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Week Zero Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 26 Hawaii at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from Jeturn:

Are our hets wet?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ve got this one, guys. Time to call on the Oracle of Het-Phi...

Not wet, no, but damp. A win’s a win, but that one... yeesh.

Question(s) from VUFan43 & VUAllDay:

Question: do we have counselors on call? Can we get a group rate? Having trouble dealing with winning but being mad about how we looked doing it. Why are Vandy games so emotionally exhausting?


I know you have reached the limit, but perhaps you can tack this onto a similar question. We’ve often counted our moral victories. Is this our first moral defeat?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No. I try not to read too much into the first game of the season, because (a) we don’t actually know how good the opponent is and (b) the kinks are still inevitably being worked out and that’s especially true when you’re opening the season a week early. I know we all want to start reaching for our torchforks, but... no, not yet. Not unless we look like that against Alabama A&M. Then, you may fire away.

Cole Sullivan: This is, in fact, a moral defeat, but a win is a win. We are one step closer to bowl eligibility whether the Curse of The New Logo likes it or not.

PatrickSawyer: Suck it up buttercup. This wasn’t even that bad. At least we won.

Not our first, but when wins are sparse, it is hard to have a moral defeat.

Andrew VU ‘04: Counselors? I mean, one of us is a law talking guy, but no... you’re stuck with us teenaged girls who respond to your internet queries once weekly. We cope via drinking, listening to the best songs of all time from around the world (like “Jozin z Bazin”), Hailing Pinman, screaming “JEFF GREEN TRAVELED!!!,” and remembering there’s always baseball season. Have you tried drinking?

As for a “moral defeat,” we have had them before, and yes, this Hawaii game in which we needed a redzone pick, kickoff return TD, and onside kick recovery jiggery pokery to beat a team we housed 63-10 in their house just last year... well... there really isn’t another term for it. It was bad and we should feel bad. I mean, it’s better than losing to ETSU, like NoHo Clark did in his first year, but it’s still bad.

*Note: For those who don’t get the “NoHo Clark” reference, please watch the HBO show Barry. For those who have done the right thing and have already watched all four seasons, you are rewarded with this tweet:

Question from OldGold&Black:

We beat Hawaii because we had a more overall talent and couple better skill players (McGowan, Wright) and Hawaii was undisciplined, blew their timeouts, and had unreliable special teams. I cant quite say we were more disciplined but rather less undisciplined. With that being said, how am I supposed to feel about Clark Lea’s staff and the people he’s empowered and put in place to represent and lead Vanderbilt football? This is year 3 and Lea seems somewhat....

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s a long-term build, blah blah blah, can we stop with this after one freaking game that wasn’t even a loss, let’s not act like this was the ETSU game again because we won.

Cole Sullivan: The Leanaissance is in its delayed sophomore slump (you can’t have a sophomore slump after a tough first year in a job like this where so much of the past haunts your office for years to come) but have no fear, Vanderbilt Athletics is playing the long game (I think, I hope, I pray). I sadly don’t know as much about personnel as I should, but the staff I met personally while I worked for Athletics from 2020 to 2022 always seemed extremely cheery, motivated, and overall good. Sometimes, things are hard and you just slip up. I am extremely worried about it, but I need to see a little bit more before I lose faith in ol’ Clark.

PatrickSawyer: There were no major changes to the staff that figured out how to beat Kentucky and Florida last season. Obviously, most of us agree we need a change at DB coach, but this roster has improved a lot since Lea arrived. Some of it has been recruiting, but they have also developed the players they inherited. I think giving up on all the positivity built last season on a disappointing win is silly. Remember, we went from thrashing Hawaii to barely beating Elon. Based on how awful Hawaii was last season, flipping those results earns a shrug from me.

If Alabama A&M also keeps it competitive, we probably have real reasons to be concerned.

