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Week Two Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
Brothers gotta hug...
Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from VandyImport:

What personnel does this team need for the quickest improvement? Could be a position player, could be depth, could be a position coach or trainer or coordinator. Short of an old priest, a young priest, and the lean whippy Coach Stackhouse-lookin fella from Princess and the Frog, what one person would give this team the quickest boost?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Look, I get that Nick Howell was kind of a battlefield promotion after he got hired to coach defensive backs and then Jesse Minter left for Michigan. I also don’t think he was Clark Lea’s first choice to be defensive coordinator. After “we dared Wake to run the ball and gave up 287 yards on the ground,” maybe we should get a new one?

Cole Sullivan: One or two speedsters on defense. It sucks to beat a dead horse, but our defense could use the help back there, but like Patrick says in his response, I think we could try and cover our deficiency differently by being more aggressive. We need to take risks to be successful, and I don’t mean just going for it on every other fourth down.

PatrickSawyer: Yeah, I think the defense is a Joejuan Williams and Tre Herndon pairing at CB from being really good. There are things I have noticed while re-watching (and definitely recognized during the Wake game live) where the defense is trying to cover for the problems at CB. I think they are going about it the wrong way. Basically, the plan is to use numbers back in coverage to cover for bad individuals, but it is killing us up front. I would prefer the defense was more aggressive and try to cover ineptitude by forcing the other team into mistakes.

Andrew VU ‘04: Corners with speed and situational awareness. It would be nice if we got a non-crank to coach them up, as well.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

Before yesterday’s game, Vanderbilt football has made me: happy, sad, amused, aloof, aggravated, excited, joyful, content, satisfied, heartbroken, unhappy, resigned, apprehensive, frustrated, anticipatory, mournful, ecstatic, prideful- the whole gambit. However, up until yesterday, I had never before gotten mad. Why do you think the Wake Forest performance was so maddening to me (and a few other folks on the tweeters)?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I wasn’t mad, but 18 years of being a Vanderbilt fan has made me dead inside. That said, I think it’s this:

See that bar second from the far left? That’s us. That’s “we were actually better than Wake Forest, down to down, and lost by 16 points.” (Immediately next to us: Iowa State, which lost an extremely El Assico game to Iowa.) Plus, it’s Wake Forest, a team that James Franklin beat three years in a row. Everybody’s eyes told us we should have beaten Wake. You are not wrong to be mad about this. (I think being frustrated is a more appropriate reaction, but nevertheless.)

That said, the over-the-top “FIRE EVERYONE” stuff, well... that, I’m not on board with right now. It’s one game.

Cole Sullivan: Ooo boy, I am a pretty positive, even-keeled sort of guy and even I’ve gotten mad once or twice. That aside, I think it’s because, despite a lot of things, this team actually is starting to show potential and the ability to win. The longer we look like we CAN win, but don’t actually win, the more frustrating things will become. But really, there’s never even been a ref call that made you angry? Good for you, honestly.

PatrickSawyer: Because you could see that Vanderbilt could and should have been competitive, if not victorious, and flatly refused to do enough to win or even do much to scare Wake.

Andrew VU ‘04: Never? You’ve never been mad? Not even the Woodyball fake punt? Not even during the Karl Dorrell or Ted Cain offenses? Not when we lost to Temple, ETSU, or the 13 field-goal blockers of MTSU? Not when Bobby Johnson retired inconveniently in 2010 for the express purpose of making the Turkey Inseminator head coach and we then went 2-10 on a cursed season??? Not even the eleventy billionth time Coach Mason said “Process,” followed by making Stephen Rivers the starting QB? NOT EVEN THE STEPHEN RIVERS CHEST PASS??? I... I just can’t with this.

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

How many more times will our corners absolutely suck?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Cole Sullivan: At least until next year, probably longer. Even if they stop sucking, I feel like another position group will just pick up the Mantle of Suckitude and run with it, but we can always hope that does not prove to be the case.

