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Week One Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

Vanderbilt v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Question from vandyfan1:

Does this game [Hawaii win] change your outlook on the season?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard for it not to. We all had that sense of dread when seeing a team that we should beat on the schedule, but instead of Same Old Vandy it was met with... a 63-10 blowout.

I still think there is a hard ceiling on this team in terms of wins and losses. We’re obviously not beating Alabama or Georgia, and I don’t think we’re beating Kentucky, Ole Miss, or Tennessee this season, either. But I now think 4-8 or 5-7 is more likely than 2-10. Hell, I’m not even laughing at Clark Lea when he says he expects us to make a bowl game. Win the four nonconference games and two of South Carolina, Missourah (spits), and Florida? Seems doable. Not saying that’s going to happen, but I think that’s more likely than I did a week ago.

Doreontheplains: Maybe by a win upwards. I was thinking 3-9 or 4-8. Now, I’m thinking 4-8 or 5-7. I really don’t see more than that being likely, but unlikely things do happen in college football. For me, curbstomping Hawaii was a more positive sign for the program than the season. Hawaii is almost certainly one of the worst FBS teams this season. Doing what you are supposed to do against them, especially when Vanderbilt has a history of letting these games be closer than they should be, says more about HC Clark Lea’s ability to focus the team to get the job done to the extent it can/should be done. He still probably needs more quality on the roster to elevate what can/should be done beyond my original predictions.

But ask again after Wake.

Cole Sullivan: A little bit. While I know Hawai’i is not exactly a challenge, we did beat them soundly. I am now much more confident in our ability to take care of business against Elon and NIU as well as compete against Wake Forest and our daunting SEC slate. My expectations of my team are always unrealistic, but adjusting for my own faith I think my projection for wins goes from ~4 to ~6. Part of that is because I now think we will get a thirteenth game on the schedule, and it’s gonna be a Vandy-sized cupcake. Part of that is because now the team has a win under their feet and I think they’ll play like that. I think this win also changes my outlook on seasons to come, but that’s for a later mailbag.

Andrew VU ‘04: OneNote—Though we certainly did Excel against The Rainbow Warriors, my Outlook on the win-loss record for this season has not exactly changed drastically. I guess if I was to PowerPoint to the reason, it’s that Hawaii is legitimately horrid and rebuilding, and, well, Alabama and Georgia aren’t. That said, this win was not exactly because of OneDrive, as we absolutely stacked great drive on top of great drive in the 2nd half. I think, more than anything, we now should be expected to win at least 3, and possibly 4. 5 or 6 would take a complete effort from our entire Microsoft Teams, akin to playing like we did in the 2nd half against Hawaii in every half from here on out. I’ll say this, though: Mike Wright will be one of the best athletes on the field in every game we play, as will Anfernee “Lil’ Penny” Orji. Will we win a bunch more than expected? No. Should we be more entertaining and competitive than I thought before the season started? Word.

Question from 92Drummer:

How many games will Wright last before somebody mows him down? Do we think he has the speed to run on SEC defenses? Was just success due to his athleticism on broken plays or were there designed plays with good blocking schemes for him?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So: I don’t have any questions about Mike Wright’s ability to run on SEC defenses. We saw enough of that last season that I’m not really concerned about that, and the offensive line (at least one week into the season) looks improved enough that it’s not going to be all busted plays this season.

That said: you have to keep defenses honest. Most SEC defenses have enough speed to contain a Mike Wright if you don’t have to worry about him beating you with his arm. And that’s always been the question with him. I don’t know if he’s super likely to get injured, because I’m not a doctor, but I am concerned that SEC teams will be able to stop him from running if his passing ability doesn’t improve.

Doreontheplains: Is Wright more or less likely to get hurt than a pocket passer? Plenty of them go down every year. A better man might research the data to answer that part of your question. Sadly, you’re stuck with me and the other stooges. In terms of injury concerns, I think you do what needs to be done to give your team the best chance to succeed. I would not have been calling any runs up the middle for Wright (or even plays where he has an option to keep up the middle) on the last drive he played because the game was already in hand and interior runs probably carry more danger than edge runs.

Nobody has the legs to run on a team that puts 10 or 11 players within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Wright has the speed to beat stacked boxes because he has elite speed even for the SEC. I do not think there are 10 guys in the league who can straight up outrun him. He may get caught on the angle by some others, but I would not expect to see him get chased down by anyone this season. The key will be whether the passing attack can force teams to keep the safeties back and LBers honest.

I do not think any of his rushing against Hawaii came on broken plays. Maybe one play? But it was only for a handful of yards. All of that was offense designed with the QB keeper as at least one of the designed options on the play.

Cole Sullivan: Mike Wright can outrun Mr. Commodore’s ATV. That’s how fast he is. That’s real speed. He may get mowed down later in the year, hey may not. For now let’s just appreciate what he brings to the game via his athleticism. I am more concerned about his arm; I was not impressed with some of his throws on Saturday night. All this considered, it would seem that some of the plays were definitely designed with him running in mind. Hopefully we can get a few more designed around him making excellent passes, too.

