Commodores Commit Four Turnovers and Still Almost Win An SEC Road Game
In week one in Ann Arbor, Vanderbilt stayed in the ball game much longer than most people thought they would. The Michigan fans were not comfortable until the final touchdown put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Last Saturday, Vanderbilt not only stayed in the game, they were still able to win the game with three seconds left to go. Alabama fans were quite nervous even after Vandy's third turnover appeared to decide the outcome.
This young team has played on the road in two hostile environments and has not been embarrassed. Youthful mistakes and inexperience quickly dissipates when smart players learn from those mistakes. This team is not being beaten the way former Vanderbilt teams have lost. They are going toe-to-toe against quality competition and not backing down. The letters S, O, and V do not apply to this group of confident, talented players.
Now, parsing the Alabama game, let's analyze some of the game.
Vanderbilt's Offensive Line Against ‘Bama's Defensive Line and Linebackers
The game started out similar to the Michigan game. Alabama penetrated the line to stop the run a few times, and then what appeared to be a running lane or two closed before our backs could get there. At some point early in the game, the line adjusted and began to stop Alabama's defense from penetrating. Coach Bobby Johnson, in his Monday press conference, complimented his blockers from keeping the Alabama defensive line and linebackers out of the Vandy backfield.
The offensive line's pass rushing looked more like last year's group that protected Jay Cutler. Given some time, Chris Nickson began to get in a rhythm and look like the man who can lead the offense to a modicum of success. The offensive line deserves a lot of the credit on the long touchdown drive. They kept the heat off President Nickson.
Vanderbilt's Defensive Line and Linebackers Against ‘Bama's Offensive Line
The Vanderbilt strategy was to stop the run and make John Parker Wilson beat them. The resulting 13 points allowed cannot be considered a beating by Wilson. The Commodores stopped the Crimson Tide running game enough to win the ball game. Coach Ricky Logo deserves a lot of credit for molding this unit into a highly-credible line. Throw in more kudos to Linebackers' coach Warren Belin. The trio of Marcus Buggs, Kevin Joyce, and Jonathan Goff were quite efficient. Goff looks even better than advertised prior to the start of the season. It looked like more than one #47 played on Vandy's defense, because regardless of run or pass, he was always near the ball when the whistle blew. 27 tackles in two games reminds me of some of Vandy's all-time great defenders—Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jamie Winborn, Jamie Duncan, Demond Winston, Chris Gaines, Andrew Coleman, Ed "Sheriff" Smith, and Tom Galbierz to name a few.
The pass rush still needs to improve, but at least Vandy bothered Wilson more than they did Chad Henne. Broderick Stewart came through again with the lone sack, but Wilson was forced to hurry more throws than Henne did the previous week. The delicate task of substituting speed for strength is a tightrope walk indeed. Give defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler some credit for being able to make the right call at the right time most of the day in Tuscaloosa.
Vandy's Pass Defense
The one spot that still needs correcting is the underneath zones against the pass. Too many times, Wilson completed a short pass in the hook zones and seams, and the receiver was able to sprint wide and beat the pursuit down the sideline. This is a problem of team speed and not technique or intelligence. The field is 53 yards wide, and seven secondary players cannot cover the entire width. There are going to be holes somewhere and in today's passing game, passes are going to be completed in those seams. Obviously, covering the deep thirds of the field takes precedence over the five underneath zones, so this is something that is going to have to be worked on in practice. It will be tough preventing this from re-occurring absent a better pass rush.
A Brighter Day
I mentioned in Friday's preview that I thought Steven Bright needed to shine so that Alabama would be more hesitant to concentrate solely on Earl Bennett. Bright came up with an excellent performance and did take off some of the heat on Bennett. Give some credit to Sean Walker as well. He has made something out of the single receptions in both of the first two games. He may see more action against Arkansas.
The New Three Yards And A Cloud Of Dust
From the end of World War II until the late 1960's, college football, for the most part, was a power and finesse running game with the pass used as a surprise weapon. The top quarterbacks prior to Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Joe Theismann, and Pat Sullivan were known for their running ability more than their passing ability. Take Sandy Stevens at Minnesota in the early 1960's and Jimmy Raye at Michigan State in the mid 1960's. They used roll outs, sprint outs, and bootlegs for the run more than the pass. Those two led their teams to national titles with their legs. The big play in vogue for many years was the famous power sweep that Vince Lombardi used at Green Bay or the wing-t buck sweep and buck off-tackle popularized by Iowa's Forest Evashevski at Iowa.
Today, the power and buck sweeps are rarely seen in college football. Defensive linemen who can run 4.6, 40-yard dashes have made pulling offensive guards nearly extinct. Well, fret not ye who are lovers of the old three yards and a cloud of dust. It is still around and being used at 90% of the collegiate teams. We know it as the quick passing game. When you see a quarterback drop back and throw wide immediately to a receiver at or behind the line of scrimmage, you are looking at the 21st century sweep. The ball can move from the quarterback's hands to the sideline several yards away much quicker than the fastest defender can move from a linebacker spot to the perimeter. Rather than try to move a star linebacker out of the way with a difficult block, offensive coaches are deciding to remove them from the play altogether, forcing cornerbacks and safeties to make the tackle. While there is a chance for an interception in the dangerous flat area (where a return can easily go the distance), the old sweep always had the chance of a fumble in the backfield. A competent passer can almost eliminate any chance for an interception. Watch for Vanderbilt to throw this pass and think in your head that this is the old sweep play from yesteryear.