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Week Two Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

Elon v Vanderbilt Photo by Carly Mackler/Getty Images

Question from Vault boy:

How much optimism is too much for a Vandy fan? This team SEEMS better than a lot of previous ones, but it was just game 2.

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: Get as hyped up as you want. For your own health, be prepared for the letdown though. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but college football is a fickle bi — mistress. See: LSU loss Sunday night.

If you want me to judge how fans should feel, I would say expect 3 or 4 wins and to be competitive more often than not in the losses. As I’ve said before, check with me after the Wake game. Thankfully, that game is this Saturday, so we should have a much better idea of where this team is in 5 days.

Cole Sullivan: I feel like optimism in general is a trait inherent to the individual and you can’t really ever have too much or too little of it. You just have what you have. I, for example, have boundless optimism about most things and Vanderbilt Athletics is included in that, so I will say there is no such thing as “too much” optimism. We are a better team and we are going to shock the world at least once this year.

Andrew VU ‘04: Will shake the Magic 8 Ball.

That being said, I’d say an appropriate amount of optimism is feeling like we might just have a chance—if we play our A game—of being 3-0 after we play Wake Forest. This is not something I would have said in the pre-season, as Wake has a legitimately good veteran QB, and has been one of the better coached teams in the past few years. Now? Even though Vegas has Wake by nearly two TDs, this game’s a coin flip.

I honestly hope the study body is starting to get that “we might be... cromulent?” buzz around campus. If not, they should be.

Not to go all coach speak, but we should absolutely only be focused on Wake right now. They’re an appropriate challenge, and more than that, a great barometer for how much the team has improved. A good Vanderbilt team should beat a good Wake team. I think this is a good Wake team. We shall find out if we’ve moved from dumpster fire (‘20) to teardown (‘21) to precocious scamps who might just be good (‘22), or if we’ve skipped the scamp-stage and moved into being actually good by around halftime of this week’s game.

*Hat tip to Parlagi on the photoshop.

Questions from 92Drummer & BarnDore1950:

I credit part of the mid/late-game slump to defensive adjustments by Elon. That is maybe the biggest go-forward concern for me. Are we “running out of stuff” which will make it easier for coaches to figure out, now that two games worth of film are out there?

I’m also concerned about 2nd down play calling that leads to too many 3rd and long situations. Looked like too many “short yardage, up the middle” plays instead of plays with bigger potential that would give us 3rd and short opportunities.


92Drummer pretty much asked my questions. I thought we got outcoached in the second half not only in scheme, but in motivation. Maybe its natural to go flat after going up 35-10, but I didn’t like the way Elon moved the ball up and down the field at will in that second half. Maybe we have more work to do than we thought?

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: I don’t think “running out of stuff” is an issue at all, not two weeks into the season. The offense has also been successful using fairly varied concepts. The offensive staff may have limited how much they wanted to show in the first two weeks, and Elon got keyed in on some of it. They still scored 42 points. After seeing both games, Elon is better than Hawaii, and the offense scored 7 fewer points after putting up 49 against Hawaii with 14 more scored by the defense.

The offense is clearly designed to keep as many options available open as often as possible. The Commodores will clearly be at their best when Mike Wright’s legs are still a threat, which may have led to the bog down as he only carried the ball twice after going up 35-10. If first down stalls, they need to do something to get to 2nd and 5 to keep Mike’s legs as a consistent threat. I was not watching as closely as normal since I was at a bar with other games on TV, but the playcalling did not stand out as excessively conservative on 2nd down though.

The defense did leave some questions that I am not confident trying to answer until I have fully re-watched the game.

Cole Sullivan: Here’s an interesting article from 538 a few years ago looking at different play-calling sequences (and another less relevant article about run-pass ratios in the NFL.) I looked back at the play-by-play and we are basically 50/50 on first down but we run about two-thirds of the time on second down. Referring back to the chart from the former article, that honestly seems to be about the correct mixture of plays. I assume, then, if there is a scheme or gameplan issue it’s that we are trying hard not to show our cards too early in the year against the least of our competition. I’d rather play predictable and conservative now, especially if we can still win while doing it. As for motivation, I think we trailed off. We were up big and Elon fought back when we didn’t expect them to do so, plus I assume the team was tired from traveling to and from Hawai’i, getting caught up in classes after missing a few days, and still preparing for the game. I think we have a normal amount of work to do and remain hopeful for this Saturday.

Andrew VU ‘04: It looked like an issue of a team who thought they had issued the death blow, but, like every crappy horror movie, just dropped their weapons and ran after having “scorched the snake, not killed it.” Honestly, the thought that kept running through my head was that they thought, having proved dominance early, that Elon would just give up. I mean, that’s pretty much what Hawaii did. However, Hawaii is in their teardown year zero mode, and Elon, though an FCS foe, is a veteran team with a veteran QB and cromulent coaching. They weren’t going to give up. Our young scamps thought wrong.

Beyond that, they looked a bit gassed—which could be from injuries, depth, Hawaiian island jet lag, having kicked a few players off the team, or all of the above.