PatrickSawyer: Plays? Or games? Plays, I would say probably 50% of the remaining defensive snaps and 7 of the 9 remaining games.

Andrew VU ‘04: I had a bunch of pan-dimensional hyper-intelligent mice commission a planet-sized supercomputer called “Deep Thought” be built to answer this question. Will get back to you in [checks notes] seven and a half million years.

*Ah shit, I can’t wait that long. Let’s just go with 42.

Question from Dore31:

From my perspective, Vandy and Wake Forest had very similar talent in terms of size, speed, and overall athleticism other than at one glaring position in particular (BJ Anderson), but we lost the game because of self-inflicted mistakes (3 turnovers, penalties, missed blocks on the goal line). Do you agree that we had the Jimmys and Joes to beat Wake and, if so, are we also getting to a similar talent level as the Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolinas of the SEC? What does it mean for Lea’s status as head coach if we can’t clean it up the remainder of the year despite catching up on talent?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yes. We have the talent to beat Kentucky and Missouri and South Carolina, and we had the talent to beat Wake Forest. That’s not really the issue with respect to those teams. (Georgia? Yes, that’s a talent issue.)

It means... frankly very little for Lea’s status as head coach, because Vanderbilt is pot-committed to him in the same way they were with Derek Mason. Look, if Mason got seven years, Lea’s getting at least five. You know this. I know this. It’s silly to contemplate something we know isn’t going to happen.

Cole Sullivan: Absolutely we had the Jimmys and Joes, but we have one or two Schmoes, too. I think we certainly have the talent to beat some of the other bottom-of-the-barrel SEC teams, it will just come down to who has the better game on the day we play them. I don’t think Lea’s status as head coach will be threatened unless we bomb really really hard the rest of the season. These things take time is all.

PatrickSawyer: Gotta fix the glaring weaknesses but there were also a lot of suprisingly bad plays from high-talent individuals like Sheppard’s fumbled punt return and Swann’s first interception. So, yes, Vanderbilt is improving the talent level, but the roster is still probably bottom third of the conference.

A head coach’s job is both recruiting and developing talent. As long as the on-field results improve, it does not matter too much if talent is being “wasted.” The key is obviously whether the results keep improving which is now in a bit of jeopardy. Another 5-7 season might increase concern from fans, but it will not move the needle negatively for the administration. Nor should it just yet.

Andrew VU ‘04: Well, I’d say in the aggregate sense, yes, we had the talent to beat them. We also are supposed to be more talented than them (you know, if you take any stock in ‘crootin’ rankings). Still, the answer is no. You correctly identified the black hole on our team that draws all gravity towards him. I don’t know if you’ve played any competitive sports, but if you have, you know that it’s often more important to have no glaring black holes on a team than to even have the most talented player. Our WR room is legitimately one of the best in the country, but we have some pretty massive holes at CB and on the Offensive and Defensive lines. Improve to even “base level” in those areas, and the talented guys can shine. Don’t, and it’s the one kid in Little League who plays the league-required minimum, but quite literally every ball finds him during that time, and no outs other than strikeouts are recorded. Just brutal.

Question from Jeturn:

Is a total of four regular season wins a reasonable expectation after watching the first 3 games?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Like, are you saying four is the ceiling, or are you saying four is the floor? Because... I don’t agree with either of these statements. I’ve seen Kentucky and Missouri this season, and they’re teams we can beat. (I’ve also seen South Carolina, and I’m not about to tempt whatever weird juju they have on us.) We frankly should beat UNLV. Florida is a team we can beat. Auburn is a team we can beat.

Really, nothing has changed from the preseason, except that Wake Forest is now a loss. Nobody on the schedule outside of the teams we were expecting to murder us (Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss) looks unexpectedly good. The teams in the East other than Georgia and Tennessee mostly look worse than even I thought they would. If you’re changing your expectations for the season, you’re overreacting. Now, I do think the Wake Forest loss does make 3-9/4-8 a lot more in play than they were in the preseason, and that’s fine. I’m not going to argue that. But unless you were expecting that in the preseason, you shouldn’t be expecting that now.

