The first Power 5 opponent of the season handed the Commodores their first loss last Saturday. It was a mistaken riddled performance from Vanderbilt against Wake Forest. Most of the issues were execution, though I have two major gripes with the coaching staff. I also lost about 10 minutes during the 1st quarter due to how the ACC Digital Network edited the version posted to their YouTube page. There was another drive lost later in the game, too.
Lessons We Are Learning
London Humphreys is starting to stand out as the third option behind Will Sheppard and Jayden McGowan. Humphreys was the leading receiver at Wake thanks to receptions of 48 and 30 yards. His other two catches were for 13 and 18, so he was making the most of his targets. The freshman has probably earned more snaps. Granted, I think the answer should be more 4WR sets with either Quincy Skinner or Junior Sherrill.
Special teams had some critical issues against Wake, so they remain stuck in the realm of things I am not quite certain about yet. Sheppard was a bit greedy on both punt return opportunities. Both times should have been fair catches. On the first, he created oohs and ahs because the Demon Deacon tackler was the one that ended up leveled while knocking Sheppard out of bounds. The second was a disaster with Sheppard fumbling for Wake to return for a TD. There was also a penalty for running into the punter with Vanderbilt trying to get a punt block for the third straight week. Thankfully, Matthew Hayball still has a rocket launcher for a leg with a 63-yard punt that was returned 2 yards. His other punt was only 48 yards but was downed at the Wake Forest 1-yard line, so more distance would have been a problem. Jayden McGowan was kept out of the action on kick returns by the booming kickoffs except for a late game attempt to return one he normally would not.
The rushing attack had another decent week. Patrick Smith gained 77 yards on 10 carries while Sedrick Alexander struggled to 28 yards on 10 carries. Even if you take out Smith’s 40-yard scamper, he averaged 4.1 YPC. If Vanderbilt can get that sort of production per carry, which averages to 5.7 between the 2 backs, from their conventional running game then the offense should be successful. The offensive line was not blasting Wake off the ball, but they were creating seams to cut through. Logan Kyle had a 12-yard carry on another end around. Contributions like that along with what can be done with McGowan and Sherrill will be a nice boost.
AJ Swann is having some Jekyll and Hyde moments. He had almost identical throws to make where one ended as an interception and the other was a 48-yard dime that NFL scouts would drool over. On both plays, the intended target was on top and outside his primary defender with a safety sliding over. The first throw came from a clean pocket, but the throw was left short and inside by 10-15 yards. It was picked off and returned 50 yards to the Vanderbilt 10. This was on the first drive. The second throw was late in the 2nd quarter and was over the top and to the outside, so Humphreys could run under it. It was also made with a defender actively grabbing Swann, yet he was able to avoid leaving that one short. He needs to be just a bit more consistent and avoid the disaster plays. Swann had a few other throws that could have been intercepted or should have been a lot better. He also avoided a lot of pressure and was excellent about stepping up in the pocket, which is probably his Total QBR was 72.5. As with any player, you want more of the good/great and less of the bad.
The defense is at its best when aggressive, but the coaches prefer to be conservative. The approach to stopping the slow mesh was to have the DL stand up the offensive line and try to muddy Griffis decisions. Instead, he took advantage of the extra time to think at the mesh point. In the meantime, the Demon Deacons offensive line was creating running room. Again, like Vanderbilt’s OL, it was not about pushing the defensive line back as much as just spreading them out for the backs to find gaps. It also took a toll on the Commodores DL as they tried to hold the line instead of having the joy of trying to cut into the backfield for stops.
Lessons We Know Well
Vanderbilt has two dynamics duos, one each on offense and defense. On offense, McGowan and Sheppard both had 6+ catches for 68+ yards each for the third straight week. McGowan caught 6 passes for 72 yards, but he was mostly bottled up except for an explosive 50 yarder. He caught the ball about 12 yards downfield then bounced off two tacklers before sprinting deep into Wake territory. Sheppard kept his streak of 2 TDs per game going while gaining 87 yards on 8 catches with the requisite pair of scores. The TDs showed some creativity from Joey Lynch, when it might be lacking in other places. The first was a slant and corner that resulted in a ridiculous diving catch where Sheppard got only his elbow down in bounds. The second was a slant that Swann fired through a gap in the zone.
Defensively, De’Rickey Wright and CJ Taylor keep making play after play to try and cover any mistakes. Taylor had 10 tackles. Of the 10, 8 were solo and 2 were sacks. He also forced a fumble on the goal line to keep the score 27-14 after Tate Carney had ripped off a 74-yard run. Wright also had 10 tackles with 7 being solo. Unfortunately, he was partially to blame for the 74-yard run by going entirely for the punch out and not making the tackle. Still, these two are doing a lot for this defense.
Unfortunately, one player is doing a lot of things wrong those two cannot cover though. BJ Anderson was personally responsible for 2 DPIs, 2 TDs, and a couple third down conversions. The first DPI was the infamous 3rd and 19 where he was oblivious to an interceptable pass and just shoved a WR right in the chest. Later in the drive he tackled his coverage target in the end zone, again while in good position. One TD against was pretty good coverage that was just beat by a great throw and catch. The other was a case of poor awareness to let a WR go running by him into tons of green grass. Do not send hate mail or angry DMs to a student-athlete. I do not care how poor his play is. The supposed Steve Spurrier quote to Danny Wuerfell applies. “BJ, it’s not your fault. It’s my fault for putting you in the game.” The coaches need to get away from him. Maybe he can be useful as a slot corner or even safety, but he should not be out wide covering team’s best receivers.
Lessons For Further Study
Bluntly, how do the Dores respond? Getting beat is one thing. Self-inflicting wound after wound is different. Sometimes, they linger. Players and coaches overreact and overadjust into other issues. Even defensively, you are away from the slow mesh, so that poor game plan is already out the window in favor of more normalcy. Sheppard just needs to be a little more patient and not try to force something on punt returns. Swann needs to be a little more okay going to the next down with no gain.
On that note, can Vanderbilt get a full-game performance? Vanderbilt has started slowly this season. They ended up stomping Alabama A&M on the back of a 35-10 second half. Against Wake, the Dores imploded at the end of the first half in a way that left them chasing a game they could have potentially tied going into half.
Extra Credit (Random Observations)
The 2 bad snaps were weird. Hernandez has not ever had issues with snaps, but those wasted plays derailed drives. One was from the Wake 1 on 2nd down with no points scored after stuffs on 3rd and 4th. The other created the 3rd and long with the bizarre targeting reversal.