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Week Four Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer (even if, like this week, none of us is particularly up for it).

Kentucky v Vanderbilt Photo by Carly Mackler/Getty Images

Question from HeavyDore & SeaDog73:

Did we make the right choice between Wright and Seals [Editor’s note: I assume he meant Swann]? Not who is the “better” QB, but which one gave us the better chance for winning.


It seems like Seals and Swann have both regressed since their freshman years. It seems like the OL has regressed since last year at a minimum, and it is the same players, for the most part. If these observations are correct, what are the chances CCL makes some changes in his coaching staff as soon as the season is over, like CDM did at the end of is first season?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think they did, and it sure seems like a sign that the coaching staff’s opinion about Wright was correct that when he hit the portal, the best offer he got was “backup quarterback at a middling to below-average SEC team whose fans had previously been seen in the background of a picture of him shooting the bird.”

What I’m not sure about here is whether there was some sort of intangible quality to Wright that actually was a real reason why the team beat Kentucky and Florida with him at quarterback, even though from both the numbers and the eye test he has less arm talent than Swann. Sometimes, that stuff matters. Maybe there really was something to the quick hook that the staff had for Wright early last season having a negative impact on the team that was restored when he became the starter again.

As for the second question — hell, I don’t know. There are plenty of examples across college football of quarterbacks looking good as freshmen and then regressing as sophomores, such that it’s not really unique to Vanderbilt. Kyle Shurmur threw more interceptions than touchdowns as a sophomore. As long as the arm talent is there, you’re hoping for a big improvement as a junior anyway. These things aren’t necessarily linear.

PatrickSawyer: I am fully on board with the choice to name Swann the starter even though it meant Wright left. I might even take Seals over Wright if he can be just a touch better than what we have seen from him in limited duty. The WRs are clearly the strength of this team. Wright could not put them on display like Swann has at his best.

I think a big part of this offseason was spent getting Swann to take some risks. He had 10 TDs to 2 INTs, which is almost too low for a freshman of his arm talent. Swann seemed too scared to make mistakes to the extent it kept him from making plays. Now, the pendulum has swung too far the wrong way.

Yeah, it’s probably on the QB coach. Seals was obviously struggling with an injury in ‘21 though. I think they chose Wright over Seals because of concerns about the OL that were well-founded to start ‘22, and Wright’s athleticism masked it both by escapability and making DCs adjust to his athleticism. Also, they saw what they had in Swann and knew he was the more dynamic pocket passer.

Cole Sullivan: I probably would have taken Mike Wright. I think they both give us a roughly equal chance to win, but I think Mike was more exciting. Whoever was starting, would it really have made that big of a difference though with the other problems we have? No, I don’t think it would have. And yes, I think many players seemingly regressed. I can only assume that has something to do with coaching, and we need to turnover some coaches.

Andrew VU ‘04: As I put in my Editor’s note, I assume you mean Swann here, as Wright did not transfer out because NoHo Clark decided Seals would backup Swann. Wright left to attempt to start elsewhere, and/or because he really wants to major in Animal Husbandry or some shit at Clanga State A&M.

With that in mind, while you may not agree, Swann is the more talented QB. However, Wright’s legs give you the chance to pull an upset. It’s like 60-40 in favor of Swann, and was pretty obvious every time Wright tried to throw to a WR who wasn’t like 10 yards open. I still believe in Swann’s arm talent. Of course, that leads us to the 2nd question...

...and shit, yeah, it does very much seem like we have gotten all hyped about the potential of a freshman QB, only to watch them regress in year two. That’s not not the QB coach and offensive coordinator’s fault. Further, you are correct that our O-Line, featuring returning starters, should not look like freaking toreadors this year after looking perfectly cromulent by the end of last year. That’s coaching, with a side-helping of the strength coach and the training table.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing. You know my torchfork is already out. No idea if ADCSL has made the move to get hers out of storage. We’re probably in the “clean house or you’re out, Clark” stage of the Vanderbilt coaching eternal recurrence thingy, but again, we should have already, at the very least, terminated the DB coach last year. Start shopping for coordinators, Clark.

Question from OldGold&Black:

What is the benefit or rationale behind playing a sophomore QB who is injured and has started the year with fragile confidence/judgment?

Is it based on “winning now” or that they believe there is a huge talent drop off? Something else?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The rationale is that Swann is the team’s present and future at the position until he’s not, and the other quarterbacks on the roster are either not ready (Walter Taylor), nothing more than a capable backup (Seals), or probably both (Drew Dickey.) The belief is, clearly, that Swann gives the team its best chance to win right now in addition to being the long-term solution at the position. (This gets into the same strategic decisions referenced in the first question; for instance, if the staff thought they needed a real alternative to Swann, they could have either worked to keep Wright around or gone portal-shopping for a potential replacement.)

