Commodore Brunch Week Ten: Swamped  

Vanderbilt was eaten alive by the Gators in the season’s worst defeat to date

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Commodore Brunch Week Ten: Swamped  

Vanderbilt faces Purdue on September 7, 2019.

Vanderbilt faces Purdue on September 7, 2019.

Emily Goncalves

Vanderbilt faces Purdue on September 7, 2019.

Emily Goncalves

Emily Goncalves

Vanderbilt faces Purdue on September 7, 2019.

Max Schneider, Sports Editor

With all the disappointing defeats of this Vanderbilt season, Saturday’s game couldn’t possibly be the worst of the bunch. It seemed an impossible barrier to break.

Yet there were the Commodores, on their fourth quarterback in three games, playing out the final minutes just hoping the brutal beat-down couldn’t get any worse. The 56-0 loss at the hands of Florida saw head coach Derek Mason and his group defenseless as the Gators gnawed on the bones and remains of a once hopeful Commodore team.

That hope is long gone. With it is any mathematical chance of a bowl appearance. For Vanderbilt, the end of the season can’t seem to come fast enough.

Here’s this week’s Commodore Brunch menu, brought to you from the back seat of the long car ride home from Gainesville:

Deuce faces abuse

Vanderbilt’s offense suffered a fate on Saturday that’s become all too familiar this season. Once again, the Commodores found themselves searching for a way to move the ball against a team that wouldn’t budge. In the seven losses that Vanderbilt has suffered this season, the offense has failed to exceed 10 points in five of them. This was the worst output to date.

For a second straight week, quarterbacks Mo Hasan and Riley Neal were held out with concussions, leaving redshirt junior Deuce Wallace at the helm. And for a second straight week, in more than three quarters of football, Wallace struggled mightily, completing less than 50 percent of his passes and throwing for fewer than 65 yards.

It was the kind of quarterback play that made Vanderbilt fans – and even some Florida ones – cringe. Wallace constantly missed open receivers, panicked when he had to move on from his first read and exhibited absolutely zero pocket presence. Watching Wallace, one would believe playing quarterback at the collegiate level is next to impossible, if not for Gators’ quarterback Kyle Trask doing it seamlessly on the opposite sideline. The two quarterbacks looked to be playing different sports.

Chaos in the trenches

However, as poorly as he played, it’s hard to dump the blame solely on Wallace. This is a quarterback with minimal game experience against one of the best defenses in college football with a line that couldn’t protect him all game. Wallace panicked so often because frankly, he had to. There was no time to move on from his initial read. By the time he did, he often found himself in the grasp of defensive linemen Zach Carter and Mahamoud Diabete, the latter of whom finished with three sacks.

The Commodores finally looked like they would get on the scoreboard late in the third quarter, when Wallace led Vanderbilt down to the Florida 10-yard line. That’s when disaster struck. Left tackle Devin Cochran lined up opposite Diabete, his natural assignment against a five-technique pass rusher in a three-point stance with no tight end on the left side of the formation. When the ball was snapped, though, Cochran turned his focus inside to double defensive back Jeawon Taylor, leaving Diabete unabated to the quarterback for an easy sack and forced fumble, one that linebacker Jonathan Greenard scooped up and took 80 yards to the house, erasing the only scoring chance the Commodores would earn all day.

Virtually every third down followed this pattern. The offensive line failed to understand their assignments, leaving blitzers untouched on their way through the trenches and killing drives. Vanderbilt couldn’t even establish any semblance of a rushing attack, as running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn was forced to bounce his carries outside to avoid running into a brick wall. He finished with 15 carries for just 28 yards, his worst performance of the season.

Once again, if you’re wondering why Vanderbilt is struggling so mightily offensively, despite bringing back superstar talent, it’s this: no matter how much talent exists at the skill positions, without a quarterback or an adequate line, those skill position players can’t find success. Vanderbilt doesn’t have a competent line right now, and Saturday was just the latest example.

Need for cultural overhaul

For the past couple weeks, I’ve spent the last third of this brunch column focusing on the job security of Derek Mason and his coordinators. I still believe Mason can be the guy, and I still believe offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski is the weak link. But, I’m not going to do that this week. Instead, I want to focus on a more overarching issue Vanderbilt faces that doesn’t have such an open and shut solution.

This was my first time in Gainesville. It’s the latest in the list of SEC stadiums and college towns I’ve visited, and each one has impressed me more than the next. The major takeaway from being on the road, whether it be Tuscaloosa, Auburn; Oxford, Columbia or Gainesville, is always the same. These are football towns. The people that live in them exist for these universities and for these teams. The stadium is filled before kickoff for a game with a predetermined result. Babies were carried in on their fathers’ backs decked out in blue and orange. Florida is a university littered with football tradition and dedicated to maintaining a culture around its team. So is Auburn, so is Ole Miss and so is South Carolina. Even though the latter two are going through rough patches, the culture is palpable.

Vanderbilt doesn’t have that luxury. Nashville isn’t a college town like Gainesville. It’s a booming city, an extremely desirable place to flock toward, but it’s not a football town. Vanderbilt’s 90 percent out-of-state student body didn’t grow up idolizing this team. The Vanderbilt faithful are as faithful as any fan base in college football, but the hill to climb in order to reach the summit alongside their counterparts in the SEC is a tall one, taller than any other conference foe faces. Sometimes it takes an encounter with other universities to realize that. Vanderbilt can get there, but it’s going to take time and it’s going to take patience.

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