The good news is they shook loose from this mindset and still won with relative ease. Last year’s team would have lost, ETSU style. Though this year’s team still has a lot of growing up to do, they’re on the right track.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

Lea seems most disappointed of us all in last night’s win against South African Robber Barons. He specifically called out a lack of rotation with the defense wearing down certain players quicker than usual, and plans to address that issue this week. What else should he address so the team can get out of its way against wake?

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: Again, breaking down the defense is not something I want to do without re-watching, but we should bring the heat against Wake. I don’t think we did much of it the first two weeks. I hope that was due to the offensive schemes faced. Both Hawaii and Elon use pass-heavy attacks that want to get the ball out quickly. Wake is a more balanced offense known for the long QB-RB mesh on RPO, with some of it including a second run option of a QB keeper. They also use a vertical passing attack out of it. The 3 passing TDs last week were 14, 23, and 27 yards on throws outside the hashes.

I can’t claim to know their full passing attack scheme, but pressuring that mesh intelligently— not blindly sprinting in but breaking down on assignments — and not letting the should-be backup QB have time for targets to get open downfield is probably the best option. Oh, and make sure we get ourselves in the right coverage assignments.

Cole Sullivan: We will get in our own way against Wake at some point. I think we can minimize that by doing our research and getting some rest. Wake Forest returns most of its stellar team from last year while I think we’re still in the process of returning from Hawai’i. So far we’ve put together what, 6 really good quarters of football? We’ll need to put it all together and keep it together for all 4 to beat Wake, and we’re only going to do that if we are mentally prepared.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’d say he pretty much nailed it. Side note: How great is it not to have to hear nonsense word salad featuring the word “Process” eleventy billion times, and instead, to hear an honest assessment that fit your own personal eye test?

I’d have them run gassers to improve conditioning (though that’s not exactly something you can improve in a week, so it’s really more something to keep as a long term training issue), give them a body rest day in the film room on Friday, and hope we don’t have to cut any more players for being on their bullshit. That, and with a veteran team with a veteran, possibly NFL back-up level good QB, the D should be studying tape non-stop like that weirdo who broke Press Your Luck back in the 80s.

Question from VU1970:

We seemed to wear down alarmingly in the second half. How much of that can we attribute to time travel home from The Sandwich Islands, how much to conditioning in general, how much to rotation trouble, and how much to Elon? Do you think Elon feels they maybe got home-cooked out of an upset?

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: There are too many factors that could have led to the Week 1 issues to get worried about conditioning yet.

Cole Sullivan: I think a lot of our issues were from conditioning and readiness following the Hawai’i trip, especially with so much depth missing on defense (covered later). Elon got lucky in a few ways, so I wouldn’t feel cheated or anything if I were them.

Andrew VU ‘04: We’ve mastered time travel?!

Question from Vandyfan1:

Even though the game seemed good from a statistical standpoint point what went wrong in the stretches where we did not score?

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: We took away our own biggest weapon by limiting Wright’s rushing attempts. It was probably a conscious choice for health reasons. And maybe a little bit of a challenge to Wright to see if he could operate without his legs so much. I hope it was a learning experience.

Cole Sullivan: I had a work thing for most of both the games so far and will most Saturdays through the beginning of November, so I am having to assess this mostly from a skim and with the box score/play-by-plays of the Hawai’i and Elon games in hand. One thing that sticks out is the importance of successful passing on scoring drives. We have had ~70 total plays on 15 total scoring drives this year between both games (not counting penalized plays). Only two of those plays have been incomplete passes. On 9 of 10 Mike Wright-led drives where we have given up the ball there was at least one incomplete pass, and the other drive was rushing only. Successful passing has been integral to our success where we’ve had it. Mike Wright is amazing, but he needs to be more versatile and dependable in the passing game. We have some great receivers who can make big plays including SEC Freshman of the Week Jayden McGowan, and Mike Wright did do better against Elon, but we still need more success through the air to give our offense the variety we need to succeed against more challenging opponents. “Complete your passes” seems like a really simple criticism, but when 11/15 total scoring possessions include at least one complete pass and 9/10 non-scoring possessions include at least one complete pass, it seems like the passing game could maybe be important to scoring. On the 4 possessions where we scored just off rushing, there was always at least one 30+ yard run and usually a massive penalty involved, which feels unreliable as part of the gameplan. I love the run-first identity and think Mike’s legs are crucial to the success of the team, but we’ve gotta be consistently moving the ball through the air, too. The median yardage from the 21 completed passing plays on scoring drives is 11 yards, so it doesn’t need to be flashy but it does need to get done. That’s all I’ll say about that for now, because I’ve kinda started down a rabbithole and I don’t even know if I’m making an important point, but I do know that I need to get back to other things.

Andrew VU ‘04: Besides that we did not score? I’ll look into it.

Honestly, I think we’ve largely covered this in previous questions. It didn’t look to be a scheme issue. Just have to keep working on conditioning, depth, and not taking our feet off the gas when thinking we’ve put another team away.

Question from Jeturn:

With a nod to a small sample size, what is this year’s coaching staff doing better than last year and what are areas that still need improvement?

