SCHWARTZ: Vanderbilt needs to click Week Four against LSU

Coach Mason is working to build team chemistry and highlight stars while battling penalty issues, among other struggles.

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SCHWARTZ: Vanderbilt needs to click Week Four against LSU

Vanderbilt falls to Purdue 42-24 on Saturday, September 7, 2019. Photo by Hunter Long

Vanderbilt falls to Purdue 42-24 on Saturday, September 7, 2019. Photo by Hunter Long

Vanderbilt falls to Purdue 42-24 on Saturday, September 7, 2019. Photo by Hunter Long

Vanderbilt falls to Purdue 42-24 on Saturday, September 7, 2019. Photo by Hunter Long

Jake Schwartz

Two games and a bye week are in the books for the Vanderbilt Commodores, who are still in pursuit of their first win of 2019. With Week Four’s matchup steadily approaching, the Commodores must prepare for another huge test, as they’ll host the fourth-ranked LSU Tigers on Saturday.

In Week One, when the Commodores hosted the Georgia Bulldogs, their offense simply did not seem to click. Quarterback Riley Neal had just 85 passing yards, while star running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn tallied 74 yards on the ground. Vaughn’s performance was respectable on paper, especially when compared to Neal’s numbers, but the Commodore offense struggled to find their way into the redzone. As a result of the slow offense, Vaughn was unable to convert on any touchdown opportunities — their lone six points came off a pair of field goals.

When the Commodores hit the road to face Purdue in Week Two, the passing game started showing signs of life. With Neal totaling 378 yards through the air and two touchdowns, it seemed like the offense was back on track. Neal’s performance gave Vaughn room to run, thus awarding him with his first rushing touchdown of the season. Simply put, the offense was not to blame against the Boilermakers. Instead, it was the defense that gave up 42 points to a high powered, air-raid offense led by Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Rondale Moore. Even the secondary tried doing their part to keep the Commodores within striking distance — in fact, their two interceptions may have been enough, but both plays were nullified by penalties. 

On Tuesday morning, when Derek Mason took to the podium to discuss the upcoming matchup with LSU, he touched on the obscene amount of penalties committed on both sides of the ball, both pre-snap and post-snap. Vanderbilt is leading the SEC in penalties per game with 11.5. This undisciplined football has disrupted Vanderbilt’s game flow and has inhibited momentum shifts in both games by taking away turnovers the Vanderbilt defense has forced. In order to beat a team like LSU, you need to play impeccable football on both sides of the ball.

Coach Mason also made one thing abundantly clear: with a new quarterback in Riley Neal, the chemistry within the offense is still a work in progress. 

“It’s chemistry and timing,” Mason said. “With Riley having a new group of guys and a makeshift offensive line…it has taken us a little longer for us to get the chemistry…I know Riley has shown some growth over the last week, just watching his preparation and what it looked like. It takes a little more playing in the SEC. It’s a daunting task every week.” 

If Vanderbilt is going to beat LSU for the first time since 1990, the offense needs to be prepared for a shootout. To do so, their game plan needs to put stars like Jared Pinkney in the spotlight. LSU will likely be shadowing the Commodore tight end with All-American Grant Delpit, a quick, athletic, ball-hawking safety that will attempt to take Pinkney out of the game. 

“Well, any time you get to play against a future NFL player it’s a little more impactful, but [Delpit’s] a good player, very special,” Pinkney said. 

If Delpit succeeds in shutting down Pinkney, Vanderbilt will have to swiftly shift gears. Luckily, Gerry Gdowski can quickly adapt by switching the focus to another big playmaker, hopefully catching LSU out of position. 

The Commodores worked hard on the bye week to get into a groove going into their third game, and they have a great mindset looking to upset the Tigers at home in front of a great Parents Weekend crowd. If Vanderbilt can control its penalties and the offense develops a rhythm, it will be a competitive game on Saturday.

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