Cole Sullivan: Absolutely. We should hopefully win against UNLV (opponent preview coming as soon as I can find more time around my crazy work schedule this week) and I think enough of our SEC opponents are not all that great this year. Honestly, I think it’s a down year for the SEC in general. I would be shocked if we didn’t win at least one conference game against, most likely, Missouri or Florida. I, personally, am still holding out hope for five wins. More than that is very very iffy, though.

PatrickSawyer: Reasonable? Sure. The most likely outcome? Probably not. A lot of teams we play have looked different flavors of horrible, pathetic, and inept at points this season. There are still glimmers of good things (see London Humphreys and a better rushing attack) that may suggest an upturn in the season.

Andrew VU ‘04: Sadly yes. I was a “5 wins as our lower bound and 7 as our higher bound” guy going into this season, but we have just not progressed in any meaningful way in year three of the NoHo Clark Era. Now, I look at our remaining schedule, and only see two more wins—UNLV this week and either Missourah (spits) on 9/30 or The Jorts on 10/7. Of course, we could fire Dan Jackson, start playing some youngins’ at Corner, have the O-Line gel as the season wears on, and have things finally all come together for Swann. Do that, and I’ll re-evaluate. Don’t, and... well... we’re now likely a 3-5 win team. Boo-urns.

Question from Mark Lonergan:

Three questions:

1. Is Wake Forest our real future? 7-8 wins a year and an occasional Bowl Game?

2. How can we complete with NIL schools like Alabama and Georgia and Tennessee who pay their kids over $25MM in NIL annually? Rumor is that Bryce Young took a PAY CUT to go to the Panthers in the NFL.

3. How long before 75% of the SEC schools vote to “disinvite” Vanderbilt to the SEC since we don’t draw for Football (in particular) or for Basketball? When will they get tired of us taking SEC league money and not paying off?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: In order: no; we don’t; that’s not happening, stop it, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Now, if you’re a believer that the Super League is going to be a thing, that’s definitely not going to include Vanderbilt, but I’m also frankly looking forward to no longer having to care about that tier of college football and just getting to watch Vanderbilt play Tulane and Wake.

Cole Sullivan: Most likely. We are never going to be in a place where beating Georgia looks like anything other than a fluke, but I really don’t see any reason we can’t get to a point where any game with a team in the bottom half of the SEC is at least competitive. And if we can get to a place where we sustain that level of quality, well every now and again we probably string together one or two upsets and have, by Vandy standards, a historic season0 … Part of why I think that is attainable is because I think there are enough wealthy alumni out there that could maybe end up chipping in once we have gotten this big stadium reconstruction thing out of the way. Just in general, there are probably people giving to the Vandy United Fund that could eventually end up helping out in the NIL-verse, but maybe not … And I think in either scenario, whether they do or not, there is no way we will not be with the SEC until either the end of time or the end of the SEC, whichever comes first. We will always be the fun little brother that people love to see do well (except against their team) but that will almost always be a guaranteed win for a top program. Eventually, the SEC may get left behind for some other type of super league, at which point I doubt we get the invitation. At that point, I at least hope we can continue playing college football at some level, even if it’s just MTSU, ETSU, Memphis, and a couple other more regional schools every year. The thought of leaving our SEC history behind is obviously really sucky, but it is better than nothing, I guess.

PatrickSawyer: 1) Possibly. 2) We don’t need to in order to be a “7-8 wins a year” program. 3) Never. They may choose to step up into a “Super League” conference, but the congestion of the soon-to-be Power 4 has me wondering if that ever comes to fruition.

Andrew VU ‘04: 1) If we’re lucky (and we’re likely not in the SEC to have baseline expectations of 7-8 wins per year). 2) We can’t. 3) They can’t, but they can create an entirely new “Premier League” type thingy from whole cloth and just choose not to include us. That happens around 2030.

