Commodore Brunch Week 11: Regression

Ken Seals passed for 104 yards and one touchdown in Vanderbilt’s 47-6 loss to South Carolina.
Ken Seals prepares to play South Carolina on Nov 11. 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)
Ken Seals prepares to play South Carolina on Nov 11. 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)
Vanderbilt Athleitcs

All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much,” George Harrison once said.

Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea turned 42 on Saturday, Nov. 11. Unfortunately for Lea, his birthday wasn’t so celebratory. 

South Carolina ate up all of his birthday cake.

On Saturday, the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-9) lost their ninth consecutive game at the hands of a 47-6 defeat by the South Carolina Gamecocks. It also was Vanderbilt’s largest deficit of the season. Three weeks after falling to the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs by 17 points, Vanderbilt lost to South Carolina by 41 points. 

Ken Seals and Walter Taylor shared the role of signal-caller on Saturday. Seals went 13-for-28 on his pass attempts. Seals threw for 104 passing yards, one touchdown, an 89.4 quarterback rating and zero turnovers. Taylor had zero pass attempts and rushed for 38 yards on six attempts. 

“I think when you’re turning the ball over that position, you’re keeping the team from the performance they need to win. I did not feel like Ken [Seals] was forcing things,” Lea said. “I appreciate the fact that when he was in there, he took care of the ball and gave us a chance to punt.”

Vanderbilt was outmatched in several aspects of the game on Saturday, but Lea has a few pieces to be proud of. Tyson Russell had an interception and Langton Patterson led the team with seven tackles. There are sparks on this Vanderbilt roster, but its wrinkles were the story of Saturday. 

Let us take a look into an unsavory weekend Brunch menu.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

Vanderbilt needs to be consistent with execution at the line of scrimmage. In the SEC, the margins are razor-thin, and Vanderbilt needs to be better with execution if it wants to be competitive.

The conditions on Saturday were less than ideal for center Julian Hernandez and long snapper Wesley Schelling. At the time of kickoff in Columbia, S.C., it was 49 degrees and raining. The weather impeded both teams, but it hurt Vanderbilt much more. Vanderbilt’s first offensive drive came after South Carolina punted to the Vanderbilt 10-yard line. The offense was smooth sailing, thanks to a 5-yard run from Sedrick Alexander and an offsides penalty against South Carolina. On Vanderbilt’s third play of the drive, the train got off the track. Center Julian Hernandez snapped the ball over the fingertips of Seals, forcing Vanderbilt to run backward 14 yards and recover the football.

This crucial mistake from Hernandez set the tone for bad snaps for the rest of the day. 

The Commodores’ promising drive was washed away a few plays later after offensive coordinator Joey Lynch elected to run the ball on second and third down without much success. 

Fast forward to the fourth quarter. Trailing South Carolina 27-6 with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game, Vanderbilt was forced to punt for the seventh time. This time though, the punt did not go smoothly. On fourth-and-10, Schelling had a low snap that forced Hayball to field it from the ground. Hayball quickly tried to punt the ball but was blocked by Keenan Nelson Jr., who returned the ball for a 32-yard touchdown.

“The blocked punt was a bad snap,” Lea said. “We have to play to a standard beyond that so we need to be ready for that and handle it better.”

On the Commodores’ next offensive drive, Walter Taylor dropped a snap from Hernandez, which was recovered by South Carolina’s Alex Huntley. The lack of care of the football did not improve as Chase Gillespie fumbled on Vanderbilt’s next drive and South Carolina scored on its ensuing possession. 

Vanderbilt’s poor snap execution between the center and the quarterback, as well as the long snapper and the punter, was what ultimately led to the blowout on Saturday. Vanderbilt shot itself in the foot too often against the Gamecocks.  

Beast quaked

On Jan. 8, 2011, a man-made earthquake occurred in the Seattle Seahawks’ Lumen Field. In a Wild Card playoff game between the Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints, Marshawn Lynch helped create the Beast Quake. In the fourth quarter of the game, Lynch ran the ball 67 yards for a touchdown to help Seattle nail New Orleans in the coffin. On the run, Lynch broke nine tackles and could not be stopped.

South Carolina’s Mario Anderson revived Lynch’s play from nearly 14 years ago with a dominant run of his own. Leading Vanderbilt 26-0 with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Spencer Rattler handed the football to Anderson. The running back broke five tackles and marched 72 yards for a South Carolina touchdown.

The Commodores allowed South Carolina to run for 140 yards and 3 touchdowns. Other than Anderson’s dominant 72-yard touchdown, Vanderbilt only gave up 2.96 yards per carry. Vanderbilt’s passing defense, on the other hand, was far from a few plays away from playing well.

Heading into Vanderbilt’s matchup against South Carolina, The Hustler noted the problems wide receiver Xavier Lagette can give to defenses. The South Carolina wide receiver ranks second in the SEC with 1,094 receiving yards. Rattler leaned on Lagette all game, who had 12 targets and nine receptions for 120 yards. 

South Carolina had 351 passing yards on Saturday. South Carolina had nine big plays in the air (15+ yards or more), while Vanderbilt had just five. Rattler completed 78% of his pass attempts and gained 211 passing yards on nine plays, highlighted by a 39-yard pitch and catch from Rattler to Legette and a 30-yard pass from Rattler to Djay Braswell.

Statistic sliders 

Lea and the Vanderbilt coaching staff are likely going to finish 2-10. The 2-9 Commodores have one game remaining, and ESPN analytics gives them a 4.5% chance of beating the Tennesee Volunteers. In 2022, the Commodores went 5-7 and had program-defining victories over Kentucky and Florida. Vanderbilt was within one possession of its SEC opponents three times last season. In 2023, the Commodores have not once been within one possession of their SEC opponents.

A key reason for Vanderbilt’s lack of success this year is its lack of offensive efficiency. In 2022, Vanderbilt had 347.3 yards per game and 39 touchdowns. In 2023, Vanderbilt has 320.1 yards per game and 30 touchdowns. 

Vanderbilt’s lack of offensive firepower this year is due to the loss of quarterback Mike Wright and running back Ray Davis. Vanderbilt has 1,065 rushing yards this season, compared to 1,919 rushing yards last season. Wright’s dual-threat ability as the signal-caller and Davis’s downhill running have been sorely missed. 

The South Carolina game proved to be a microcosm of the entire season for the quarterback conundrum on West End. While Seals did not turn the ball over, his play warranted Taylor to go in the game for a few drives. Sophomore AJ Swann came into the season as the clear-cut starter but an elbow contusion in the UNLV game, which was reaggravated in the Kentucky game, has sidelined Swann.

In the South Carolina game, though, Swann was suited up and available to play quarterback. With one game remaining, Lea has the decision to start Seals, Taylor or Swann. Swann — with a bye week ahead — can use the next 13 days to strengthen his elbow to be ready to start in the Tennesee game.   

Although Vanderbilt has regressed in several statistics this year, athletic director Candice Lee views this year differently.

“Healing is not linear and healing is another word for rebuilding,” Lee said. “We haven’t won at the level that we plan to.”

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About the Contributor
Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Sad Alum
3 months ago

It’s time to fire Lea and hire an actual head coach. No more of these defensive minded duds