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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Commodore Brunch Week Five: This ain’t it, chief

Photo by Claire Barnett

Leave it to Vanderbilt to make a win feel so much like a loss.

When the Vanderbilt Commodores walked off the field on Saturday with a 31-27 win over Tennessee State, there was no celebration, and rightfully so.

The Commodores didn’t deserve to win this game. A Kalija Lipscomb long-range touchdown was the only thing that kept a program known for disasters from a disaster beyond comprehension.

Now, Vanderbilt will have to do some serious soul-searching, or the team will face a dismal fate going into a rough stretch of SEC play.

Here is your Commodore Brunch menu for this week:

Disaster of Biblical Proportions

Vanderbilt plays Tennessee State in football on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at home. The Commodores won 31-27. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

It doesn’t matter that Vanderbilt won.

This was a fantastic chance for the Commodores to put up a lot of points, win by a wide margin and gain some confidence going into the SEC gauntlet.

That didn’t happen, and it’s inexcusable.

The second-half performance by the offense was better than the first half, but being down by any amount of points to Tennessee State after 30 minutes of this game just cannot happen.

Being only up by four points after 45 minutes is unacceptable.

Having to win the game on a long touchdown pass in the final minutes is unacceptable.

The entire 60-minute performance was unacceptable.

Most of this letdown falls on the defense, who allowed the Tigers to throw for 269 yards and three touchdowns on the day. TSU also converted seven third downs/ Those misses on third down extended drives and allowed Tennessee State to hang around until the last possible moment.

“I think at the end of the day, we struggled through the mental piece to get off the field,” head coach Derek Mason said. “We had plenty of opportunities. Their quarterback’s a good athlete and a great runner, but we see good athletes all the time. For us, we let one become two, two become three, three become four, plenty of opportunities to get this guy off the field, but too many guys not getting off blocks, not straining to finish. Really, it led to us shooting ourselves. There were plenty of opportunities to get off the field. That’s disappointing.”

This was a game that Vanderbilt should have won and won handily. Instead, Vanderbilt sputtered throughout the entire game and were lucky to escape with a win.

If Vanderbilt puts up a similar effort against even the most inferior of SEC opponents later this season, the result won’t be nearly as close. The most hapless teams in the conference like Tennessee will demolish Vanderbilt by 50 or more points if things don’t improve.

Don’t let the result lull you into a false sense of security. Vanderbilt was barely saved from a Titanic-level disaster.

Real Rotation at Running Back

Vanderbilt plays Tennessee State in football on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at home. The Commodores won 31-27. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

If there was anything positive to take away from this game, it was how Vanderbilt rolled out its running backs.

Last weekend against South Carolina, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig rotated running backs Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Khari Blasingame and Jamauri Wakefield over long stretches of time, sometimes lasting almost an entire quarter.

This time, however, the running backs rotated in at a much quicker pace. Also, freshman Ja’Veon Marlow replaced Wakefield in the rotation. That helped each back gain more yards, and the Commodores outgained TSU on the ground by over 150 yards.

That didn’t seem to even satisfy Mason this time around, though.

“I don’t know, I’m not a play caller,” he said. “I just know that Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran the ball well, I thought Khari ran the ball well. We could have fed them more. Hopefully what it led to was us having a little more consistency and letting those guys move the chains a little more.

“Obviously, we have to find a better balance that allows us to be successful, but the rotation is about personnel. I can’t tell you, you’d have to ask Andy and he could tell you.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of his offensive coordinator, even though the run game looked much better this week. Perhaps that quote was the result of other frustrations with Ludwig’s play calls and the general sluggishness of an offense that features weapons like Lipscomb, Vaughn and tight end Jared Pinkney.

While much of the blame for how Saturday’s game went fell on the defense, the offense must find a way to be more consistent through a full 60 minutes, and much of that comes down to Ludwig putting the playmakers on offense in a position to be successful.

Make Something Happen. Now. 

Vanderbilt plays Tennessee State in football on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at home. The Commodores won 31-27. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

The last two weeks have been nothing but an unmitigated crisis, some ridiculous Lipscomb catches and a couple of Vaughn touchdown runs.

There’s not a lot to sugarcoat here. Vanderbilt has to fix, well, everything very soon, or the rest of the season will go downhill faster than you can say “Fire Everybody.”

“They’re alarmed,” Mason said of his players. “I rang the alarm when I walked into the locker room. They were put on notice. They understand that the win, we’ll take. We’re not going to give that back. But what’s not acceptable is some of the errors that occurred today. That’s on us as coaches, them as players, everybody’s got a hand in it. We’ve got to be better.”

Mason is absolutely right: everybody does have a hand in it.

Kyle Shurmur will have to find the accuracy and consistency that let him nearly lead the team to victory at Notre Dame. The running backs will have to find the best rotation possible, much like they did this Saturday. More receivers will have to consistently get open other than Lipscomb or Pinkney.

On defense, the front seven cannot let shifty quarterbacks get away from them like TSU’s Demry Croft did. The secondary has to find a way to force more turnovers and prevent defenses from gashing them and finding wide-open receivers.

Most importantly of all, the coaching staff will have to find a way to reinvigorate this team, make adjustments on the fly and come up with improved game plans that will be able to stifle SEC opponents for the rest of the season.

Essentially, Vanderbilt has to do the exact opposite of what has happened over the last couple of weeks.

Mason was clearly unhappy with what happened on Saturday. His press conference was one of the most animated and angry of his tenure. There’s a pretty good reason for that, too. If this downward spiral continues, then it is hard to justify keeping this coaching staff around for much longer.

Vanderbilt Football is stuck in the mud, and the last couple of weeks have exposed major flaws in the program. Mason and his Commodores have until November to prove that they can overcome their struggles and make a bowl game.

I sincerely hope that they prove everyone wrong.

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About the Contributors
Cutler Klein
Cutler Klein, Former Sports Editor
Cutler Klein ('19) was the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He majored 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 and
Claire Barnett, Former Multimedia Director
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Eric Soesbe
5 years ago

Stuck in the mud hardly is adequate to tell of Vandy’s malaise … There’s a emoji fit to describe the football program?at Vanderbilt … Fortunately, the odor we’re spared of that‼️