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Week Six Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Vanderbilt at Florida
Faced, yet again.
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from JesseCuster44:

What would it take for us to put the ball in the hands of our best skill players on a critical 3rd and 7 instead of dialing up a QB read option that had no chance of succeeding?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Well, we could start by putting our best skill players on the field instead of playing the backup quarterback for the second game in a row and being mum about the starter’s status. Barring that, a different offensive coordinator.

PatrickSawyer: If this is about the faked jet sweep that Seals kept up the middle, I really did not hate that call. McGowan to the edge had worked a couple times and is something most teams should be ready to defend. I do not have the aversion to a few QB runs that most of you do. I’m not clamoring for Seals as our leading rusher or anything. Using him 3-5 times a game on designed runs is a good thing. He has enough — not a lot, but enough — speed and vision to get a few yards and make defenses at least stay home.

Cole Sullivan: Better skill players. Better coaches. Better team.

Andrew VU ‘04: It’s telling how little energy I can muster for this NoHo Clark Vanderbilt Feetball experience that I can’t even remember there being a play of consequence in the Jorts game. They steamrolled us. Would it be good to have good strategic calls in the midst of being steamrolled? Sure. We don’t seem to have that, of course. Which brings me to the next barrage of similar questions below...

Question from SadFootballFan19:

Say you can only get rid of either the OC or the DC. Which one do you replace and why?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: If I can only replace one, it’s Lynch. To me, the problems on the defensive side of the ball are much more talent and depth than they are scheme; the defense has a lot of the same problems it’s had dating back to the end of the Derek Mason era in spite of the fact that we have a different head coach who’s on his second defensive coordinator (and the only reason Lea is on his second is because the first got hired away by Michigan.) Whereas the issues on offense are more directly related to scheme and playcalling. You should be able to put together a decent offense with AJ Swann and these receivers. The fact that Lynch can’t is a sign that he needs to go.

PatrickSawyer: Lynch, easy. This team has the talent to be dangerous on offense. Wasting that talent is way more painful than watching a below average at best defense be made worse. The talent on offense should be winning games. Even absolved of any responsibility for Swann’s turnovers, which is generous since Lynch is also his position coach, the execution against Missouri and Florida should have been enough to potentially win those games if not for being hamstrung by horrible playcalling.

Cole Sullivan: Lynch. Our playcalling feels like it should be the fastest and easiest thing we could improve to win us games. Imagine if we made like, just a handful of smarter decisions on offense this year. We would have at least one, maybe two more wins under our belt. Our defense is going to be bleh with or without a better coordinator right now, but our offense has potential yet somehow continues to take steps back. There’s gotta be something wrong here that we need to look into fixing, ESPECIALLY while Lynch is also the QB Coach.

Andrew VU ‘04: This is a Sophie’s choice, but if both of Sophie’s kids were dicks. I’d get rid of the DC first (provided he brings the DB coach with him to St. Helena or Thebes, or whichever place we plan to exile them to), but yeah... this is a both/and, not an either/or situation.

Question from VU1970:

Vandy obviously could benefit from better OC/DCs and smarter play-calling, but given the current level of talent and the extent of injuries, how confident are you that those things would have made any real difference this year?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: They would have made some difference. For instance, this team should have beaten UNLV.

I don’t think there was ever a scenario where this team was good good, and the offensive line suddenly being a problem would have hampered any offensive coordinator. The talent is also there to be a lot better than 2-5 at this point in the season, considering that I said before the season, with a straight face, that all of the team’s first seven games were winnable, and I stand by that assessment even after what we’ve seen this season.

PatrickSawyer: With less talent or the same talent having a year less experience, Vanderbilt went 5-7 and was very close in games against Missouri and South Carolina. The talent is not there to go 9-3, but it is definitely there to be 5-7 with bad breaks or 7-5 with good breaks. 2-10 should not happen with the talent available. I really want to write an entire article about how awful Lynch has been on a lot of drives this season. The fact that Will Sheppard had 3 catches for 107 yards in the first half and was not targeted in the second half should have seen Lynch left in Gainesville. At the very least, draw up a jump ball play or two for him. He excels at those, and Seals is pretty good at throwing them for him.

Cole Sullivan: I liked what Patrick said a lot, so here it is again in case you skimmed it the first time:

“With less talent or the same talent having a year less experience, Vanderbilt went 5-7 and was very close in games against Missouri and South Carolina. The talent is not there to go 9-3, but it is definitely there to be 5-7 with bad breaks or 7-5 with good breaks. 2-10 should not happen with the talent available. I really want to write an entire article about how awful Lynch has been on a lot of drives this season. The fact that Will Sheppard had 3 catches for 107 yards in the first half and was not targeted in the second half should have seen Lynch left in Gainesville. At the very least, draw up a jump ball play or two for him. He excels at those, and Seals is pretty good at throwing them for him.”