Andrew VU ‘04: Bad. You should feel bad. Maybe even a little wistful. Not for Derp Mason, of course, but for Saturdays better spent. The shine is really starting to fade from NoHo Clark’s Shine-O-Ball-O of a head in Year Three. Might he just be a Derp Mason redux, but with Bill Belichick-ian communication skills?

*Note that I had like a two hour conversation around that last question with a friend on Sunday. I’m quite lucky to have friends, as I would hate to pay said therapy bill.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

I’d like to look back at this game and realize we beat a vastly improved Hawai’i team, running a unique offense that will stretch an average P5 secondary, who were playing with their heart on their sleeves. Heck, I wake up the morning after and according to Degenerate Gambling Website over 50% of betters are now choosing Hawai’i to beat the spread against Stanford next week, which has collapsed to as low as -5.5.

Am I just in denial?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No, I mean, we probably aren’t going 9-3 and we might not go 6-6 and we might even go 3-9, but that would have been true even if we’d beaten them by three touchdowns like we probably should have.

Cole Sullivan: I do think we vastly underestimated Hawai’i and the run-and-shoot, but I still don’t think that game should have been anywhere near as close as it was.

PatrickSawyer: Schager really impressed me. There were some tight window deep balls he landed perfectly. We gave him some throws, too, but I think that was a stiffer test of them than most expected or realize. Our pass defense will still be bad, but I do not think it was “bad enough even Iowa would score points” bad. Maybe we are in denial together.

Andrew VU ‘04: Yes. You are in denial. I preferred the gallows humor of a few drinks in WestEndMayhem during the game thread to this pie-eyed sober optimism.

Question(s) from Dore31, SadFootballFan19, & Jerry Palm’s Sphincter:

What was worse - an O-line that sucked at pass blocking in the first half then sucked all around in the second half or corners that we knew would suck but then were even worse? Which is the bigger weakness for the rest of the year?


Is there any excuse for our O-line’s performance? If not, can you just lie to me? Please.


Is there anything we can do, and I mean immediately, to try to mitigate the obvious weaknesses that have emerged in our offensive line and our corners?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The O-line’s performance was concerning, no doubt, but at least we already have a pretty good idea how good that unit can be since it returned four starters from last season and shit like “Julian Hernandez completely whiffing on a block and giving a linebacker a free shot at AJ Swann” is the kind of thing that looks bad but we have good reason to believe isn’t going to be a weekly thing.

As for the corners, well... man, we’d better hope Martel Hight is ready to take over soon. The real difference there is that if the starting corners are bad, they’ll get replaced. I’m not so sure that’s the case with the offensive line. But the latter shouldn’t be a problem area.

Cole Sullivan: Yeah man, we gotta start chugging milk and eating fried worms (I know a couple ways how to do it) and maybe getting those boys a little beefier or something. Or maybe they all missed training camp. And forgot the years and years of experience they presumably have. Or maybe there is a coach that is over-tinkering. Or maybe, the whole defense is just bad.

PatrickSawyer: I am about to re-watch the game. I need to do that before I pass judgement on the OL. Line play is hard to keep track of in-stadium since there is so much going on that impacts it. Not sure how much Hawaii blitzed. Was it one OL getting beat over and over? It would very much surprise me if this unit has really regressed as horribly as it appeared unless they have made a surprise change in technique or style. We know everyone that played on the OL Saturday can be better than that against SEC teams because we have seen them do it.

The corners we expected to be that bad. Hopefully, the changing of the guard happens sooner rather than later, so we can at least be struggling with young, talented CBs instead of ones we know are not going to get better.

Andrew VU ‘04: They were both so horrid it’s tough to, with any degree of confidence, pick which was the worst unit. If I had to, I’d go with the O-Line, because we have already had two years of dogshit at DB... the O-Line fiasco was new. If we’re getting pushed around by Hawaii’s D-Line, just wait until the monsters of the SEC feast on Swann’s viscera night after night unabated for twelve winters, like Grendel did to Hrothgar’s Danes. If we don’t get a transfer from Geatland, and soon, we’re going to have to, well, I’ll let Seamus Heaney handle the translation for me:

“These were hard times, heart-breaking for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors, the highest in the land, would lend advice, plotting how best the bold defenders might resist and beat off sudden attacks. Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths that the killer of souls might come to their aid and save the people.”

