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Vanderbilt 42, Elon 31: Well, the brakes work, at least

Vanderbilt dominated Elon for 32 minutes... and then, well, weird stuff started happening.

Elon v Vanderbilt Photo by Carly Mackler/Getty Images

Box Score

Five Factors Vanderbilt Elon
Five Factors Vanderbilt Elon
Plays 62 76
Total Yards 440 495
Yards Per Play 7.10 6.51
Rushing Attempts 32 41
Rushing Yards 186 157
Rushing YPP 5.81 3.83
Passing Attempts 30 35
Passing Yards 254 338
Passing YPP 8.47 9.66
Rushing Success Rate 34.38% 31.71%
Passing Success Rate 46.67% 48.57%
Success Rate 41.94% 39.47%
Avg. Field Position 28.5 28.9
PP40 6.00 5.17
Turnovers 0 1

Here’s why I’m not alarmed by the box score: through Vanderbilt’s first drive of the third quarter, when the Commodores needed just 2:34 and five plays to go 75 yards to extend the lead to 35-10, the offense had a success rate of right at 50 percent (both rushing and passing) and the offense was averaging 8.8 yards per play. On the other side, the defense had held Elon to a 34.4 percent success rate, and while Elon was averaging 6.6 yards per play, that was heavily skewed by a 75-yard touchdown pass. Outside of that, the Phoenix were averaging 4.1 yards per play.

That Elon was able to knock off big chunks of yardage through the air is concerning, but it’s not something that I can totally rule out was just a weird night. As Bill C. has written, big plays sort of come at random, I’m not sure what you even do about some of the catches that Elon’s receivers were making, and we’re probably fortunate that we were up 35-10 when that nonsense started happening.

It wasn’t helping the defense’s cause that they couldn’t get off the field in the second half, either. The offense, after the touchdown drive to start the second half, ran a grand total of 18 plays for 54 yards and exactly three of those 18 plays were successful. That the three successful plays came consecutively helped Vanderbilt tack on an additional touchdown when Elon cut it to 35-24; that they were helped by two personal foul penalties, both against Mike Wright, might get you part of the way to explaining what the hell happened to the offense in the second half.

Let me be clear here: this team absolutely cannot afford to lose Mike Wright for any extended period of time, and if I have to choose between running a vanilla offense to get out of there with a healthy Mike Wright and extending a three-score lead on an FCS team, I’m definitely picking the former. And even with basically everything going their way — shoestring catches, questionable pass interference flags on Vanderbilt, a recovered onside kick — Elon never got closer than 11 points in the second half. It wasn’t pretty, but Clark Lea got a win and didn’t get anybody hurt. That’s all we were really asking for, wasn’t it?

Individual 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
Mike Wright 18 30 60.00% 245 4 0 0 0 245 46.67% 8.2


Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ray Davis 20 95 4.75 0 30.00%
Mike Wright 10 91 9.1 1 50.00%
Chase Gillespie 2 0 0 0 0.00%

The other thing I’d point out here, of course, is that Mike Wright passing the ball 30 times is probably not something that’s going to happen very often this season; but, if you were going to try to get him some work in the passing game, the Elon game is where you want to do it.

If there’s an actual concern raised by last night’s game, well, Ray Davis getting 95 yards on 20 carries is it. The offensive line — currently down its starting center — might be a problem.


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
Will Sheppard 11 6 56 2 54.55% 5.1 9.3 36.36%
Jayden McGowan 7 4 118 1 57.14% 16.9 29.5 42.86%
Devin Boddie 3 2 23 0 66.67% 7.7 11.5 66.67%
Ben Bresnahan 3 2 24 0 66.67% 8.0 12.0 66.67%
Ray Davis 3 3 17 1 100.00% 5.7 5.7 66.67%
Justin Ball 1 1 5 0 100.00% 5.0 5.0 100.00%
Gavin Schoenwald 1 0 0 0 0.00% 0.0 #DIV/0! 0.00%

It’s less notable than last season, but the degree to which the passing game locks in on a couple of receivers is a weird departure from the Mason era; Will Sheppard has been targeted a lot both this year and last, and now Jayden McGowan is getting seven targets in his second college game. Some of that might be a reflection of Quincy Skinner being out, but kind of the problem with this is that it’s a bellcow approach when the “bellcow” is catching barely half of the passes he’s targeted on and only netting 9.3 yards per catch.


If there’s another real concern here, Vanderbilt only notched one sack and three quarterback hurries. If you want to blame the defensive backs, that’s fine; the defensive line having basically no depth at all thanks to injuries is going to be a big problem for the defense. Not getting pressure on an FCS team is a problem, and that’s going to be a real problem in SEC play.

True Freshman Watch

The other effect of the late weirdness is that Vanderbilt didn’t go as deep into the bench as they probably wanted to; the true freshmen who played were Jayden McGowan, Steven Sannieniola, Ja’Dais Richard, Langston Patterson, Chase Gillespie, Darren Agu, and BJ Diakite. That looks much closer to the list of guys that the coaching staff gave zero consideration to redshirting (I mean, McGowan is a starter) than it does the list of guys who would get the Elon game as one of their four while preserving a redshirt. Granted, Gillespie is playing more out of necessity than anything right now, and might still get a four-game redshirt once Patrick Smith and Rocko Griffin are back, but at the moment he’s one of just two scholarship running backs available.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt gets its first real test of the season when Wake Forest comes to Nashville on Saturday; game time is 11 AM CT and the game will be carried on the SEC Network. The Demon Deacons are 1-0 after handling VMI 44-17 on Thursday night.