Commodore Brunch: A tragedy of errors, a season on the brink

Photo by Clay Leddin.

This game was like a car wreck.

But, not just any car wreck. A slow-moving car wreck. This was not a Mack Truck slamming into a sedan at full speed on the highway. No, this was a minivan sliding down a snow-covered street, taking out every parked car in its path.

It’s horrible to watch, and you can’t stop it. Yet, for some reason, you can’t look away.

That’s how I felt watching Vanderbilt suffer a slow and painful 44-21 loss at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats. It was tragic and disastrous, but you really couldn’t turn away. You just had to watch the madness unfold.

This disaster was a real reality check for this football team, and they’re on the brink of failing to qualify for a bowl game for the third time in Mason’s four-year tenure.

Here is your Commodore Brunch menu for this week:

“A comedy of errors”

After this game, head coach Derek Mason called this game “a comedy of errors.”

“Comedy” doesn’t even begin to do it justice. This was a tragedy of errors.

For the umpteenth time this season, Vanderbilt had the opportunity to make this game interesting, and shot themselves in the foot at every turn. On offense, Kyle Shurmur tossed four interceptions, more than he had all season to that point. Multiple ball carriers ran into their own blockers and stymied what could have been long runs.

In addition, running back Ralph Webb had just nine carries in this game. NINE. That is an abominable decision. He had a touchdown run in the first quarter, and Shurmur was throwing interceptions for the first time all season. Even then, Webb didn’t see more than nine carries.

Mason implied in the press conference that Webb took himself out at points throughout the game, but he still should have gotten more than nine carries. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig continues to lose the benefit of the doubt on these decisions.

On defense, it seemed as if this team’s strategy was to arm-tackle as much as possible and hope to not shred a bicep.

Benny Snell Jr., one of the best running backs in the SEC, made each Vanderbilt defender look like a parking cone that got stuck in cement. At multiple points, Vanderbilt had the chance to get off the field and make things interesting, but the secondary continued to get beat at the worst possible time.

After the game, Mason said his team needed to get back to “the process,” whatever that means. If things go wrong enough times, and the excuse is that the team didn’t “trust the process,” well then maybe the team is actually following the process and it’s the process that’s the problem.

If Vanderbilt’s secondary puts on another performance like this against Missouri next weekend, the Tigers could very well put up over 70 points.

The “a” in Vanderbilt Stands for Apathy

Last week, I pleaded with Vanderbilt students to make their way to the stadium today for the game.

Not enough of you listened.

At its peak, the student section was probably about 40% filled with maybe 200ish people.

That’s pathetic. On a picture-perfect afternoon, only around 200 people showed up to a key game against an SEC opponent. It was a game Vanderbilt should have been able to win. There was literally no excuse to not be at this game.

What were you doing? Studying? Sleeping off the tailgates? Whatever the excuse is, if you really cared and really wanted to be at the game, you would have been at the game.

Many students referred to today as “the last tailgate of the year.” If this school really cared about football, they’d refer to it as “the second-to-last home game of the year that will also include tailgating.” Because that’s what it is. You can tailgate on any Saturday you want, but there are only so many gamedays on West End.

I don’t blame any students for leaving the game early. I would have left that game early too if I weren’t working. But, the fact that more people couldn’t show up at all is a pathetic look for an SEC student body.

But, the blame doesn’t entirely fall on the students themselves. They don’t care, and people know that. Apathy breeds apathy, and it starts straight at the top with Vanderbilt administration, athletic director David Williams and Chancellor Zeppos. When the school is lazy about promoting athletics and improving athletic facilities, this is the kind of result that you get.

I get it, the current administration wants to turn this school into a clone of Yale or Harvard. But, you can’t do that while pretending that you care about anything sports-related, and you certainly can’t do it while pretending to be an SEC school.

Sorry Vanderbilt, but giving away sweatpants at a “pep rally” on The Commons is not going to cut it in terms of school spirit. This school has bred apathy in its students, and is letting the best years in Vanderbilt Athletics’ history go unnoticed by the student body.

The Diwali Showcase, one of the biggest campus events of the Fall across the street at Langford Auditorium, had more people PERFORMING in it than students in the student section. And if that’s not representative of the current apathy towards sports at Vanderbilt, then I don’t know what is.