Question from HeavyDore:

How much, in percentages, of our pass D woes are due to a 1) poor rush, 2) poor scheming/coaching, or 3) poor DB play.

Things to consider: 1) Our pass rush really did not apply a lot of pressure unless we were bringing a blitz. 2) Our bend-but-don’t-break scheme of playing so far off the receivers really lets a QB play pitch and catch. (Note: Once inside our twenty, we are forced to play tighter due to less field availability and our pass D appears “better”). 3) Despite our corners playing so far off, they were beaten multiple times. Rarely (Never?) did they get their heads around on a deep ball to make a play.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s been a persistent problem going back to the Derek Mason era. The concerning thing is that Lea and staff have recruited pretty well on paper there, so why haven’t those guys stepped up yet?

Cole Sullivan: I always like more blitzing. I know it may exhaust our guys, but if we can keep the defense on its toes and lean on our strengths instead of praying over our weaknesses, well, it’s always good to try new things. We have a chance to experiment this week with Alabama A&M, so maybe we’ll some things get mixed up and shaken out.

PatrickSawyer: I think it is a lot of 2 try to hide 3. It looked like the attempt, as we have seen before, was to drop enough bodies into coverage to hide individual weaknesses. Instead, it just gave Schager enough time to wait until individual weaknesses could be exposed by the route concepts. Again, this is gut reaction that I may contradict later in the week after watching the game.

Andrew VU ‘04: I was told there would be no math. How about I just rank them? 1) Dan Jackson. 2) All DB players not named DeRickey. 3) The pass rush (which, honestly, might have been okay if they would have blitzed, or gone with non-vanilla looks more than twice all night). Aeneas DiCosmo was a bright spot (and not only because of his 5 star name).

Question from RaisedDawgChosenDore:

Was the play calling impacted by the rain delay, pre game jitters, or just an overly conservative offensive mindset?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yes.

Cole Sullivan: I think we need to be more aggressive. All the time. Everywhere. Maybe the Hawai’i game is not the best example (but it kinda is), but we aren’t consistently going to beat even the average SEC team without crazy, aggressive, putting-it-all-on-the-table type stuff unless we’re either playing absolutely perfect football otherwise, the other team is collapsing before our very eyes, or some combination of both.

PatrickSawyer: It is hard for me to say that a team who intentionally ran the ball only 20 times (stat sheet says 26 while including 3 sacks of Swann and 3 kneel downs), and only ran the ball the ball conventionally between 15 and 17 times. The other 3 to 5 were a double reverse, TE around, jet sweeps, or handoffs to a WR who motioned into the backfield.

Swann averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and 13.6 yards per completion. That yards per completion would have been T-16th in FBS last season. Yes, I know the competition was weak, but the only time it really got conservative was the last offensive drive before Hawaii cut it to 7 when Lynch went run on 3 of 5 plays.

Andrew VU ‘04: You don’t get much more “overly conservative offensive mindset” than Dan Jackson. In addition to giving their WRs a 15 yard cushion on every play for some reason, as WestEndMayhem reminded us eleventy billion times in the game thread:

Well, what you need to understand is that our DB coach is an anti-Semite.

As for the actual offensive play-calling, it worked fine when there weren’t two or three Hawaiians in our backfield. So, you know, those five plays were glorious. This offensive line is going to get someone killed. That is not a sentence I expected to write in Year Three of a coach’s tenure. I’m not breaking the torchforks out from storage just yet, but I am certainly not agreeing to go to the conference room of a Dave and Buster’s to hear NoHo Clark’s pitch on cornering the market on sand.

Question from KillerFurball:

On a scale from 1 to “Dan Jackson” how offensive was that performance?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: We scored 35 points, so it was cromulently offensive. I do not think this is the question you were asking.