Question from ask_thedoctor:

In 2036, the ACC’s grant of rights will be up, meaning we could see the next big wave of realignment happen ~2035. Between the ACC’s 17.5 teams and the 16 SEC teams, which teams end up in our conference, and should we be excited about Rutgers being there?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s not even the offseason, why are we talking about this?

Cole Sullivan: I don’t think the Pac-12 phase of realignment is over just yet, what with a lawsuit and a bunch of Mountain West teams sitting around. When we get there, I guess I would most like to see Duke end up in the SEC because I feel like that gives us an easy rivalry that I could probably get myself excited about. As for who I think actually gets the invite? The two or four biggest money-making schools, whoever those are. Probably UNC, Florida State, Clemson, and like, maybe Georgia Tech?

PatrickSawyer: I doubt anything waits for 2036. Whether that is these 16-team conferences falling back apart or another round of consolidation, your guess is as good as mine.

Andrew VU ‘04: I was told there would be no math.

Question from VU1970:

The Chuggers are upset because Austin Peay had more first downs than them. Will UNLV have more first downs than us? What do you think is more likely: a loss, an ugly win, or a where-has-this-team-been blowout?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Well, they’re also upset because they forgot to pay off the refs to give them favorable calls in Neyland. Why they needed those against Austin Peay is a mystery. As for the UNLV game, the most likely outcome is a blowout win because... UNLV kind of sucks? (Yes, that was also true the last time we played them. Shut up.)

Cole Sullivan: When is a Vandy win ever not ugly? Exactly. Now that you’ve spoken it into existence, I can only assume UNLV will have twice as many first downs as we do and we only win by virtue of toughing it out in the fourth quarter.

PatrickSawyer: No, they won’t have more first downs. I’m going blowout win. The offense is going to get theirs. They moved the ball 74+ yards on 4 of their last 7 drives. The others were 14 yards (INT), 49 yards (Downs at midfield), and 15 yards (Downs under 2 minutes to play).

Andrew VU ‘04: Put me down for another ugly win, Hawaiian-style.

Question from Volundore:

Alabama: smacked at home by Tejas

Auburn: stunk in Berkeley

LSU: smoked in the 2nd half by the Noles

Florida/USCe/A&M: beat up by P5 teams that may or may not be any good

Mizzou/Kentucky/Tennessee: incredibly uninspired against overmatched opponents in Week 2

Mississippi schools: fine, I guess

Arkansas: exists

Vanderbilt: we’re familiar with their work

Is the whole conference actually ass for all teams not named Georgia?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I already wrote about this the other day. It’s a down year. The why isn’t quite as obvious, though I suspect that this is the year SEC schools are finding out that the transfer portal isn’t an unalloyed good. If you’re gambling that you can fill any holes that come up with the portal, the risk you take is that the best player you can find to fill a spot is Payton Thorne or Graham Mertz, two mediocre Big Ten quarterbacks whom the big-brain geniuses at Auburn and Florida decided should be starting in the SEC.

Cole Sullivan: Entire SEC is in a down year. I think some of the teams may still prove worse than they already have. I think Vandy may be one of the few teams that has not gotten notably worse since last year. That’s the only reason I am still holding out hope for a bowl game.

PatrickSawyer: Wouldn’t say “ass” but definitely down. The Transfer Portal World we live in will make early season contests more of a mess. When teams are moving that many pieces in and out, early days will be rocky. Transfers may bring more talent, but a less talented option who has spent years in the systems might provide more stability early with less impact later.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’d put Ugga in Tier #1 (though with clear downgrades at QB and on the defensive line); Ramajama, Ole Piss, and The Chuggers in Tier #2; and... yeah, I’m going to stop doing this. Let’s just say the SEC is in a down year, and it sucks ass that we’re not on the upswing to take advantage of it. Year Three of The Old Bald Poach James Franklin’s regime would win 8 or 9 against our 2023 schedule, and you cannot convince me otherwise.