That said, the key word here is “until he’s not.” He’s QB1 for the rest of the season, but if he doesn’t have the job nailed down by the end of 2023, expect the staff to take a hard look at the other options on the roster (which probably won’t include Seals) in the spring and/or go looking in the portal, or maybe even try one of the two incoming freshmen.

PatrickSawyer: Swann was not throwing the ball like a guy that was injured. There were some really pretty deep balls. Something like an elbow contusion (as they termed it after UNLV) or other forearm muscular issue is going to mostly show up in grip strength. The visible result is a lot of weak, wobbly throws especially when going deep. It may have been uncomfortable, but I do not think it was to blame for the bad throws because they were all strong spirals, just not to the right team.

I am also not sure where the assumption of “fragile confidence/judgment” originates. As I said above, Swann had 10 TDs and 2 INTS. A 5:1 ratio is really good. He was also so solidly named the starter in the offseason that his main competition left for a school where he was going to be just a change of pace piece again. Now, Swann has shown some poor decision making this season, but that seems much more likely down to coaching/scheme since there was no evidence for a confidence problem last season.

As for the last bit, AJ Swann is Top 5 in the SEC on pure arm talent. Decision making is an issue right now, but he has all the talent in the world. I do think Seals is a competent QB though, and we will likely see him next week as the arm problem seems to have been exacerbated.

Cole Sullivan: Nothing we do should ever really be based on “winning now.” We as a team should never be at the point where we say “Hey, I don’t care that your hurt, you need to go win us this game so that yadayadayada...” because I don’t think we are good enough for that. These guys all want to play football really badly, no matter what, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing football for Vanderbilt. He was probably medically cleared, or at least “cleared enough” to play, and so he decided to play. Nothing more to it than that, in my mind.

Andrew VU ‘04: You’re probably not going to like this answer, but there is a difference between hurt and injured. You have to be able to trust your medical staff on this, but if a player can play effectively through pain, and has no more chance of getting injured than without the pain, you play through the pain. I once went 5-5 with three steals and pitched a game on a knee that would require stiches after the game in high school. Still got a gross scar. I’m not equating the rigors of or injury potential of South Jersey HS baseball with SEC Football, but if your medical staff clears the guy, you’ve got to trust them. Further, though he has not played like it this year—and really, I’m hanging most of that on our unexpectedly redolent of swiss-cheese O-line—Swann really does have a lot more talent than Seals, and the drop-off between those two and the rest of the QBs we have on staff is a chasm. Yeah, Mike Wright would have been nice to have in such a “hurt, but not injured” situation, but, you know, scroll up for the answer to that one.

Oh, and yeah, now Swann is likely injured. No word yet how severe.

Question from JesseCuster44:

What month and year will it be when Clark Lea gets fired by VU?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Whew, this is going to make a lot of people mad, but the earliest it’s happening is November 2024 and that assumes no better than 3-9 this season followed by missing a bowl game next season. Any hint of progress, and he’s going to be here in 2025.

Look, if Derek Mason got seven years, Lea is getting no less than four and probably five.

PatrickSawyer: November or December 2024 at the earliest, since that’s what you are really interested in knowing. I may lean that way through the season, but a good offseason could change my opinion drastically.

Cole Sullivan: Midseason 2027. He has an up year next year but piddles along after that.

Andrew VU ‘04: That all depends on the calendar. Are we talking Gregorian? Julian? Hebrew? Is time just a construct? [Insert more nonsense from me here, as I’m clearly just stalling.]

Man, I don’t know. I’m out on the NoHo Clark train, but seeing as we gave Mason 7 years, I doubt ADCSL is ready to tell Clark: “Shitter’s full.” Let’s go with November 2024 if we finish 2-10 this year and pull another 2-2 out of conference to open ‘24. Ah hell, who are we kidding? He’s going to find a way to somehow luck into 6 wins next year, so as to torture us through the full Mason 7 year itch.

Question from 79CommodeDore:

We seem to never play man defense and our zone coverage is soft which is a recipe for the horrible results we get from our pass defense. While our corners are certainly bad, and likely why we play zone, could trying some man coverage really be any worse, and MAYBE we actually stop a 3rd and 12 pass attempt once in awhile? I just don’t get the apparent insistence on always playing zone. Am I stupid (no you may not ask my wife) or missing something?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Whatever the problem is with Vanderbilt’s defense, it’s that usually when you willingly give up underneath stuff on third and long, it’s also with the trade-off that you’re less likely to get beat deep — and Vanderbilt is somehow bad both at stopping the other team from converting a 3rd and 12 but the corners will also inevitably give up at least one really big pass play per game. So hell, if you’re gonna get beat deep either way why not try to stop the offense from converting with a short pass?