Andrew VU ‘04: Not a whole hell of a lot of difference (mostly because the O-Line appears to be terrible at O-Lining), but it would give us hope. It could have easily been the difference in the UNLV loss, and maybe even the Wake Forest loss, as Wake is not exactly going to out-talent us. Win those first 4 games, and we could build on momentum and grab one more victory, perchance. So yeah... it would make a difference.

Going back to the thing with feathers for a second, though, that Emily Dickinson Velociraptor (Ed. note: surely you meant to say Velocipastor?) is of existential importance for the Vanderbilt football fan. Admit it: you’ve lost your Velociraptor this year. Further, he might not come back barring some unexpected improvement/wins in the early slate of next year’s schedule—as next year’s schedule is going to be significantly more difficult than this year’s. Without the Velociraptor of Hope, it’s hard to bring yourself to even watch on Saturdays. I’ve got to be honest, if there’s literally anything else to do/watch, I’m likely to opt for that over getting bludgeoned to death with our own limbs against Ugga this week. You’ve got to make me care. NoHo Clark has not done that. Oh, and let’s not act like this is a high bar to clear. Bobby Johnson got me to pay to see the 2005 MTSU game with a group of friends on Pay Per View, and after that monstrosity, that same group of friends drove 10 hours to watch us get crushed by LSU. At least give me enough reason to care as 2005 Bobby Johnson did, Clark. At the very least.

Question from Nolongerbeleave:

1. Do you think there is any chance that CDD has seen enough and parts ways with CCL after this season? Feels like we are riding the CCL-train until he at least gets to play a season in the updated stadium in 2025, no?

2. Because the 2020 (CDM) and 2021 (CCL) seasons were so brutal, did we simply get way too excited and optimistic after the 2 SEC wins last year? Should we have paid much closer attention to the Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee scores from 2022 before going all in and expecting to go bowling this year? (CCL fanned the fire of expecting a bowl and here we all sit terribly disappointed.) Sigh.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: As to the first question: no, I strongly doubt that, considering that every Vanderbilt coach who’s gotten a third year has gotten a fourth year, and that includes Bobby Johnson winning six games in three years. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say he’s here through 2025, though, but Vanderbilt isn’t going to fire a coach a year after signing him to an extension (see: Mason, Derek.)

I actually think we paid the right amount of attention to those scores if you knew what you were looking at: for whatever reason, Alabama and Georgia were both running up the score in the fourth quarter (those weren’t “truly” 55-0 and 55-3 games where the winning team packed it in long before the final gun.) But really, using games against two of those three as the bar is stupid. “Went 2-3 in the winnable games on the SEC schedule” is fine? Why are we now trying to pretend last season didn’t happen?

PatrickSawyer: Maybe? But rumors abound that CDD is the one who handpicked CCL. The question is whether CSL has seen enough and might pull the trigger to go back to what she originally stated was her vision for the next Vanderbilt football head coach. I doubt she does, but four of the last five being beatdowns may be enough embarrassment to get the axe swinging. Hell, is five of five out of the question with Auburn showing some life against Georgia?

Cole Sullivan: I hate when people use abbreviations, man. But to answer your question, I do not think the Leanaissance will end this year. I think there’s some sort of value that the administration sees in having Clark Lea at the helm, and I still am not sold that he doesn’t deserve another year. He obviously did something right last year, and I don’t think it’s impossible that with some reshuffling of his staff that he could still be the guy.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ve seen enough. Highly unlikely our AD has. 4 more years of this slop to come. As for the second question... umm... no. I think it was quite appropriate to expect at least the same from the 2023 team as the 2022 team. This regression is freaking brutal, especially considering it’s not really due to losing talent—Re’Mahn “The Hypothesis” Davis being the exception, of course—but to our line play Benjamin Buttoning back to their much younger selves for no apparent reason.

Question from KnockinOnHeavensDore:

I see a lot of people here calling for coaching changes. And I don’t necessarily disagree with that; you have to refresh every now and then to see if it miraculously starts working. But the question is: will it change anything? Did we catch lightning in a bottle with James Franklin that we’ll never catch again? And even if we do, in this transfer-happy NIL era, have we become a stepping stone for players and coaches to a place where the grass is greener, the pay is higher, and the football is better? Have our losing culture and the small and unenthusiastic fanbase that comes with it doomed us to failure in modern college football? Are we destined to stay the laughingstock of the SEC until some conference realignment leaves us on the outside looking in? Are we caught in an irreparable, self-fulfilling cycle of poor performance and losing culture? This godforsaken atrocity, this floating dumpster fire—can it ever become something resembling a competitive SEC football program? Are we too far gone?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Did... did we not win two SEC games last season?

PatrickSawyer: Losing is one thing. Losing because the coaches repeatedly put forth a gameplan that makes the team rely on its weaknesses while hiding its strengths is not the best Vanderbilt can do. We should be able to find a coach that will at least give the talent a chance to let talent be the limiting factor instead of hamstringing them into underperforming what talent we do have.

