“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
While the internet (falsely) attributes this quote to Albert Einstein, it should be attributed to Vanderbilt Football’s coaching staff, because that’s pretty much how they’ve managed the last three games.
For the third straight week, Vanderbilt has done more of the same things, and for the third straight week, it has cost them football games. Vanderbilt, realistically, probably didn’t stand a chance against the fifth-best Georgia Bulldogs, but the score could have been a whole lot closer than 45-14.
Poor run defense, poor running on offense and mental errors all reared their ugly heads again on Saturday, keeping Vanderbilt from even making the game competitive.
But, don’t fret too much, Commodore Nation, because at long last the mid-season gauntlet of ranked teams is over. The schedule is ready to ease up.
Here is your Commodore Brunch menu from Week Six:
Vanderbilt schooled in the basics
The most fundamental skill in football, at least on defense, is the ability to tackle. The act of bringing a player to ground is beyond the bread and butter of football.
Yet, Vanderbilt looked like they were trying to tackle the Greased Up Deaf Guy from Family Guy on every single play.
Georgia continually ran the ball, and on each play, Vanderbilt couldn’t seem to make a proper tackle. They were tackling with their arms, or tackling from a bad angle or just completely whiffing on tackles.
It’s not like Georgia running the ball was a surprise. Georgia’s overwhelming rushing offense is about as certain as the water in the Cumberland River being wet. They still couldn’t stop it.
It comes down to fundamentals, and Vanderbilt failed to make the grade.
Head coach Derek Mason didn’t mince words on his team’s tackling performance.
“It has to be better,” he said. “Again, you can drill it all you want to, but what it comes down to is what you do when live bullets are coming. We didn’t have these issues early in the season, we haven’t played a stretch of football this tough, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the stretch of football. I know the teams are tough. I know the people that we’re facing are good running backs, but the idea of tackling is still tackling.”
So, whether it’s just getting back in focus in practice, or getting back in focus on game days, the tackling must be better before any other improvements to the defense are made.
Fixing the tackling will make any further adjustments possible, because if you can’t tackle, you might as well just have 11 parking cones on the field.
Why was the Webb Jet grounded?
It was just a baby step in the right direction, but running back Ralph Webb was finally able to break off some good runs in this game.
The problem was how the team handled everything else.
Webb managed to find space and run for 47 yards on the day, which is not great by any stretch, but it included 11 and 28-yard runs, which were well above his average.
However, we don’t know how much better he could have been, because he only ran the ball 12 times. By comparison, Khari Blasingame ran the ball 7 times for just 7 yards. It seemed that every time Webb had a big gain, he would be off the field for the next few plays, and the drive would stall from there.
Webb was visibly ready to get back in the game. He was on the sideline, working his legs, moving his feet, ready to get out there at a moment’s notice. But, his number wasn’t called nearly enough times.
That comes back to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. In what could have been a 100-yard plus performance by Webb, the offense abandoned the plays that let Webb have success and instead ran plays that got Blasingame stuffed at the line.
You’ll be hard-stretched to find an offense in which the offense’s skill transcends the boundaries of its mediocre play calls, but if the trends continue like they do, that’s exactly what will happen to Vanderbilt.
The offense failed to show even a lick of adaptability in terms of play calls and could not recognize successful trends in their own plays.
Case in point: in the first quarter, with Vanderbilt driving in Georgia territory, Vanderbilt was awarded a free play due to an offsides call. Instead of taking a risky shot, they ran the called-for screen play and didn’t get much yardage. After the penalty yards were added, Webb was stuffed at the line and Vanderbilt was forced to punt.
That lack of adaptability comes all the way back to the top, and in order for Vanderbilt’s offense to be balanced and good through the rest of the season, Ludwig needs to look up from his clipboard and actually watch what’s going on in the game.
The Storm is Over, The Fun Can Begin Again
Alright, Vanderbilt fans, you can come out from the bomb shelters now. The worst is over.
The Commodores emerged from a four-game stretch featuring four Top-25 teams and two top-five teams with a 1-3 record. When you look at it from an eagle-eye view, that’s pretty good.
The worst part of the schedule is over, and now, Vanderbilt has the ability to show that even though they are clearly not ready to hang with the top tier of SEC teams, they are still a good, winning football team.
Next week, Vanderbilt gets a downtrodden Ole Miss team, and after the bye week, faces a hobbled South Carolina team. After that, they get play three straight games at home against very beatable Western Kentucky, Kentucky and Mizzou teams.
Then, to cap off the year, they may have the chance to mercifully end Butch Jones’ coaching tenure at Tennessee in Knoxville.
Fear not, Commodore Nation, the road ahead is not dark and full of terrors. Instead, it’s filled with mediocre football teams that Vanderbilt should be able to beat and beat rather handily.
Put it this way: if Vanderbilt fails to get to six wins with that remaining schedule, someone needs to be fired.
Vanderbilt travels to Ole Miss next Saturday to take on the sanction-ridden Rebels.
Photos by Claire Barnett // The Vanderbilt Hustler