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Vanderbilt 24, Colorado State 21: Sometimes, the breaks go your way

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Vanderbilt was very fortunate to be playing an opponent that derped its way to a loss. We’ll take it.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Five Factors

Five Factors Vanderbilt CSU
Five Factors Vanderbilt CSU
Plays 79 69
Total Yards 347 438
Yards Per Play 4.4 6.3
Rushing Attempts 34 33
Rushing Yards 124 207
Rushing YPP 3.6 6.3
Passing Attempts 45 36
Passing Yards 223 231
Passing YPP 5 6.4
Rushing Success Rate 35.30% 48.50%
Passing Success Rate 37.80% 41.70%
Success Rate 36.70% 44.90%
Avg. Field Position 24.4 26.7
PP40 6 4.2
Turnovers 1 1

For once, it was the other team that couldn’t get out of its own way.

It’s not often that you lose the battle in four of the five factors and come away with a win. Vanderbilt lost, bigly, in success rate (44.9% to 36.7%) and yards per play (6.3 to 4.4.) They lost, narrowly, the field position battle (Colorado State’s average drive started on the 26.7 yard line compared to 24.4 for Vanderbilt, with each team getting one short field off a turnover.) Each team committed one turnover.

The difference was that Vanderbilt cashed in its scoring opportunities and Colorado State left points on the field. And if not for that, we might have gone to bed early. Colorado State’s first ten plays of the game were successful; success, for those who are new to this, is defined as gaining 50% of the remaining yards on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down. The Rams needed five plays and 2:03 of game time to go 75 yards on their first possession. On the Rams’ second possession, they went 44 yards in eight plays and had a 1st-and-10 at the Vanderbilt 17 before the drive stalled; a delay of game penalty on third down didn’t help. And then, they missed a 39-yard field goal. The Rams’ third drive got down to the Vanderbilt 40, where Steve Addazio elected to punt on 4th and 6. That was followed by cashing in on a 3-play, 27-yard drive off a Ken Seals fumble to make the score 14-0.

The Rams’ next drive would go 63 yards in 8 plays before again stalling; this time, a false start penalty on fourth down pushed the Rams’ field goal attempt back five yards and that one missed as well, from 46 yards. In the midst of all this, the Vanderbilt offense was doing nothing; the Commodores gained all of 17 yards in the first quarter, but thanks to all the derp on the Colorado State side, the score was only 14 to 0 in their favor.

That ended up being important, because when the Vanderbilt offense finally did get going in the last couple of minutes of the first half — a 7-play, 58-yard drive that ended with Seals finding Cam Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown strike — the score was a completely manageable 14-7. Colorado State actually had a decent chance to score in the last 47 seconds of the half, but more derp was coming, this time in the form of star tight end Trey McBride deciding to pick up a taunting penalty on the Vanderbilt sideline and ending any chance the Rams had of extending the lead.

I don’t know if McBride’s flexing fired up a Commodore team that had been lacking energy to that point or if the team suddenly felt newly confident after the touchdown drive at the end of the first half, but the Vanderbilt team that came out in the second half was more than willing to take advantage of the gift that Colorado State was offering them. Ken Seals picked apart the defense for two touchdown drives in the third quarter, and then, after the Rams finally put together a touchdown drive to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Commodores came down and set up Joseph Bulovas’ game-winner from 37 yards with 19 seconds left. (It must be pointed out that this, too, got a tremendous boost from two 15-yard penalties by Colorado State, a pass interference flag on the first play of the drive and a rather obvious targeting call on a diving Ken Seals at midfield.)

This certainly isn’t meant to take away from Vanderbilt’s win; the Commodores, after all, still had to play well enough to take advantage of all of the derp from Colorado State. And in the second half, they did. As I said in the postgame recap, my friend Poseur from And the Valley Shook likes to say that when a team has an advantage in the run of play and fails to turn that advantage into points, the advantage dissipates. And, well...

  • First Quarter: Vanderbilt: 11 plays, 17 yards (1.5 yards/play); Colorado State: 20 plays, 156 yards (7.8 yards/play)
  • Second Quarter: Vanderbilt: 21 plays, 105 yards (5.0 yards/play); Colorado State: 20 plays, 149 yards (7.5 yards/play)
  • Third Quarter: Vanderbilt: 28 plays, 153 yards (5.5 yards/play); Colorado State: 14 plays, 44 yards (3.1 yards/play)
  • Fourth Quarter: Vanderbilt: 19 plays, 67 yards (3.5 yards/play); Colorado State: 17 plays, 96 yards (5.6 yards/play)

In a different timeline, Colorado State takes full advantage of its domination of Vanderbilt in the first 25 minutes or so to build a lead that the Commodores wouldn’t overcome. Instead, the Rams led by seven points at halftime, and Vanderbilt was able to escape with a win.

