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Anchor Drop, October 24, 2023: Seals starting again

I have thoughts on this.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Vanderbilt Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning.

Optional Musical Accompaniment

Clark Lea ended any suspense about the starting quarterback for Saturday’s trip to Ole Miss last night on the Commodore Hour.

I have a few thoughts on this.

First of all — let’s stipulate that Clark Lea is generally forthcoming about injuries, so it’s certainly notable that he hasn’t said since probably the week of the Missouri game that AJ Swann is injured. The logical conclusion here is that Swann has been benched, particularly since if Clark Lea is going to name a starter on Monday of game week, it doesn’t serve his interests at all to hold back information that Swann is injured.

While I sort of get the argument for continuing to play Seals, I think fans are overstating how well he’s played. He’s played more or less like a typical backup quarterback (note that I’m not referring to a typical Vanderbilt backup quarterback here, who’s either a guy who would be a third-stringer anywhere else or a scared freshman being thrown to the wolves.) He hasn’t made too many mistakes; there are also plays in the playbook that they can’t run because the quarterback can’t make the throws. He’s not going to embarrass you but he’s probably not going to win games for you.

I sort of get the argument for holding the locker room in that one of the fastest ways to lose the locker room is to bench a guy whose teammates like him and who is playing well. That said, this is concerning for two reasons.

One, I’ve assumed all along that one of Swann and Seals would be gone after 2023. Seals is in his fourth year here, he should be getting his degree, and might not want to return either way (I have no idea, I’m spitballing here.) What if now both of them transfer after the season? That’s a real possibility if Swann feels like he’s being jerked around by the coaching staff. Were that to happen, Vanderbilt is left with a couple of redshirt freshmen who have barely seen the field, along with a couple of incoming freshmen on next year’s roster.

But second, inability to manage the quarterback room is probably one of the biggest flashing red warning “This ain’t gonna work” signs for a head coach. As Aria Gerson tweeted last night:

And yeah. Saturday will be Clark Lea’s 33rd game at Vanderbilt, and it will mark Ken Seals’ 11th start (seven in 2021, four this year.) Mike Wright started 11 games (five in 2021, six in 2022), and AJ Swann has started 11 (six in 2022, five this season.) Aside from the absurd symmetry there, that’s three straight seasons where they haven’t been able to settle on a quarterback.

I’ll give him a bit of a pass for 2021 — both the decision to name Seals the starter out of camp (he had, after all, started all nine games in 2020) and the decision to switch to Wright (mostly, though not entirely, necessitated by injury) was completely defensible. But the quarterback controversies of the last two seasons have been entirely self-inflicted. Swann pretty obviously has better arm talent than either Seals or Wright; naming Wright the starter prior to fall camp and then pulling him after a single bad half of football was a very questionable move. I sort of get shielding Swann by not starting him from the jump, but Lea very much lucked out by Swann playing well against Northern Illinois in his first start. But I also probably would have at least gotten Alabama and Georgia out of the way before throwing a freshman out there. And then, when Swann got hurt later in the season — well, Wright happened to be the starter for the team’s two SEC wins, which let a portion of the fanbase think that the better quarterback leave the program.

As far as this season goes — does the coaching staff really believe that Seals is the better quarterback? If he is, why was he not the starter coming out of fall camp? If he’s not, why is he still playing? These are the kind of questions that make you really start to question whether the coaching staff knows what it’s doing, and then you get into other errors like:

  • Hiring an offensive coordinator (David Raih) who couldn’t actually call plays, something that became apparent prior to his first game
  • Elevating your newly-hired defensive backs coach when your defensive coordinator unexpectedly left, and then sticking with him after a season in which his defense ranked 125th nationally
  • Getting a free pass to fire an underperforming position coach and then retaining him anyway for reasons that were never explained

So uh, what the hell is going on in there? The information is really starting to pile up.

Other sports news: women’s tennis swept the singles and doubles titles at the ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championship. Men’s golf finished the first round of the St. Andrews Links Collegiate in a tie for first. Women’s golf is tied for third.

Sports on TV

All times Central.

  • 5:00 PM: NHL: Maple Leafs at Capitals (ESPN)
  • 6:00 PM: College football: New Mexico State at Louisiana Tech (CBS Sports)
  • 6:30 PM: NBA: Lakers at Nuggets (TNT)
  • 7:00 PM: College football: UTEP at Sam Houston (ESPN2)
  • 7:07 PM: NLCS Game 7: Diamondbacks at Phillies (TBS)
  • 7:30 PM: NHL: Bruins at Blackhawks (ESPN)
  • 9:00 PM: NBA: Suns at Warriors (TNT)
  • 10:00 PM: NHL: Flyers at Golden Knights (ESPN)


MLB: Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 1 (series tied, 3-3) ... Rangers 11, Astros 4 (Rangers win, 4-3.)

NFL: Vikings 22, 49ers 17.

NHL: Canadiens 3, Sabres 1.