Commodore Brunch Week 5: Vanderbilt vs. Florida

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Commodore Brunch Week 5: Vanderbilt vs. Florida

Defense as the Florida Gators defeated Vanderbilt 13-6 October 1, 2016 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Defense as the Florida Gators defeated Vanderbilt 13-6 October 1, 2016 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Defense as the Florida Gators defeated Vanderbilt 13-6 October 1, 2016 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Defense as the Florida Gators defeated Vanderbilt 13-6 October 1, 2016 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

On Saturday, Vanderbilt students got up as early as 6 a.m., got dressed and went out to tailgate on gameday. Afterwards, some of them filed into Vanderbilt Stadium, expecting to see either a close upset or a complete blowout by the Florida Gators.

Instead, they got two Vanderbilt field goals and a punt at midfield in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Commodores lost a tough one to the Florida Gators by a score of 13-6. There were a number of things that went wrong in this one, and this game could end up making or breaking Vanderbilt’s season.

Here is your Commodore Brunch for Week 5:

WTP? (What the Punt?)

In the final minutes of the game, Vanderbilt had a chance to march down the field and tie the game, much like they did against Western Kentucky. This time, Kyle Shurmur was back in the locker room with an injury, so it was up to backup quarterback Wade Freebeck to lead the way.

After some shaky first passes, Freebeck seemed to settle in, throwing two darts for a first down. Then, a Florida defensive player suddenly went down, triggering an injury timeout.

Vanderbilt never recovered.

Freebeck lost a step and eventually got to fourth down and seven at Vanderbilt’s 43 yard line with just under two minutes to go. The whole crowd (and most of the press box) expected the Commodores to go for it.

But, on came the punt unit.

The shock and dismay was evident in the boos that cascaded down from the Vanderbilt faithful. The explanation given after the game was that the Commodores wanted to take their chances on forcing a turnover deep in Florida territory rather than try to keep driving for an offensive touchdown.

While that is a fair point, especially with a backup quarterback in the game, it doesn’t fully justify the move. The optics of it were horrible. Head coach Derek Mason might as well have run to the middle of the field and waved a white flag. That’s what it looked like.

Freebeck could have easily completed a pass on fourth down, re-gained his momentum and driven for a touchdown. Forcing a turnover is much harder than completing a pass, and much further out of Vanderbilt’s control.

Also, even if they hadn’t converted on the fourth down play, they still could have forced a turnover at midfield, or maybe forced a punt.

News flash: Turnovers happen all over the field. In fact, on Florida’s previous offensive drive, they turned the ball over on the goal line.

There was an equal chance of a Florida turnover at midfield and deep in its own end. Field position doesn’t fix a sluggish offense that could have fumbled the ball.

I understand that Vanderbilt’s defense had been solid, and I understand that Florida’s offense had struggled. But punting on fourth down in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter is just the wrong decision. Period.

Vanderbilt did end up getting the ball back after the punt, but Freebeck threw an interception on the very next play.

Perhaps he could have thrown more accurately on fourth down.

Get well soon, Shurmur

A bad coaching decision won’t kill Vanderbilt’s season.

An extended absence for Shurmur might, though.

In the fourth quarter, the Vanderbilt quarterback took a nasty hit and appeared to get poked in the eye. His right eye looked swollen shut on the sideline as he watched the end of the game.

Vanderbilt won’t officially disclose the nature of the injury, but a swollen eye like that has to hurt. Vision is very much necessary to play the quarterback position.

If he has to miss more than maybe a game, Vanderbilt’s chances at a bowl game will become slim. After his performance through the first four games, he was poised to lead this team to new heights.

Without Shurmur, this team could become lost and sluggish. Yes, Ralph Webb will continue to carry the weight on offense at running back. But Shurmur is the leader and main figure on this offense.

In past years, Vanderbilt has struggled to win with backup quarterbacks. The only time it really worked was when Patton Robinette (soon-to-be-Dr. Patton Robinette) took over for an injured Austyn Carta-Samuels in the James Franklin era. The difference in that situation was that Robinette was starting-caliber already.

Freebeck is not Robinette.

In a way, Vanderbilt’s season lives and dies with Shurmur’s right eye.

Ralph Webb: still good

But, you knew that already.

Vanderbilt looks to earn its third win of the season on Saturday, October 8 on the road at Kentucky. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. for the SEC matchup.

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