Andrew VU ‘04: Mike Wright is the Platonic Ideal of Chris Nickson. Do with that what you will.

As for his speed? It’s real. Watch his 87 TD scamper, but more specifically, watch around the 30 yard line, when #3 of Hawaii pops into the frame. #3 looks like he has the angle, and is confident he has the angle on Wright... and then... at about the other 30 yard line, realizes he’s fucked, and launches a futile dive about 10 yards later. That speed will play in any league.

ANOTHER Question from 92Drummer:

I thought both of our lines looked a lot smaller than I would have expected when comparing them to an non-SEC team. That was my impression on the very first snap.

How do we compare size-wise to Elon and Wake? I’ll save the SEC comparison question for when that comes, but it makes me wonder, are we really that small compared to the rest of the league?

I remember sitting in the stands when AL came to Nashville many years (decades, actually) ago and just being first in awe and then in fear by noting the average 4” difference in height across the line.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Hawaii’s line play wasn’t very good, but from what I recall they’re actually one of the bigger teams at that level. Something about Hawaii and big dudes, I guess.

Doreontheplains: I didn’t notice a size mismatch at the game, and I don’t think our listed size is down from the last few years. Programs lie about heights and weights all the time, so I’m not sure how much stock to put into rosters either. Our line outplayed Hawaii’s both ways. If the Rainbow Warriors were actually bigger, more power to our guys beating the bigger men.

Cole Sullivan: I actually ran some numbers for this, because I was curious. I looked at the average height and weight of ours, Elon’s, and Wake’s d- and o-lines. I did not differentiate by age or year in school because I didn’t want to do that, alright? Between 13, 10, and 20 DLs, Vanderbilt averaged 6’4 and 277 pounds, Elon averaged 6’2 and 275 pounds, and Wake Forest averaged 6’3 and 263 pounds, respectively. We have the tallest and heaviest d-line on average, although we aren’t that different from either upcoming school. On the other side of the ball, between 17, 19, and 22 OLs, Vanderbilt averaged 6’5 and 303 pounds, Elon averaged 6’3 and 297 pounds, and Wake Forest averaged 6’4 and 295 pounds, respectively. All that to say, we have the size advantage over both our next two opponents on the line. I’ll check back with other size comparisons later in the season if anyone is interested.

Andrew VU ‘04: We should be bigger than Elon, and either the same, or bigger than Wake. We should be, with Mike Wright at the helm, faster than both, as well. Stronger? Also yes for Elon, and likely the same as Wake. The reason Wake will likely be favored is they’re a veteran team that has already experienced success in the ACC.

Question from Arlyn15:

Which freshman are we most excited about after week 0?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Jayden McGowan and it’s really not even close.

Doreontheplains: Mike Wright’s new best friend Jayden McGowan. The possibility of having McGowan on jet sweep action where he and Wright can attack opposite edges on one play based on Mike’s read is almost as good as a competent passing attack.

Cole Sullivan: Did you see Jayden McGowan? To offer a different name, Chase Gillespie also looked promising and a few guys contributed on defense.

Andrew VU ‘04: Though he’s not on the football team, the evergreen perfect freshman was “Fuzz,” whose parents bought an ad from the staff of The Slant on move-in day in August 2003. The ad featured his high school yearbook photo, and the following message:

Dear Fuzz,

Have a great year, work

hard + have fun.

We’ll miss you.

Love, Mom, Vern, Chico,

Grandma, Uncle Peet, Aunt

Colleen, Uncle Dave, Uncle Matt, Aunt

Laurie, Aunt Kash, Uncle Mike, Uncle

Marty, And Theresa, + all the other

Pattons and Sackmans

(Gives Fuzz a forehead kiss.)

The real OGs of Vanderbilt know.

Question from Your Uncle Mike:

Welp. 1-0 this week. Can we chalk that up to the new logo?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No.

Doreontheplains: I’m crediting the slight tweaks to the white jerseys. Going with all black lettering and adding the gold stripe between the two black shoulder stripes to make the stripe pattern the same across the jersey, pants, and new white helmet was the type of simple but important changes Vanderbilt typically screws up.

Cole Sullivan: What new logo?

Andrew VU ‘04: You superstitious bastards. Do not anger Pinman, Vocockyteps, Jobu, nor the Het-O-Meter with such insolence.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

What do you, oh great sage and Vanderbilt junkie, most concern you following the Hawaii game? Keep me grounded before the sunshine pump blasts me away in a hype-fueled state of denial.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: That Hawaii is actually the worst team in FBS, and we basically just spent Saturday night snacking on empty calories.

Doreontheplains: Mike Wright still left a lot to be desired in the passing game. 6 of his 13 completions were at or behind the LOS. On throws beyond the LOS, Wright was 7 of 15. On throws in the 11 to 20 yard range, he was 2 of 5. Beyond 20 yards, he was 2 of 4. The 11 to 20 yard range needs to be drastically better.