PatrickSawyer: I do not mind the zone as much as how soft it is. Pretty sure I have made clear that I would prefer to blitz more and force teams into early decisions to disrupt timing instead of trying to play 7- and 8-man coverages until the QB finally finds an open target.

As for 3rd and long, Kentucky was 3/8 on converting 3rd downs of 7 or more. The next longest was 4 yards. One was a 3rd and 7 that was a 22-yard scramble. Another was 3rd and 15 where the pass fell incomplete. It should have been a safety except an uncalled holding in the endzone caused Myles Capers to end up grabbing Leary’s facemask instead of his jersey before Leary’s also-uncalled intentional grounding, also from the end zone. The Wildcats did get a 12-yard completion on 3rd and 8 later. Basically, 3rd and long wasn’t an issue on Saturday.

Cole Sullivan: I am with Patrick. We should blitz more and mix up how we run our zones. Sometimes, we are just going to get beat, though. We’re a bad team, ya know? And bad teams get beat. *long, deep sigh*

Andrew VU ‘04: Called your wife. She had surprisingly little to say on the subject of man versus zone defenses. She did say to stop leaving your damned socks on the bedroom floor, though.

Question from Jeturn:

What remaining game offers the highest chance of Vandy picking up a win?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Since everybody else is going with a joke answer, the answer is... either this weekend against Missourah (spits) or Auburn in November. Neither of them should scare you.

As for the rest of the schedule... Florida’s weird bout of competence has me looking at that as less possible, Georgia is... going to murder us, I’m not going to tempt whatever weird juju South Carolina has on us.

PatrickSawyer: Whichever one immediately follows curing the turnover bug.

Cole Sullivan: Norfolk State Spartans - September 7, 2024

Andrew VU ‘04: Bowling.

Question from PhilipVU94:

Why does anything matter?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Hail Pinman.

PatrickSawyer: Because the alternative is worse. Numbness is worse than pain by far.

Cole Sullivan: Because we decide it does. It’s almost all extrinsic, aside from the value we all possess as individuals capable of thought. (Yes, I was a philosophy minor.)

Andrew VU ‘04: Even existentialists like Camus reasoned that while there may not be a point to human existence, it still matters. We must imagine Sisyphus happy and whatnot. And he concludes The Stranger with that emotionless psychopath Muersault saying the following, from his jail cell, right before he was bound to face La Guillotine:

“For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘fiance,’ why she had played at the beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her. And I felt ready to live it all again too. As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

So yeah, you know... that.

Now if you’re going to bring those anti-natalist philosophers like David Benatar to the party, then you can fuck right off, as I do not have a witty rejoinder for the argument that we would all have been better off not to be born.

Question from VU1970:

“Submission,” eh? If this team played 8 games against the Mason team that went 0-8, how many would they win? On the other hand, the players don’t seem to have quit — right?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Are we assuming the 2020 team just randomly has a promising freshman DB get lost for the season, or that that team has a bunch of offensive linemen opt out on the season, or randomly has to bring in a goalie from the women’s soccer team to kick? I still don’t think the 2020 team wins more than 3 or 4 against the current team, but it’s closer than you think if the team that Mason intended to play is out on the field. Playing the actual 2020 team, though, this team goes at least 7-1.

PatrickSawyer: Keeping the coaching staffs the same? Probably 4 or 5. It would be an interesting matchup, but I think there is a lot more speed on the 2023 version.

I would 100% trade OCs from 2020. If you gave Todd Fitch this offense, I think Vanderbilt is definitely 4-1 or 5-0. 5-0 with Ludwig, who I found out this weekend snubbed Notre Dame to stay at Utah.

Cole Sullivan: That team was worse than I think people give it credit for being. I was there. I lived that. It was horrifying. I think this year’s team could go 7-1 in 8 matchups.

Andrew VU ‘04: I don’t know. Let’s go with 5, but only because that 0-8 team got completely demoralized, hit hard with Covid opt outs, and everyone involved visibly gave up before season’s end. While this current team would have had the talent to win 6, they would have given at least three of those eight games away with unforced errors, pick-sixes, and the like.

Question from RaisedDawgChosenDore:

I’m not sure how verifiable the information in this question is but have any players put on weight and muscle? Or rather I guess the question is, is strength and conditioning making year three feel (and look like) a regression from year two?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No. Low-key the biggest issue with the offensive line is that, like the defensive backs (at least, until this past weekend), it’s probably the position group with the most Mason-era holdovers still playing. (If you’re confused, remember that the 2021 class was entirely Mason recruits.)

