probably won’t be that different... except maybe our cornerbacks will actually cover the receivers instead of giving them a ten-yard cushion.

Doreontheplains: I think the offense is going to do a little bit of everything. Seals has talked on Chris Lee’s podcast about all the different looks they can use. Oddly, I think he said they have been under center more than last season.

Defensively, good luck. I think it is going to be a mashup of everything from 3-4 to 4-3 to 3-3-5 to 4-2-5. The base alignment is 4-2-5, but OLB Elijah McAllister is one of the front 4. He will probably play mostly as a standup DE. New DC Jesse Minter is apparently (also per Seals) in love with exotic, aggressive blitzes.

Stanimal: It’s really tough to tell because we don’t know what kind of offense they are going to run. I think Raih is kind of flexible on that front, even though, as Tom said, they are going to do some Air Raid. Of course, Lea also was a fullback, and fullback’s love I, and it’s tough to say how much of that will be incorporated into everything and how much influence Lea will have on the offense (he has mentioned before that his defensive concepts are largely based on his experience as an offensive player). Defense you will see a shift into a 3-4 and that will take time to develop. I don’t know what the secondary shell will look like.

Andrew VU ‘04: In terms of style, based on Clark Lea’s cream and black windowpane suit from the Steve Harvey collection worn at SEC Media Days, you should expect us to be so fresh and so clean. Sir Luscious gots gator belts and patty melts and Monte Carlos...


Question from Westboundnup:

Does the players’ mood in camp appear noticeably lighter (i.e. better) than in recent years? Last season’s camp shouldn’t really count in analyzing the comparison since it couldn’t possibly have been worse. I see this as a positive sign, and I believe that mood is a good indicator of how “loose” the team will play. Winning 3 of the first 5 games, a big IF obviously, could really fuel player optimism, leading to better play, etc.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I’d agree with this. Losing can build on itself — see: the 2018-19 basketball team — and starting the season with a couple or three wins could be a big deal for a team that hasn’t won a game since November 2019.

Doreontheplains: Reports from camp are positive about the attitude and energy, even from typically very critical insiders. Early success would obviously be the best thing that could happen. Wins are always good, but it would validate all of the hard work and changes made in the offseason. For the players, that should erase any lingering trepidation or concerns.

Stanimal: Reports seem to indicate that the players are pretty jazzed up. Probably comes with a new regime here. That can cut both ways, but seems to have cut positively so far.

Andrew VU ‘04: Not sure if “jazzed,” Stan. I believe the kids these days say “Razzmatazz.” Yeah... new coaching staffs bring optimism, and while Lea is no James Franklin in the rah rah department, he’s definitely got that CEO mentality when it comes to plan and organization. In other words, it currently doesn’t seem like he’s an idiot. I know we’ve had this discussion a million times—look at Barry Switzer, Les Miles, DACOACHO, etc.—but when you think your coach is an idiot (remember Mason’s first press conference?), unorganized (remember when Mason lost all his plays?), or completely incompetent at hiring a staff (remember Karl Dorrell?), it really takes a toll. So purely by putting myself in their situation, I’d want to play for someone who’s not an idiot. It currently seems like Lea is not an idiot. Please stand by.


Question from McCaffreyFan:

From TMZ

Jay Cutler admitted he hasn’t had much fun dating since his split with Kristin Cavallari … explaining that getting back into the scene has been “hard as hell.”

The ex-NFL star made the revelation on his “Uncut with Jay Cutler” podcast this week … saying straight-up that “meeting people is hard.”

Andrew and co. What advice would you give Mr. Cutler?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: There are probably some single moms at the Williamson County school board meetings.

Doreontheplains: Jay struggling to date is only surprising in that I figured he would be happy to go back to a frat boy lifestyle and not be worried about committed relationships.

Stanimal: Used to see Jay at Sportsman’s on Tuesday nights.....maybe go back with what works? (I know I know, the one by campus is closed long ago....)

Andrew VU ‘04: What Tom hinted at. No girl you’d want to date is a ranting and raving, threaten the school board and public health professional anti-masker. Or maybe that is what he does want. If so, double down, and use, “I’ve got a garage full of apple-flavored horse goo” as a pick-up line on the Murfreesboro ladies at Lonnie’s around 2am.

On second thought, Jay does have money and a penchant for reality shows. Why not call TLC, have them set you up with some Indonesian, Uzbek, or Brazilian woman, and share the screen with Big Ed on 90 Day Fiance? Who among us doesn’t want to see a tragic love story emerge between someone going for the green card and someone who’s just trying not to do any work? I wonder if that crazy Larissa is single again?