Bowl game? You’re talking about a bowl game? Are you kidding me? 

Before we get any further, I’ll let Jim Mora encapsulate the situation Vanderbilt finds itself in.

Mora is right. I just hope Vanderbilt can win a game. Because no team that plays like that even deserves the chance at a bowl game.

It’s a case of deja vu for Vanderbilt, entering the last two weeks of the season with two wins needed for bowl eligibility for the second straight season. Although, as Mason pointed out, there’s is a different vibe this season.

“It’s a different team,” he said. “We’re at a different point right now. The record may be the same, but the thing we’ve got to do is self-reflect, every one of us. Coaches, players, man, let’s get it right. You’ve got to take it one day at a time. Again, it’s back to process. I’m not moving off of that because, until that gets fixed, you can’t change the outcome. We really have to change our process and make sure the process leads us to where we want to go. And then, the outcome winds up being exactly what you wanted it to be.”

If you ignore the coach-speak about “the process” that he’s been spouting all season, Mason has a point. Last season, this team was playing with house money. Few expected Vanderbilt to do anything special last season, and they came out and won two straight at the end of the season to make it to a bowl game.

This season, Vanderbilt could very well win the next two and make it back to a bowl. However, even if they do, this season will seem like a failure in the eyes of many (but perhaps not in the eyes of people that make decisions at the top of the athletic department, but that’s another issue). This team had the potential for at least seven wins, but they put up a number of duds over the middle of the season, and now here we are.

At this point, the worst-case scenario is Vanderbilt finishes with four wins, no bowl and a lot of questions about the future of this football program. The best-case scenario is that this team wins out, goes to the Birmingham Bowl and salvages some of their dignity, but not much else.

No matter what way you spin it, Vanderbilt cannot finish with more regular-season wins than they did last season. Therefore, this season is already a failure no matter what happens from here on out.

Vanderbilt has a shot to save their season on Saturday when they take on the high-flying Missouri Tigers.

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Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Cutler Klein (’19) is the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He is majoring in Communication Studies in the College of Arts and Science. When he’s not writing stories, tweeting silly GIFs or watching any hockey game he can find, Cutler is running the sports department of VandyRadio, hosting VU Sports Wired on VTV and covering the Nashville Predators as a credentialed media member for Penalty Box Radio. Cutler has had bylines on NHL.com and VegasGoldenKnights.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Have been planning all season to drive up from Atlanta next Saturday to catch a competitive game. Sitting here this morning it’s pretty hard to justify the money or time sitting through that blowout would cost. This is supposed to be entertainment, not a community service sentence.

  2. Thank you for your student perspective.
    Your comments on the University support of athletics (time and money) is key to issues you described with the current football program by the VU students and VU leadership.

    How many “Kirkland Hall employees (top 20 positions)” and VU leadership (board members, etc…) are NCC members, were at the games (home and away venues, does any of Kirkland Hall attend away games?) this year and stayed to support the student athletes, spirit of gold, etc…. ? Maybe some investigative reporting would give us the answers? What other venues at VU could Kirkland Hall folks attend to show student support and alumni / community thank you’s in the same numbers as athletic events?

    Interesting to see these support questions “scorecarded” for the Men’s Basketball and Baseball team this season as well.

    Worth some investigative reporting (Cutler, this could be your Sr. communications major project?) to have a scorecard for VU leadership “SHOWING” support at the games and hosting new donors and thank you to current supporters in support of athletics!

    Who is headed to NCAA Soccer Championship Tournament games this week to support these remarkable student athletes and ladies?

    Thank you,
    36 year season ticket holder for football and basketball and Hustler Alum!

  3. No one goes to the game because Vanderbilt is not a team worth watching. People don’t go to Vanderbilt games to watch Vanderbilt. We go to watch the other team hence why Alabama had such a high attendance rate. Vanderbilt students didn’t come to Vanderbilt to watch football. We came to stress over academics and de-stress through various enjoyable social activities. Watching a blowout in a crowded football stadium is not enjoyable. But thanks for telling us how we should be spending our time.

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