Probably the most notable difference between Mason’s recruiting approach and Lea’s was that the former would tend to favor sure-thing replacement-level SEC players, guys who had a high floor but probably weren’t going to be anything special. The offensive line’s probably the place where you have the most time between entering the program and actually contributing, so the Lea guys there are still in the pipeline — and his approach has been more to add guys with upside who might need a year or two anyway, so there’s your most basic problem.

PatrickSawyer: Really do not think the strength and conditioning is the issue. It’s probably technique and scheme.

Cole Sullivan: I don’t have hard numbers, but I know that in the past year or two there has been a rather large adjustment in how nutrition is handled, which has largely been positive both in result and reception according to my friends in Athletics. I do think guys have been eating better and have been putting on a little bit of weight, but as for the strength and conditioning side, I know very little.

Andrew VU ‘04: I honestly have no idea. The line play sucks harder, though, and not because of graduations/transfers out.

Question from Parlagi:

In mid-November, Wazzu hosts Colorado on Friday night, with Idaho vs. Idaho St. at the Kibbie Dome the next day. Should I fly out to the Palouse for this, and why is your answer yes?

If it matters, Vanderbilt has a bye that week, but I’d theoretically miss a MBB game against (checks notes) 9-22 Central Arkansas.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: But how will we ensure that the comments section wins against the basketball team?

PatrickSawyer: Road trips to cool venues is always a go from me.

Cole Sullivan: Absolutely. Watching a Wazzu game live is a goal of mine. Go live my dream. Skip Idaho though, the whole state is built on a lie! I drove through once with my family and we tried to order a baked potato at a Wendy’s where we stopped for lunch AND THEY WERE OUT OF POTATOES! Never again, Idaho, never again.

Andrew VU ‘04: I mean, by that point, will it even be fun to see Coach Prime’s team just get shellacked by teams that have functional line play and decide to run the ball? I’d catch a Vandals game, though.

No, scratch that, the Fightin’ Stackhomes get to avenge Corbs’ mid-week loss to the Central Arky Purple Cocaine Bears. You need to be in Memorial for that. Now that McKendree is toast, we’ve got to have a new HATED RIVAL, no?

Question from WestEndMayhem:

What are you favorite game day recipes and snacks? Lord knows I need something to look forward to on Saturdays, and it’s not this team.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: What is this recipes and snacks stuff, I just go straight for a six-pack.

PatrickSawyer: Whatever gets thrown on the grill or smokers at the tailgate. My dad is a wizard, and the guys we tailgate with have actually done competition BBQ. We had CSL show up to judge a rib competition in 2021, and she comes out once or twice a season to sample the goods. We must be doing something right.

Also, these southwest chicken pinwheels my dad makes have a grip on me that make me understand how heroin addicts end up in such dark places to get a fix. They are similar to this recipe.

Cole Sullivan: Usually I am watching home alone with popcorn. I may douse the popcorn in soy sauce, or this cool sesame sauce I found, and then I’ll just eat a standard lunch when it comes time. If I was more settled and/or lived/worked somewhere where it was more convenient to watch games, AND I didn’t have to work on Saturdays, I would be frying up some jalapeño poppers, grilling a couple of veggie burgers (I recommend Beyond, but Impossible is fine, too (yes, I know there are those among you that likely scoff at the thought of a vegetarian game day meal, but you asked so I’m answering), and maybe pairing it all with some Ruffles and dip. I mostly stick to water, but if I were hosting people for a game day, I would have sweet tea ready to go. If pressed for a dessert option, I would probably try and find some sort of cake or pastry that was black and gold. If not, then just some soft cookies I could heat up in the microwave to get them nice and gooey. Yum!

And yes, it’s lunchtime as I’m writing this.

Andrew VU ‘04: Of late, I’ve been going on long hikes at 7am on game days, so I’m far too tired to do anything but heat up leftovers during the Vandy game. However, Venison Jalapeno Poppers (sometimes called “Deer Bombs”) are one of my tailgating go-to’s. Here’s a recipe from Country Roads magazine. That’ll work, of course, but I do make them slightly differently than that.

I take half a jalapeno, scoop out the seeds, fill it with cream cheese, top that cream cheese opening with some venison backstrap, wrap it in bacon, and throw it on the grill. No real need to get fancy with it, but it does help to marinate the venison in whatever you like for a few hours before you plan to grill. When the bacon’s crispy, it’s done. Make about a million of them, as they will go about as fast as it takes to get them off a grill and onto a serving dish. Just keep throwing batches on until the charcoal dies.

Ah, a quick trip to the google machine found a recipe that’s closest to my style. You know, if you need a recipe. I’ll let someone else handle the entrees, but I’d be shocked if anyone can beat my tailgate appetizer suggestion here.