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Lessons in Vanderbilt Football: Missouri

At least we are less of a mess than Auburn...

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri
Gamarion Carter turned on the jets and gave us all a late glimmer of hope.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When I sat down to watch this game again, I was ready to be angry and swearing at the TV. The expected target of most of the vitriol was Joey Lynch. Admittedly, I missed most of the first 3 quarters due to shoddy hospitality in some Nashville bars. Bits and pieces were caught on my phone, but the reactions I was seeing did not match what I saw or the data bears out. The coaches are certainly not blameless in losing a winnable game, but it was less about plan and more about execution.

Lessons We Know Well

AJ Swann is a good young QB, but the young part still applies. He missed quite a few throws where it made me wonder if someone else was wearing his jersey. Swann would lead 7 drives and had a real misfire on all but the first and second drives. Drive 3 had multiple really poor throws. Besides the missed targets, Swann also made some catch attempts tougher and more dangerous than necessary by leaving slants high to the inside, so receivers were having to stick their necks out. His 22.4 QBR feels like a very fair representation of how poorly Swann played. Thankfully, he gets an extra week to digest it and hopefully heal up before the home night game against South Cackalacky.

When your offense relies on one or a small number of players to make the offense tick, the team cannot afford for them to struggle or be shut down. The upside is that those players are normally hard to stop, but WRs and RBs need some help from the QB and OL to succeed. Ray Davis was battling with an injury as was the only other healthy scholarship RB, Patrick Smith. Davis only managed 28 yards on 15 attempts with 13 of those yards coming on one play. Will Sheppard was targeted 15 times but only had 3 catches for 28 yards. Jayden McGowan would only have 4 yards on 3 catches from 6 targets with no rushing attempts. The plan was clearly to get these guys their normal touches, but the execution was not there.

The defense played a fantastic second half, but one game does not erase the old problems. In fact, it seemed to me like the tackling was worse than it has been the rest of the year. There were four or five plays that should have been big losses due to penetration but bad tackling or over pursuit allowed the ball carrier to get back to the line or a little beyond it. Missouri was held to just a little more than their average passing yardage (211 gained versus 208.1 average) but a lot less than their typical production on the ground. The Yankee Tigers only churned out 97 yards rushing instead of the 156.6 they average. Missouri was only “successful” on 33% of their rushing plays but still clipped along at 46% on passing plays. The last bye week saw some new faces such as CJ Taylor see increased roles, so it will be interesting to see where any shuffling might occur.

Vanderbilt’s OL had their worst day of the season considering the opposition. Missouri is good on defense, but they are not Alabama or Georgia despite what one of their commenters said. Vanderbilt did a lot of things wrong to help them look better than they are. The OL looked disjointed, and maybe I should credit Missouri more for doing things to confuse them. It did not appear to my amateur eye that the Yankee Tigers did anything too complicated to cause the confusion though. Missouri had 8 tackles for loss. One of those was a sack (Vanderbilt’s average allowed), and they were credited with 2 more QB hurries. When they were averaging 3.29 Tackles for Loss allowed per game even after the Alabama-Ole Miss-Georgia gauntlet, allowing 8 to Missouri is a disappointment.

The person who got the most blame for the offense’s struggles was Offensive Coordinator Joey Lynch. The offense had seemed vanilla against the Top 10 Stretch of Death, and it might have been. It was not against Missouri. Vanderbilt had 27 1st down plays and the run-pass split was 12-15. No, it was not slanted by trailing in the 2nd half because the split was 6-8 in the 1st half and 6-7 in the 2nd half. Even with the play mixing, Vanderbilt averaged 3.2 yards per 1st down play if you exclude the 80-yard TD to Gamarion Carter. The difference between halves was significant here, with 2nd half 1st down plays outgaining 1st half counterparts 5.1 yards to 1.4 yards. The extra variability of Wright’s legs would have helped since Swann was struggling to throw the ball accurately anyway. Second down was, enforced by the poor first down performance, heavily pass slanted at 8-15. The extra success on 1st down had a more even split at 5 each way. I cannot go into all the different concepts employed, but this was not conservative. It was poorly executed. Lynch is charged with making sure this does not happen again and having solutions ready if it does start down a poor route.

