With CBS Sports Network requiring a subscription to their “All-Access” service to watch replays (and being Hawaii where I am not taking 4 or 5 hours to re-watch the game to break it down like normal), this is all going to be based on what I saw live and numbers. I doubt there is much that my amateur eye could notice anyway since Vanderbilt was mostly just bigger, faster, and stronger than Hawaii in all phases of the game. Considering the opponent, I am not confident enough to say anything is too well known, but some ideas are coming together.
Lessons We Are Learning
Vanderbilt has at least two players who are going to force teams to scheme around them, and OC Joey Lynch is prepared to use them early and often. The pair is the speedy duo of QB Mike Wright and WR Jayden McGowan. McGowan is going to be a problem for stat trackers because many of his touches are going to come on orbit (jet sweep) motion where they have to decipher whether it was a handoff or a slight forward toss, which is technically a pass. The threat here is that if McGowan is going left-to-right across the formation and any defenders overshift to cut him off, Wright is just as likely to keep it and take off to the newly open space. Lynch needs to keep using, tweaking, and building on the baseline concepts and usages we saw against Hawaii to give depth to this sideline-to-sideline problem for defenses.
Joey Lynch also looks willing to spread the ball around. Some of the attack’s variance was due to the score bringing in lots of backups, but it started early, too. Wright attempted 8 passes to 5 players in the first quarter with 4 players getting to carry the ball. The only player on both lists was McGowan, so 8 different players were involved. In the 2nd quarter, Chase Gillespie got his first carry while Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald got their first targets and catches. Ray Davis also joined McGowan in being targeted by a pass and receiving a handoff. All of that means Vanderbilt had 11 guys have a chance to make a play in the first half. Only 6 skill players – have to count count QB spot since Wright is such a threat with his legs – can be on the field at a time, but it means any of them could get the ball. It makes it very tough if defenses know rolling coverage towards Sheppard or McGowan means the offense is content to take what they are given away from them.
Defensively, the pack hunting is real. The box score may be a bit misleading because they only credit 4 of the 54 tackles as assisted. The two defensive TDs are prime examples of how this defense is hunting like a pack. Neither fumble touched the ground before being scooped up, which definitely helped on the returns. The tackle numbers are probably because Commodore defenders were laying Rainbow Warriors out. The hitting was aggressive, but I do not recall any out of control “kill shots” or hard hits where ball carriers were able to bounce free due to poor technique.
It was one kick, but I feel safe saying Matt Hayball has one hell of a leg. His lone punt went 65+ yards into the end zone. It would have been nice to avoid the touchback, but a net of 45 is still decent enough. Flipping field position if the offense does stall should be no problem.
Lessons for Further Study
How much improvement has Mike Wright made as a passer? I did not see much evidence of improvement making reads and completing passes. He was not terrible, but he was only 7/15 on throws beyond the LOS. Passes that crossed the LOS but stayed within 10 yards were effective enough. Wright completed 4 of 7 for 36 yards and both TD passes. The problem is Vanderbilt needs its QB1 to find some depth to force DBs to stay back from run support. Wright’s throws beyond 11 yards were problematic. He completed just 3 of 7 such throws. No, that completion percentage is not terrible, but it still leaves us wondering if Wright can be effective downfield against better competition.
Can the lines stay effective against better competition? Hawaii, based on their depth chart, had some very large humans in the trenches, but size can be outdone by technique. Size also does not always equal strength. Before anyone points out how often football types, including us at AoG, harp about Vanderbilt’s lack of size, the reason we harp on size is because it is a prerequisite if you cannot have a massive technique gap or are facing a team with lots of “bad” size. Vanderbilt will not have that talent gap consistently because bad OL and DL coaches do not last long in the SEC. SEC teams also do not trot out softies. The size in the SEC which Vanderbilt is trying to match is technically sound and sturdy. Hawaii may well have been very deficient in one or both areas. The Commodores are facing another team they should be able to bully, so the answer to this is still at least 2 or 3 weeks away IF the result is positive. A rough week along the lines can start sounding alarms, both on West End and Oahu.
How real is the depth? Vanderbilt ran 16 plays of offense in the 4th quarter for 108 yards. They did so with some deep depth chart digging on the OL. Walk on Trent Weaver, in his 3rd year with the program and seeing his first action, was one name that sent me running for a roster. Well, it would have if his parents had not joined my family’s table at the pre-game tailgate. It was good seeing guys like that get in a game and seeing success. Obviously, that end of the depth chart is not really worth wondering about, but the step behind the starters was still very effective. It remains to be seen how good the depth can be against a team that has not been gutted and hastily slapped back together in one offseason.
Is this team going to have the killer instinct against Elon that they showed against Hawaii? The Commodores have rarely smashed cupcakes with the ferocity shown against Hawaii. No matter how terrible the Rainbow Warriors end up being this season, the Commodores have played gentle with their food too often. Instead of looking sloppy after building a decisive OR never building a comfortable, Clark Lea’s Team 2 put the hammer down en route to a 56-10 lead to end the 3rd quarter. The deep end of the bench scored another TD and still moved the ball well as already noted. Doing the same against Elon will show a mental fortitude that may be the most projectable part of the first two weeks before getting to teams that will present real competition.