Anyway. After watching Saturday night’s game, it’s clear that the issues on Vanderbilt’s offensive line are not going to be fixed this season, and the defense still gets gashed for big gains far too often. But at the very least, we know that Vanderbilt won’t go 0-12 this season. Clark Lea’s first Vanderbilt team will be merely bad instead of disastrous. There’s a difference between a bad team that feels like it’s getting better from week to week and might be able to take advantage if a Tennessee or a South Carolina decides they want to piss one away, and a bad team that’s completely hopeless and nigh unwatchable. Vanderbilt will get UConn, and there might not be many more wins beyond that, but it still feels good to get in the win column again.

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
Ken Seals 27 42 64.30% 238 2 0 3 15 223 33.30% 5

I’ve made no secret that I hated the two-quarterback system that Vanderbilt deployed against ETSU, and in spite of Clark Lea’s pregame comments, that was gone for the Colorado State game (granted, Mike Wright may have been hurt.) This certainly wasn’t Ken Seals’ best game, but he did what he needed to do in spite of getting little time to throw.

Rushing Stats

Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Re'Mahn Davis 17 77 4.5 0 35.30%
Rocko Griffin 9 30 3.3 0 33.30%
Ken Seals 6 15 2.5 1 50.00%
Devin Boddie 2 3 1.5 0 0.00%

Yeah, the run game is going to be a problem, and it’s not just the offensive line. While Re’Mahn Davis and Rocko Griffin (and Patrick Smith, who played in the opener against ETSU) aren’t often getting much room to run, nobody’s really showing the ability to be a home run hitter when they do get some room. Case in point: Vanderbilt had just three runs of ten yards or more on Saturday, all three from Davis.

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
Cam Johnson 12 9 66 1 75.00% 5.5 7.3 41.70%
Devin Boddie 10 6 38 0 60.00% 3.8 6.3 30.00%
Chris Pierce 8 4 76 1 50.00% 9.5 19 50.00%
Will Sheppard 6 4 42 0 66.70% 7 10.5 66.70%
Re'Mahn Davis 4 4 16 0 100.00% 4 4 0.00%
Amir Abdur-Rahman 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0 #DIV/0! 0.00%

After Will Sheppard got targeted 17 times in the opener, this was a more familiar setup, with Cam Johnson as the safety blanket and Chris Pierce as the big, sure-handed target who can make catches in traffic, including one of the more ridiculous catches I’ve seen. Devin Boddie getting targeted 10 times is kind of random, though; perhaps in the absence of Ben Bresnahan (who was out with an injury), Vanderbilt was running more four-wide sets.

Defense

The team’s leading tacklers were who you’d expect: Anfernee Orji with 13, followed by Ethan Barr with 11 and Dashaun Jerkins with 9. But after struggling to create havoc in the opener, the defense was quite a bit more active on Saturday night, getting credited with eight pass breakups and four quarterback hurries, along with three tackles for loss. (Before you say that the defensive backfield had a good game, note that three of the pass breakups were by defensive tackle Daevion Davis and three more came from Barr and Michael Owusu.) But there were some big plays from the defensive backs, too: Jaylen Mahoney got an interception for the team’s first takeaway of the season, and Allan George got a piece of a punt right before the first-half touchdown drive.

Notes

  • Vanderbilt ran its first offensive play out of a two-TE set, allowing Gavin Schoenwald and Brayden Bapst to get their first career start.
  • On the defensive side, Raashaan Wilkins started at defensive tackle in place of Christian James, who started the ETSU game. The rest of the starting lineup was unchanged.
  • Five true freshmen saw the field on Saturday night: DB John Howse, DB/RB James Ziglor III, LB Errington Truesdell, WR Quincy Skinner Jr., and DL Tank Sugick. Howse and Truesdell also played in the ETSU game; the others saw their first action. RB Patrick Smith played against ETSU but not against Colorado State.
  • Vanderbilt used eight offensive linemen on Saturday, with Julian Hernandez, Dan Dawkins, and Jason Brooks all seeing action. The starting five were the same as in the ETSU game, though with center Michael Warden getting injured late in the game that might change next week. Noteworthy that Hernandez stepped in to play center after Warden went down.
  • Notable in their absence from the participation chart: Mike Wright (discussed above), Justin Harris (who I believe is injured), Feleti Afemui, Alston Orji, Tyrell Alexander.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt hosts Stanford on Saturday. Game time is 7 PM CT and the game will be televised on ESPNU. Stanford is coming off a 42-28 win at USC that wasn’t really even that close.