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: The grasp on the roster and being confident enough to fit the schemes around the players available is the biggest difference. It’s not even a knock on the guys no longer on staff. They just were in year 1 with a huge roster of new players all with strengths and weaknesses. It takes time to learn how all of those abilities can mesh together and who can play in ways to accentuate the strengths and hide the weaknesses the most.

Cole Sullivan: I feel like the coaching staff is probably just settling in. Team Two is much further away from Darth Mason’s influences than Team One. Consistency is a big deal, and this coaching staff cares consistently. Areas for improvement? All of them all the time. Never stop not stopping. Actually, stop fumbling. That’s 3 times in 2 games. Gross.

Andrew VU ‘04: For one, they’ve decided this is Mike Wright’s team, and adapted the offense to his strengths. Just like the Eagles did last year with Jalen Hurts. It’s pretty amazing how few coaching staffs can actually do this, and instead, try to square peg round hole things ad infinitum until they all lose their jerbs. Though the other writers may disagree with me, I’m not exactly seeing many errors in coaching and/or scheme (aside from that one Ted Cain style QB run up the gut on a 3rd and 7). It just looks like they’ll need to stay the course, keep crootin’, and grow these talented youngsters into talented savvy veterans.

Question from Admirable Snack Bar:

How much better do we become if everyone who might realistically come back from injury does so?

(By this I mean don’t include anyone who is done for the year, but do include longer-term injuries the coaches haven’t ruled out)

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: Lea did say he expects Rocko Griffin, Julian Hernandez, Quincy Skinner Jr, and Yilanan Outtara to be available against Wake on the Commodore Hour tonight. Griffin is probably the most powerful and aggressive of the RBs and gives Ray Davis a really solid backup, especially with Patrick Smith potentially still out for non-injury reasons. Hernandez back as starting center is obviously huge. Skinner is the number 2 WR, so it takes some pressure off Sheppard and McGowan. Outtara is a depth DL who flashed early in camp before picking up the injury, but he is a project due to his newness to football.

The defensive line needs Devin Lee and Daevion Davis to be effective though. Lea said they are still a bit away with Lee expected back in full practice in a week or two. He will need to get back into game shape. Davis will be a starter when he is full go, and he will probably be our best and most disruptive DL. I think he would have wreaked all sorts of havoc against Hawaii and Elon. Lee will limit a lot of dropoff when someone needs a breather and provide a boost from the start until Davis is back.

Cole Sullivan: Most of the injured players on defense seem to be either relative rookies OR are integral pieces of the team with injuries I am not sure will come back this year. Depth is important on keeping our defense fresher for longer, but it doesn’t seem like we’re getting back any impact guys. The return of Rocko Griffin and Julian Hernandez would bring a lot back to our already seemingly overcharged offense, though. Variety of attack and strength on the line is going to be essential to our success this year. I think the returns could be a huge boost to our competitiveness in the SEC gauntlet later this season, but I by no means think they are essential. If everyone returned healthy, I think it could maybe net us half a win or something like that. Freshness on the defense could determine a close game, but I don’t think it’s going to save us against Georgia, for example.

Andrew VU ‘04: Not sure what units of measurement to use here, so I’ll say 7. 7 betters.

Question from DoreFaninDallas:

Vanderbilt currently has a 12 game schedule. If they were to be 5 - 7 in those games and then schedule a 13th game and somehow end up 6 -7 would they be bowl eligible?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: Will ask Parlagi, as this, and going to Sweet Briar Vixens intramural cricket matches is his beat.

Parlagi: Oh fine. They’d be eligible ahead of every 5-win APR team, but behind any other 6-win team*, including those with 2 FCS wins.

(* — They could be selected ahead of a 6-7 Hawaii, but I don’t see 6 wins happening there.)

Question from JerryPalm’sSphincter:

If I drink less booze next Saturday, will I be less pissy toward other fans? (Apologies everyone)

Answers from AoG:

Doreontheplains: Yeah. Your social awareness being intact will probably limit whatever aggressiveness came out that I missed by not being in the game thread.

Cole Sullivan: Probably, yeah.

Andrew VU ‘04: That’s kind of a double-edged sword entirely depending on your personality. I’ve found over the years that the “in vino veritas” axiom is, in fact, axiomatically true. Beyond that, the commonly held modern belief that drinking changes people is... not. Short of getting full blackout, drinking just tends to serve as an exacerbating force. In other words, it makes you more elementally you. If you’re mean (and possibly repressing it), you’ll be a mean drunk. If you’re kind (and possibly repressing it), you’re one of those weird huggers, or even weirder, Buster Bluth style shoulder rubbers. If you’re funny, you’ll be more outgoing and open with your jokes (as that little voice that says, “Is this appropriate” is drowned out, quite literally). If you’re a Vanderbilt football fan (and possibly repressing it while sober), you have learned trauma in your DNA, and it will come out via gallows humor, sunshine pump style optimism, “here we go again” style pessimism, or some combination of all of the above. During the end of the Derp Mason Experience, you could even be forgiven for going full feetball nihilism.

In short, you’re probably going to be a version of you that is essentially you. Alcohol may just determine the degree.

On the other hand, if you’re going through any actual emotional trauma, it can be like pouring fuel on a fire.

In conclusion: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