Commodore Brunch Week Two: Tiger bait
The pendulum swung in Week Two, as the Vanderbilt Commodores were blown out by the LSU Tigers.
October 4, 2020
The Vanderbilt Commodores looked real good in Week One. They barely lost to the tenth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies. True freshman quarterback Ken Seals looked excellent; the tenacious, tough defense looked even better. Vanderbilt proved that a win against an AP top-25 ranked team is possible. Maybe not probable, but possible.
I could’ve sworn things were looking up.
On Saturday, Vanderbilt looked for every advantage as the 20th-ranked LSU Tigers came to town. They pulled out all the stops, pumping in crowd noise and inviting a “limited” number of students to attend the contest. They even played fine in the first quarter.
But you’ve got to remember: at Vanderbilt, you can always expect the pendulum to swing. You can cross your fingers all you want, and you can try to argue otherwise. At the end of the day, even their head coach believes it. Vanderbilt football will have its ups and downs.
Sorry—not ups and downs. “Waves and cycles.”
“Vanderbilt is always going to go in waves,” is actually how Coach Derek Mason phrased it. “It just is, man.”
That quote might jog your memory.
“There’s going to be cycles of bowl teams and opportunities,” he continued after Vanderbilt’s 38-14 loss to Kentucky in 2019. “It’s not going to be an every year opportunity, unless these guys get it young, and we hit it hot. There’s going to be waves and cycles in this deal, and I’m just in a wave right now. I’m just in a wave and cycle where we’re not where we want to be, but we just have to keep pushing.”
Safe to say, Vanderbilt did not “get it young” in 2020. Nor have they “hit it hot.” They had a pretty good showing against a good Aggies team in Week One. Well, they lost—but it was a commendable loss.
Like I said though, the momentum was short-lived. Finally, Vanderbilt fans felt a sense of normalcy in 2020, as their Commodores got steamrolled by the Tigers in Week Two. There wasn’t much to applaud in a 41-7 loss.
You know what’s funny? Vanderbilt’s fight song, “Dynamite,” literally predicts these sorts of outcomes:
“But win or lose, the fates will choose, And Vandy’s game will be the same.”
Vandy’s game was the same in Week Two. The same it’s been for the past two or three (or six) years. And with the same old loss, comes the same old apathetic Commodore Brunch menu.
It’s not appetizing.
I wouldn’t want to eat candy for brunch, either. But the Commodores for the second year in a row had one too many Butterfingers. That ought to explain why the Tigers kept slipping through the grasp of Commodore defenders.
That, or the fact that they kept using one arm.
“I thought our guys just looked a little off,” Mason said when asked about the missed tackles. “Finding angles, I mean, there were some plays to be made. A lot of missed tackles early. Again, you work on fundamentals, you go through these things, but we had a lot of opportunities early in this ballgame to close out and have some good contact for tackles for loss, and we didn’t. I thought we didn’t cut off the edge either, and as our edges got soft, the ball seemed to leak out.”
Mason is right. The tackling did look a little off. LSU running back John Emery had an efficient day on the ground, tallying 103 yards and a touchdown on a mere 12 carries. And the sad part? 59 of those 103 yards came after contact. So 57 percent of his yardage came after the Commodores had an opportunity to bring him down. He would have had 44 rushing yards if Vanderbilt executed its tackles—his 8.6 yards per carry would have been cut almost in half to 4.9.
But it wasn’t just Emery. Fellow halfbacks Tyrion Davis-Price and Josh Williams and quarterback Myles Brennan also logged rushing attempts against the Commodores. The four Tigers racked up 161 rushing yards.
And alas, 104 of their 161 came after contact. Yes, 65 percent of their rushing totals came after Vanderbilt had a chance to put an end to the play. Now, imagine if Vanderbilt had brought down the Tigers after making contact. Imagine if the fundamentals were there. LSU would have had just 57 rushing yards—as a team.
The missed tackles are concerning. Not just because they played a role in LSU winning handily, not just because we saw glimpses of them in Week One. Because we’ve seen these issues for years now. Missed tackles plagued the Commodores in 2019, and at least for now, it’s looking like they will plague the Commodores in 2020.
“We’ve just got to continue getting better at the little things,” Mason said. “Because that was more about fundamentals tonight than anything else.”
It’s the little things, evidently, that they have to continue improving. The same little things they’ve been trying to improve for a few years.
Maybe we spoke too soon on the offensive line.
All throughout the preseason, we worried for Vanderbilt’s offensive line. We watched as four veteran linemen opted out due to concerns over COVID-19. Then we saw Derek Mason move Drew Birchmeier, a defensive lineman, to the offensive line. But in Week One, the offensive line held its ground. They were resilient. They exceeded expectations and gave the offense more than enough time to execute its gameplan.
In Week Two, not so much.
After starting out on a high note again on Saturday, buying plenty of time and creating large holes for the running backs, the Commodores’ offensive line faltered.
This offensive line looks far from the "makeshift" line many expected.
Some great blocking to open up holes early. pic.twitter.com/xItttxftHQ
— Simon Gibbs (@SimonGibbs26) October 3, 2020
It hurts to see Ken Seals—the kid praised as the golden child, the true freshman who’s considered the future of this program—take a beating. And while he didn’t receive any terribly jarring hits, the type of licks that make you wince while watching on television, he was squeezed by the Tigers and forced to make a tough decision far too often.
LSU may have only sacked the Commodores twice, but they got to the quarterback 21 times. They hit him seven times. They hurried him 12 times.
With so much pressure mounting, Vanderbilt struggled to string together a solid possession. Time and time again, Commodore playcalls met fierce opposition; Seals would try to roll out, but the Tigers were everywhere. And when the pocket collapsed, Seals made some freshman decisions, opting to lob one into double coverage rather than taking a sack.
Ken Seals is now 11-24 with 113 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Maybe he should've taken the hit here. pic.twitter.com/BWou28cNkx
— Simon Gibbs (@SimonGibbs26) October 4, 2020
“As I talked to Ken just a little bit ago, I just said ‘listen, we’re going to grow as you grow, we’re going to go as you go.’ But the biggest thing that we’ve got to be able to do is just make sure that [Seals] can protect us,” Mason said. “I know [Seals] wants to make plays, but [he’s] got to understand, when we’re in scoring position, just take the points. There are no 24-point plays.”
The offensive line needs to do a better job of giving Seals time, just as Seals has to do a better job of limiting mistakes (especially in the red zone). Because as Mason keenly pointed out, there are no 24-point plays.
Is everything OK with Javan Rice?
I know there are other things to discuss in this ballgame. I know this isn’t the end-all be-all of Vanderbilt’s loss. It’s just kicking.
And yet, I find myself so curious. Why has Rice, Vanderbilt’s scholarship kicker, not seen the field? Not a dig at Rice. It’s just hard to comprehend. Last year, he lost the kicking competition to a walk-on in Ryley Guay. And this year, he lost the kicking competition to the backup punter.
I find it strange that Rice hasn’t had an opportunity, since the backup-punter-turned-kicker, Peirson Cooke, missed a 22-yard field goal yesterday. He’s made one of three field goal attempts this season. Like I said: those two missed opportunities, those six ceded points, haven’t lost Vanderbilt a ballgame. At least not yet.
What happens if Vanderbilt finds itself one field goal away from a tie? Or one field goal away from a win? I just don’t know if Cooke is the guy. Then again, I just don’t know if Rice is any better.