Three Keys Revisited Vanderbilt vs Tennessee

Vanderbilt huffed and puffed but was unable to upset a heavily favored Tennessee team in Nashville on Saturday afternoon. The loss closes out Derek Mason’s first season as the Commodores head coach with a 3-9 record overall and a 0-8 conference record in what was a down year for the SEC East.

On the other side of the ledger the win sends the Vols bowling for the first time since 2010 and means that the ‘Dores once again find themselves on the wrong side of this rivalry. Here is a look back at the three keys.

1) Stop the run - Fail

This is a fail because both Tennessee offensive touchdowns came on the ground, but just looking at the numbers doesn’t really give a true picture of how this game went. This was without a shadow of a doubt the best performance that this Vanderbilt defense has put together all year. The players were hungry, they were flying to the ball, and they were hitting the Vols with more power and pop than has been seen at any point under Mason.

After Tennessee starting running back Jalen Hurd was knocked out of the game early the ‘Dores defense played some shutdown football, perhaps giving a glimpse of what is to come in 2015. Joshua Dobbs got absolutely nothing going through the air as he was hit and harassed into making awful throws on his way to only 92 yards passing and two touchdowns. It was however Dobbs legs which won the Vols the game as he was able to scramble and read option his way to 91 yards and both Tennessee rushing touchdowns.

It is hard to fault the defense for this though as you feel that with a more competent offense this game would have gone in the Commodores favor.

2) Win the turnover battle - Fail

The Vandy defense tried to give the offense a chance to win this game, but it was a chance which was thrown away. As mentioned the defense was able to pick off Joshua Dobbs twice, but Vandy quarterbacks Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary combined to throw three interceptions themselves. The McCrary pick in particular was just a killer as he threw an awful pass into the end zone with the game already at 10-0 to Tennessee. Somewhat predictably that was his last action of the night.

The real killer play though was the punt return which gave Tennessee a 7-0 lead and tilted the game in the Vols favor at the end. The Vandy defense had held the enemy to just two first downs on their first two series and things were looking good. That ended though as one 76-yard return by Cameron Sutton completely altered the flow of the game from that point onward. Special teams have been so hit or miss, and to be honest usually miss, for Vandy this year, and this final game was no different.

3) Play (and coach) with the right attitude – Pass

From the very outset this looked like a different team from the one that had looked lost for large parts of the 2014. As has been mentioned the defense came out spitting fire and, after Patton Robinette was installed as the go to guy at quarterback, the offense looked like it could be a capable unit. The 12 play, 88 yard drive which resulted in a beautiful touchdown pass from Robinette to tight end Steven Scheu was probably the best drive the ‘Dores have put together in 2014. It is also worth noting that in his half time interview Mason seemed more engaged, more passionate with the correct direction, than he has all year.

This is not to say it was all roses. The offense still spent too much of the game looking out of sync, but that is probably because the continual quarterback changing has thrown off all the rhythm. The play calling still makes no sense at times, but it was nice to see a couple of trick plays thrown in even if they didn’t have the end result desired.

All in all though this was a big step forward in terms of energy and play. It will be very interesting to see what changes are made over the next few weeks as the staff is assessed and jobs are decided on for 2015.

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