Roanoke's Around the SEC: UMass Week

The scoreboard at Williams-Brice stadium almost ran out of fireworks in the first half last week as Vandy was dismantled by South Carolina. Our defense was tortured – SC scored four touchdowns in their first four possessions and converted their first eight third down opportunities.

The scoreboard at Williams-Brice stadium almost ran out of fireworks in the first half last week as Vandy was dismantled by South Carolina. Our defense was tortured – SC scored four touchdowns in their first four possessions and converted their first eight third down opportunities. The Gamecocks amassed over 550 yards of offense and, like Ole Miss, reeled off over 80 plays. Our defense woefully failed to execute in the first half – and the risk-averse scheme was transparent. The Old Ball Coach was too smart for such vanilla concoctions, and he took the short throws our soft zone gave him, screened when we showed blitz, and ran when we dropped into pass coverage. After getting schooled, we need to re-group and find a way to be more aggressive in our schemes without tipping our hand. Passive and tentative – waiting for the other team to make a mistake - will not get it done on the SEC stage.

While it is possible to take a few positives from this SC smack-down, everything favorable that happened came after SC had taken a spirit-crushing 28-0 lead. Though we never really threatened this lead – still, we did show admirable heart and grit in fighting back to respectability. Also, our defense and special teams forced three turnovers. Steven Clarke made a great INT and his fellow defenders hustled and laid down some tremendous blocks in leading him to the one yard line. Our special teams play was very good, too, and Darius Sims and Carey Spear get special mention here. Spear's kick-offs remain unreturnable for the most part and his 54 yard field goal cleared the bar by a wide margin. Sims returned kicks well, tackled well, and even recovered a fumble as a special teams leader.

Another positive was our "Wild WesT" alignment. Wesley Tate ran strong and with a purpose – but he was also patient. He picked his holes and gashed SC on the ground. It was a shame he needed to come out in the red zone at 35-25, as SC was having a hard time stopping him.

Beyond these modest accomplishments (and the lack of penalties in a loosely called affair), it is hard to find much to appreciate in this disappointing outing. Jordan Matthews did his best, but was double and triple teamed all night. This was Austyn Carta-Samuels first SEC road game and he was a bit jumpy in the pocket. Not without cause – as he was hit early and often by SC's pass rush. Again, for those who do not like cupcake games, Carta-Samuels could have used a little road experience before arriving in Columbia. This week he will benefit from experience in a road game against a less ferocious D-line.

UMass has struggled mightily of late. This game – and the experience of playing in Gillette Stadium – come at a good time for our team. Hopefully, we can re-energize the troops and get things moving in a positive direction starting next Saturday. We are hefty favorites, and we may not be content to take the second half off as we did against Peay after last week's incomplete effort. As is well-documented, we have been notoriously slow starters in all three games – look for that to change this week. One way to change it is to stop playing first down so unimaginatively on both sides of the ball. One reason our third down conversion rates against SC were so poor (on offense and defense) is that our first down execution repeatedly put us in a hole.

Around the conference, this is a kind of quiet week. The cupcake list includes Georgia (North Texas), MSU (Troy) and Texas A&M (SMU), while the bye list includes UK, Ole Miss and SC. Troy is not a pushover and MSU may have a pretty large hangover this week, so the Bulldogs need to be on their best behavior. In more competitive scheduling, Bama takes on Colorado State, Arkansas travels to New Jersey to face Rutgers, and Mizzou ventures to Indiana where the Hoosiers looked very good last week in routing a respectable Bowling Green squad. Mizzou is favored by three – and this game will provide a lot of useful tape for us. While I usually pull for the SEC team in out-of-conference tilts, it might work to our advantage if Missouri does not arrive in Nashville undefeated and brimming with confidence. Arkansas has slipped past its easy non-conference competition: the Razorbacks will have to play much better to beat Rutgers on the road.

The two big conference games this week are UT-Florida and Auburn-LSU. Auburn has gotten off to a fast start – but LSU is a different level of competition, especially on the road. LSU, meanwhile, has looked very convincing out of the gate – so convincing, they could be caught looking ahead to their huge road game in Athens the following week. LSU should be able to handle Auburn at home, but Georgia casts a long shadow.

Tennessee gets credit for scheduling Oregon – but not the week before the Florida game. UT's defense still has to be reeling; Oregon delivered the knock-out punch right around half-time en route to 59 points. The schedule provides the Vols with @ Florida, South Alabama, Georgia, SC @ Bama for their next five games. It is a pretty tough in-conference gauntlet – and it does not help that, after traveling cross-country to Oregon, the Vols now travel to a hornets nest. Florida gave away their big game at Miami two weeks ago. The Gators have now had a bye week to think about it. Both Florida and Tennessee need to regain their poise and pride this week – and that could be harder for the road team especially with the Oregon trip still in the rear-view mirror.

While Vandy got whipped by SC by all objective standards for the first 25 minutes in Columbia – the players and staff proved there is no quit. Remarkably, with nine minutes left, we had a chance to make it a three point game, only to turn the ball over at the goal line instead. Hopefully, much like the Georgia road game last year, we hit a clear and tangible bottom in the first half at SC. The schedule now gives us a chance to pull ourselves together and get better. We need to make the most of it – because the schedule turns deadly serious soon and there are already two losses on the ledger.

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