Cole Sullivan: The Vanderbilt I know and love has a tendency of throwing away close games. This wasn’t a particularly close game, so we didn’t have a chance to throw it away. My biggest concern is that, if we get into a pinch, this team will think what every Vanderbilt football fan thinks: “We’re going to lose.” I think the Leanaissance brings with it a new culture and new mindset, but I will be concerned we can’t consistently finish out close contests until the team proves me wrong. Put another way, our resilience wasn’t tested this game, although a confidence-building win could boost our resilience later, so at least we did that this past weekend.

Andrew VU ‘04: My only concern in the Hawaii game was the slow start. That, and we don’t exactly have a go to WR (or a good WR room overall). Everything else looked great, with the caveat that Hawaii is in year zero of a teardown rebuild. When we were that last year, we lost to ETSU.

Question from RocketCityVandy:

Given the fact we actually looked like a decent team on Saturday, are we still looking at 2-3 wins? Or are we more confident in a potential 4-5 (if we can catch someone not paying attention) season? Also, how much alcohol should I stock up on for our SEC opener?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Some of this is certainly unrelated factors — for instance, Wake Forest probably won’t have its quarterback when they come to Nashville next week — but I would agree with the notion that 4-5 wins is more likely than 2-3 after the first game of the season. You should definitely buy a handle for the SEC opener, though, because you’re gonna need it.

Doreontheplains: 4 to 5 feels more likely than 2 to 3 for sure. I cannot offer any booze advice in good conscience because the appropriate number is probably not a healthy amount.

Cole Sullivan: I’m not that heavy of a drinker personally, so I wouldn’t stock up on much. The alcohol I do buy will be champagne, though, because it’s a banner year for Vanderbilt. I always thought we would get at least 4 or 5 wins and now I almost think anything less than that would be a disappointment. Once we see who the 13th game will be against, heck we may even make a bowl game.

Andrew VU ‘04: See my answer to question one (brought to you by the Microsoft Office Suite of software) for the first part of this question. For the second? Stock up on things you like to drink, in the quantities you find responsible and/or efficient and/or economical. Why would anyone besides, like, Georgia, get despondent over being steamrolled by the Ramajama Gumps? No, your drinking will be at normal levels... whatever that means for you.

Question from VU1970:

If we somehow get to 4-0 before we play Bama, would that somehow be worse than if we don’t?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No. Look, Bama is going to beat us badly and I think we all know this, but I don’t think losing to one or both of Wake Forest or Northern Illinois will really change that but it would make us farther away from bowl eligibility after the inevitable Bama loss.

Doreontheplains: Not unless one of our players does something obscenely stupid to taunt Alabama because we are 4-0. I don’t see that happening though.

Cole Sullivan: I think we need the confidence of 4-0 going into the Bama game. Whether we win or lose that game, our record would still be good and confidence can still be high because hey, you know what, a loss against Bama is nothing to be upset over.

Andrew VU ‘04: It will only be worse if Nifae Lealao finds a Josh Henderson year of eligibility. Beating both Wake and Northern Illinois would be a great achievement for this team, this early in the New Bald Coach Experience.

Question from BarnDore1950:

Obviously this is a different type of team altogether, but can we match Mason’s second season with 4 wins total and maybe break the SEC winless streak?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: If the question is “can we,” the answer is yes. The answer was yes last week too. If the question is “will we,” on the other hand... well, no, I am not going to tempt Vertigo by answering that question.

Doreontheplains: Anything can happen in college football. I would say those things are within reach.

Cole Sullivan: We’re beating that win total and ending the SEC winless streak. And I’ll throw in a bowl game win, too, while I’m at it.

Andrew VU ‘04: Please don’t say his name. Call him “Non-Toll-Booth-Widenhofer” if you must. (Rocks back and forth in the fetal position.)

Question from Nova Dore:

One week in, which sport should we be most excited to see where it goes: football, basketball, baseball, the field?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m just going to ignore the field for the moment and say: football. I say that because we basically know what we’re getting from baseball at this point, and I have... concerns about basketball, to say the least. (Are you counting women’s basketball under “basketball” or “the field?”)

Doreontheplains: Pure excitement? Probably field. Football is still only getting to a low-tier bowl at absolute best. Basketball is too murky. Baseball’s week 1 probably won’t do anything to make us go from Omaha contender to Omaha lock in a way that really ramps up the excitement. Soccer’s week 1 included 2 road wins with one of them over a team fresh off a Top 15 win. Men’s golf might very well win a tournament by something obscene like 30 strokes because they are that freaking good right now, but I’m not sure that would catch my attention enough. So, yeah, I’ll probably say “field” and specify that soccer is the one who will have the best first week, but I am also partial to that sport.

Cole Sullivan: The field. Soccer is on pace for a special season, bowling and men’s golf are returning most of their primary contributors including individual national champion Gordon Sargent, and while I don’t know as much about women’s tennis as the first three sports, they also seem to be returning their top contributors including a few All-Americans following a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Stay tuned on the next episode of Anchor of Gold for news on all these teams as their seasons unfold.

Andrew VU ‘04: This is a feetball mail bag. I’ll talk about baseball later. The answer, of course, is women’s bowling.