Cole Sullivan: Change the logo back.

Andrew VU ‘04: Got to do something. This is bad and NoHo Clark should feel bad. At this point, I’m in favor of retribution even if they hire Bryce Drew’s Clapping Hands as a replacement.

*Note to ADCSL: This is not a call to hire Bryce Drew’s Clapping Hands as a replacement.

Question from Dore fan in Dallas:

When HCCL was hired, he could have retained Todd Fitch as OC and Ted Roof as DC. Had he done so, would we be having the same discussions on this blog as we are having this season? And on a related point, we all know that HCCL will be retained even after a likely 2-10 season. Do you think HCCL will make changes at OC and DC and if so do you think he has the courage to bring in some really good people as not all head coaches are willing to do that?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Could he have? I guess he could have retained Fitch, who’s been working as an analyst at Ohio State since then. Roof is now the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma. And yes, I think he’s going to make changes at both coordinator spots, but if he’s going to be limited it’s going to be by the assistant salary pool. Why do you think “not all head coaches are willing to do that”?

PatrickSawyer: The Jesse Minter hire at DC was fantastic. You can argue that we would be better with Roof than Howell, but the real error was not hiring a true DC after Minter left instead of just promoting Howell.

Fitch would have been an improvement over Raih/Lynch. However, he is still just a Senior Advisor/Analyst at Ohio State right now. I think there were some things related to the Sarah Fuller situation and locker room interactions (nothing scandalous) that made moving on from Fitch a necessity. Still, that does not excuse not course correcting after the Raih/Lynch combo experiment failed spectacularly. Also, you would think a HC who recognized what a poor job Lynch is doing would have more input on the offense and force his OC to make better decisions.

Cole Sullivan: We should make big hiring swings. Who we have obviously isn’t getting the job done, and we’re definitely stuck with Lea for at least one more year, so someone needs to take charge and just go throw bags of money at the best, most talented hires we can find.

Andrew VU ‘04: We could have just hired Andy Ludwig as head coach when we all admitted it was long past time to get rid of Derek Mason. (Screams into pillow.)

Question from WestEndMayhem:

I have a crystal ball that can see the future (my eyes and common sense). The crystal ball is telling me that this will be a 2 win season followed by an ever more difficult schedule (on paper) next year, resulting in 3 wins. The crystal balls prediction is factual, you’re the AD, what decisions do you make about the head coach today?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean, he’s gone if that happens but you kind of have to wait for it to actually happen, what is this question. What is this “more difficult schedule next year” about, from best I can tell we traded Georgia for Texas.

PatrickSawyer: Does the crystal ball have any answers for what a potential new coach does? How competitive is the team in the losses? Is there any danger to the space-time continuum if I defy the crystal ball’s vision of the future which includes Clark Lea as head football coach at Vanderbilt going 3-9?

Goofiness aside, that would be a “fire Lea” situation. Of course, the very real necessity of the crystal ball in making the firing decision would be to see whether I can get a better coach this offseason or next.

Cole Sullivan: If we only win 3 games next year, tear the program up more complete than the stadium (yes, tear it all up, even the logo (I will never not be mad about it)) and start all over again, yes, again.

Andrew VU ‘04: Where’s the third win coming from? My Magic 8 Ball only shows 2.

Question from 79CommodeDore:

Can we negotiate with UGA to to not play but give them the W so no one else gets hurt? I’d be good with an agreed 49-10 score so they can say they kicked our ass but we actually scored—-twice. Would save a lot of people a lot trouble.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No.

PatrickSawyer: I hate you so much for asking this. No. We are going to the slaughter, but we lay down for no one.

Cole Sullivan: I dunno, there’s still a chance we could win, right? We gotta play the game.

Andrew VU ‘04: Under no circumstances should we do that, but their 3rd stringers will be in before halftime. They, too, will push us around.

Question from Your Uncle Mike:

Matthew Hayball: Only player in NCAA Football with over 11,000 punt yards.

Brett Upson: Music City Bowl MVP.

Bill Marinangel: 81-yard fake punt TD against Alabama.

How would the panel rank those? We’re a Punter’s School, right?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I like how Marinangel had five career rushing attempts and a reception. Woodyball!

PatrickSawyer: Hayball, Upson, and Marinangel, in that order. Generally speaking, specialists have improved by leaps and bounds in recent history. Hayball has averaged 5.3 and 10.0 yards per punt better than Upson’s best season (40.7 YPP) as a senior.

Actually, looking back, Marinangel averaged 46.6 YPP as a senior, and his career average of 41.7 YPP was 1.6 YPP better than Upson. So, Hayball, Marinangel, and Upson is my final answer.

Cole Sullivan: Correct answer is Hayball three times.

Andrew VU ‘04: Hail Puntman.