Matthew Hayball is a weapon. He has punted 44 times on the season for an average of 46.0 yards with an average net of 39.4 yards. Some of that was outkicking the coverage, but poor coverage has cut him a few times, as evidenced by his 4 tackles on the season. He did force a fumble on one of those tackles, too! Hayball added to his non-punting successes by converting a 4th down fake into an 11-yard scamper for a fresh set of downs. The coaches must have seen his 8-yard rush for FAU in 2019. Hayball has done well placing punts to pin opponents deep with 12 punts downed inside the 20 and only 1 touchback. It is too bad both Vanderbilt specialists are not being so useful.

Lessons We Are Learning

CJ Taylor is growing into a playmaker on defense. The box score only credits him for 2 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries, but he made the best play of Week 8 in college football and one of the Top 5 plays of the year.

Taylor was only credited with recovering the fumble here, but I think he may have actually stripped the ball out, too. The leap over Missouri’s RB was insane to pull of athletically and showed bravery to even attempt the hurdle since the risk was serious injury if he was clipped on the way over the top. Taylor had 9 tackles (5 solo) against both Alabama and Georgia. The sophomore LB/S is forcing his way onto the field and making plays when there. I have not seen what his top end speed looks like, but he does seem to be quicker and more agile addition to the on-field personnel.

The offense looked like it was trying to target some secondary options more, but Will Sheppard did end up with his 15 targets. Gamarion Carter (4), Quincy Skinner (5), and Ben Bresnahan (6) were all given chances, by scheme or QB reads, to make plays. Throws to Bresnahan were successful 50% of the time, and he caught all but one target. Skinner’s success rate was 60%, and he also only had one uncaught target. Those three need to be involved, and they need to take advantage when the ball does come their way. Part of why Sheppard gets so many targets is the number of plays designed without true reads. I am not sure if that is Lynch trusting Sheppard or distrusting Swann, the OL, or the other options to get open. Hopefully, the tape here makes Lynch trust the other receiving options more even though the other two parts of the equation had poor days.

Lessons for Further Study

What is the health of the RB room and where will it be November 5th? Ray Davis went down and had to be carried off but did return and looked unhampered. I suspect he was just doing a good job of hiding the ill effects. Patrick Smith did not, to my knowledge, return after his injury. Chase Gillespie has not had a touch since going off hurt against NIU. Cooper Lutz has also been unavailable. Davis has been an absolute workhorse this season. It would be a shock if the wear and tear is not getting to him at this stage. Smith or Gillespie needs to be full go, and it would obviously be best if both were at least available.

Can Joseph Bulovas get back to form? Bulovas was 4-4 on FGs until the Georgia game then missed a 44 yarder. He then missed from 45 and 27 at Missouri. The wind was an issue in Columbia, and the laces were off to the right on the shorter kick, which was missed to the right. I do not know if the lace weight would affect ball flight enough to matter, but I would not think so on such a short kick. Even if it was the wind and the laces at Missouri, the mental aspect is always a struggle with specialists, especially when they miss 2 kicks from normally makeable distances in 3-point loss.

I already touched on it, but are other changes in scheme or personnel coming? We are within the final 4 games. Any player who has not appeared yet, or has appeared in less than 4 games, may see their time managed to keep the year of eligibility. One player could have an opportunity depending on the answer to the next questions.

Will AJ Swann be healthy for South Carolina? He should undoubtedly start if healthy. If not, is it Mike Wright? Or was Seals the #3 because Wright was viewed as the better option to start the season? Has that opinion changed among the coaching staff?

Oh, and I guess this can be the open thread for today since Tom did not put one up. So, enjoy this pretty meh Week 9.