Monday, October 27, 2008

Vanderbilt looks like 'SOV' in ugly loss to Duke

Vanderbilt's loss to Duke at Homecoming on Dudley Field doesn't bode well for a Commodore team looking for its first "sixth" win in 26 years.Photo by Mark Humphrey, Associated Press.
So much for BNV.

In the aftermath of Vanderbilt's loss to the Duke Blue Devils 7-10 on Homecoming, our headline from last Friday's Naval Intelligence seems almost mocking.

But, now that the horrible, gut-wrenching disaster that thousands of hopeful Commodores fans were forced to watch on Saturday is over, it's time to pick up the pieces.

Homecoming most decidedly did not bring with it Vanderbilt's first non-losing season in 26 years. Instead, it brought a sense of despair that, as a friend of mine put it so succinctly, "the wheels are coming off" of this once-promising program.

Anyone who watched what transpired on Dudley Field on the occasion of its 118th Homecoming Celebration knew exactly what they were seeing. It was nothing less than a full-scale reversion to a team characterized by three dream-killing letters.

SOV: same old Vanderbilt.

Despite gaining 15 first downs and 291 yards of offense,and despite holding Duke to 250 yards total offense, Vanderbilt could not compete in the statistic that mattered most: scoring.

"We have to put points on the board to help our defense and gain the win," said Vanderbilt tight end Brandon Barden. "We didn't do that today."

The Commodores had multiple opportunities to put points on the board and put the game away, including two missed field goals (on two attempts) that would have either tied the game or given Vanderbilt the lead. But repeated mistakes kept the Black and Gold from putting the game out of reach.

"It was frustrating at times during the game," said wide receiver Sean Walker. "Duke got pressure on Mackenzi Adams and that gave us trouble."

"We got down on ourselves early," Walker said.

Trouble did start early for the Commodores, despite the near-parity in the post-game statistics. The stats cannot accurately describe the game that actually took place at Vanderbilt Stadium.

While the numbers paint a picture of a closely-fought game that ultimately came down to a chess match between coaches Bobby Johnson and David Cutcliffe, a closer look (or a bare perusal of game film) demonstrates that this was an atrocious game for the team from West End.

One of the most telling stats was this: the Commodores were 0-for-1 in the red zone. This, from a team that, after 5 games, was averaging a 96% scoring ratio in the red zone.

And again: Vanderbilt punted 6 times, for a total of 178 yards. Duke, on the other hand, punted 7 times for 271 yards. The Blue Devils averaged 10 more yards-per-punt than Vanderbilt.

Even the defense, largely a bright spot, had trouble. While the Blue Devils managed to sack Mackenzi Adams five times for a loss of 37 yards, Vanderbilt could only muster 19 yards off 4 sacks.

Perhaps more worrying than the lack of execution was the lack of adjustment by the coaching staff. Early on in the first half, Vanderbilt was driving, but a stall led to 4th-and-1 around midfield. After a moment of hesitation, the coaches (Ted Cain? Bobby Johnson?) sent in the special teams unit for the punt.

At the time, it seemed like normal BoJo Football: field position, field position, field position. Later in the game, however, the coaches threw the traditional Vanderbilt strategy out the window.

With less than 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Commodores' drive had come up short with 4th-and-6. Instead of punting, and pinning Duke deep in their own territory, the offense -- which has yet to convert on fourth down this season -- was sent to try it once again. The play failed miserably, and Duke was given prime field position.

The defense held the Blue Devils, and the offense was given another chance. But jaw-dropping and seemingly erratic play-calling plagued Vanderbilt all day.

After the game, Bobby Johnson seemed to admit it, too.

"[Duke] thwarted everything we tried to do," Johnson said. "They took everything from us."

It would be difficult to find a Commodore fan who'd disagree with the Coach's assessment. And while most of the fans could identify the problem, they are not the ones tasked with coming up with an answer when the no. 8 Florida Gators, who just completed the utter destuction of Kentucky 63-5, come to Nashville on November 8.

Obviously, that is the coach's job: to analyze what happened, come up with a new game plan, and coach the players into executing it properly.

Will Coach Bobby Johnson and his staff be up to the challenge?

"We have no way to explain [this loss]," Johnson said. "It's back to the drawing board: we've got a lot of work to do."

1 comment:


118th homecoming, 118th-ranked offense.