Cole Sullivan: Andrew got to the mailbag first, and he more-or-less stole the joke I was going to use. Oh well. You get the point. Dan Jackson bad. Offense slightly less bad.

PatrickSawyer: Bill Burr

Andrew VU ‘04: It was not a full Dan Jackson, but it was at least “Comedy Club House standup comedian hosting the Open Mic Night just outside Starkville, MS” offensive. It was also as unfunny.

Question from OldGold&Black:

Ken Seals was an incredible bright spot as a Freshmen in Mason’s final year. Lea/Lynch could not develop that and he regressed greatly.

Then, Mike Wright was a surprising bright spot in his sophomore campaign that showed some promise. That fizzled and led to significant regression. AJ Swann looked dynamic, poised, talented, and like a future stud (incarnation of Cutler) as the backup true freshmen. He looked “ehhhh” last night.

At what point should we start to worry that we can’t have nice things because “we’re” actually doing something to break them? What’s actually been going in in QB room with development?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So I would disagree with the premise that Swann looked “ehhhh” last night. He was fine. He definitely wasn’t the reason the score was within a touchdown.

As for Seals and Wright — Seals came in and looked like a guy who was very polished but didn’t have S-tier arm strength, and the latter really became a problem with the injury as a sophomore (and then he didn’t play last season, probably as a planned redshirt.) Wright’s an incredible athlete who just never developed into a consistent passer. Sometimes, guys don’t work out. Both were Derek Mason recruits, for whatever that’s worth.

Cole Sullivan: Some coaches want to coach more than they want their players to play. We need both to be good, but maybe right now we have a little bit too much of the former. Yet, also, somehow not enough? Or, as I think I’ve said once or twice in this mailbag, maybe we’re actually just bad.

PatrickSawyer: Seals is an odd case, but I think it was injury as much as anything that ruined his sophomore season. Wright was never particularly good as a passer, but his legs provided a dynamic this team needed with some other position groups not holding up their end of the bargain. Wright actually improved significantly from 2021 to 2022, going from a 34.8 to a 57.7 Total QBR. In raw passing stats, his completion percentage (53.1 to 57.4), YPA (6.0 to 6.6), and TD-INT (8-6 to 12-4) all took significant steps forward from 2021 to 2022.

I am not sure what the knock on Swann is all about here. He scored out to a 61.5 QBR on a night he went 19/30 for 258 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. He had 2 more passes dropped that should have been fairly routine catches. It was not an eye-popping night, but it was pretty good. The QBR was also higher than all but 4 apperances last year. Statistically, it was basically dead even with NIU last season where he went 18/28 for 255 yards and 4 TDs. I think there is some weird hype nostalgia from last year coupled with lumping his play in with most of what we saw Saturday night that is driving down perception of Swann.

Andrew VU ‘04: This is perhaps the most depressing question of this batch of mostly depressing questions, and I just had to answer something couched in “from a scale of 0 to Dan Jackson” terms. I don’t think we’re breaking anyone—Mike Wright transferred to Clanga, I mean—but Swann certainly did not look greatly improved last night, even if you’re only going based on his debut start last year. That’s not an indictment yet, but it is concerning. It’s like that mole you’ve been meaning to get checked out, but keep putting it off. Probably not cancerous, but wise to pay the co-pay to let a professional take a look.

Question from Parlagi:

Which entry in the All World All Time Song contest best fits last night’s performance?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Oh, you know the one.

Cole Sullivan: The only song that fits that performance is Dynamite, but played backwards and upside-down by the Dlog fo Tirips.

PatrickSawyer: What? Oh, that thing we did that I completely ignored.

Andrew VU ‘04: That’s a thinker. Certainly no Cabdoo2 song of celebration. Not remotely sexy enough to invoke “Mr. Saxobeat” or anything by the gyrating hips of Adriano Celentano. It was ugly, confusing, and mildly depressing—with a few flashy redeeming qualities, like DeRickey and the WR room. Yeah, it’s the one that won Finland.