Vanderbilt-Temple Post-Mortem

Vanderbilt's 43-14 victory over Temple Saturday night was one of those games where the Commodores played inconsistently. The best way to describe the game is to yield to that great literary coach Chuck Dickens. He left a remarkable record in his tenure with the London Copperfields.

According to Coach Dickens, Saturday night can be summed up thusly:
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games, it was the quarter of wisdom, it was the quarter of foolishness, it was the series of belief, it was the series of incredulity, it was the victory of Light, it was the victory of Darkness, it was the defense of hope, it was the defense of despair, we (Vandy supporters) had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to The Music City Bowl, we were all going direct the other way (to a 3-9 season).
As Coach D so excellently states the obvious, Vanderbilt played a wishy-washy game.  Whereas, there were great individual plays and great plays by the entire eleven at various times, overall the results were unacceptable.  The team hopefully felt ashamed of their numerous lapses—the type of lapses that will pull defeat out of the jaws of victory if repeated this Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi.
Let's look at some of the breakdowns from Saturday night.  Most of you who attended or just listened to the game can probably come up with this same list or make one even lengthier than this one.
Kickoff coverage
Temple ranked near the bottom in kick returns coming into this game at 16.1 yards per return.  Chris Page entered the game with a measly 12.2 yard average, and he promptly broke one for double that.  Jason Harper came into this contest averaging 19.3 yards per return, and he almost broke one for a touchdown.  His 27 yard return could have been a breakaway if it weren't for a great stop by Myron Lewis.  As it was, Vandy was offside on this kick, and they would be offside on another one later in the game.
The Passing Game
Chris Nickson completed nine of 20 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.  Against a Southeastern Conference opponent, this would be acceptable numbers.  In fact 8.1 yards per pass attempt would border on fantastic when you add touchdown passes on 10% of his attempts.
However, this wasn't an SEC game.  It wasn't even a Mid American Conference game.  Temple is the 117th or 118th ranked team out of 119 Division I-A teams.  Their pass defense prior to this game was dreadfully lacking.  The problem wasn't a great defensive effort by the Owl secondary; it was a case of Nickson not being able to throw on target to open receivers on three or four occasions.  Nickson is still young, but the mistakes with his tendency to throw the ball with the nose pointed down (thus making the ball drop like a forkball).  This is something that should have been corrected five games into the season.  He did overthrow the ball on one pass.
Richard Kovalcheck saw limited time, so his passing ability cannot be properly judged.
Stupid Penalties
In the third quarter, a late hit penalty allowed Temple to get out of a hole.  Things like that will cost the Goldmen a game against a halfway decent opponent.  The aforementioned offside penalties on the kick offs should have never happened.  I noticed this happening a couple times earlier in the year, and luckily the officials didn't catch it.  Imagine the repercussions if Vandy had to kick off onsides late in the game, and recovered the kick only to be flagged for offside.
A personal foul at the end of a punt return was unacceptable as well.
Point After Touchdown Failures
One of the missed extra point attempts occurred when the blocking failed, allowing enough penetration to get a partial deflection.  The other missed extra point came about when a less than perfect snap disrupted the normal rhythm.  If you want to know how Bryant Hahnfeldt might have felt on the second missed extra point, imagine what it's like when you are swinging a golf club, and someone yells as you are starting your downswing.
Lapse of Concentration
Without a doubt the most embarrassing play of the evening was the 78-yard run given up at the end of the first half.  Temple was just trying to kill the clock to get to the locker without any further damage.  How the defense could fall asleep and give up the touchdown is totally inexcusable.  Temple left the field with a huge shot-in-the-arm, while Vanderbilt had the dark cloud hanging over their collective heads during the break, forcing the coaching staff to alter the plans they probably had already devised with a minute remaining in the period.
There was yet another pass defense breakdown in this game, as Adam DiMichelle spotted Bruce Francis open deep after a busted coverage.  The 54 yard gain was the longest downfield completion for the Owls this season (Harper had a longer reception, but it was a long run after a short pass against Louisville's bench warmers.
Originally, Vanderbilt was scheduled to play Kent State instead of Temple.  The Commodores should feel quite lucky that change was made.  With the way the Golden Flashes have played the last three weeks, Saturday night's effort may not have been good enough to win the game.  If the Commodores have as many lapses this Saturday, Ole Miss will win the game.
Now, as Coach Dickens said in his little commentary, Vanderbilt had some exemplary moments in the game, and a few players need to be given the proper accolades.
For most of the night, the offensive line played about as proficiently as can be expected.  Coach Caldwell's troops showed off their depth with Ryan Custer, Elliot Hood, Bradley Vierling, and Mac Pyle getting meaningful minutes in the game.  They opened enough holes for Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jared Hawkins, Chris Nickson, and Gaston Miller to have the team's most proficient running attack in years.  The quartet averaged 9.7 yards per carry (subtracting the one sack)!  It was great seeing Miller get a chance to run the ball.  The Commodores need to have three backs available to contribute, because the next seven weeks could be grueling for CJG and Hawkins if they didn't have some relief.  Imagine what it would look like if Miller took an option pitch and had an open perimeter in front of him. 
Steven Bright had one of those games he will tell his grandkids about 50 years from now.  As I had predicted in Friday's preview, he dominated the middle zones and came up with his career game.  Four receptions for 92 yards and two scores are Dave Casper, Pete Mitchell, and Tony Gonzalez numbers. 
Except for the lapses, the defense performed admirably.  Remove the 78 yard run and the 54 yard pass, and Temple gained 44 yards rushing and 91 yards passing.  It's a broken record, but Jonathan Goff had another strong outing; he finished with seven tackles.  Marcus Buggs was in the Owl backfield so frequently, he should have been wearing a white with cherry uniform. He picked up a sack plus an additional stop behind the line.  Goff and Buggs spent a great deal of the second half watching Chris Johnson, Brandon Bryant, Patrick Benoist, and Quavian Lewis getting some playing time.  Benoist led the team with eight tackles, while Bryant finished with seven.
The defensive line had some excellent performances as well.  Theo Horrocks is becoming an excellent ball thief.  He forced two fumbles and recorded a sack.  Broderick Stewart made his team leading third sack in the game. 
Vanderbilt's players need to concentrate on correcting those mistakes that led to the breakdowns Saturday night.  Those errors are quite correctable as opposed to a lack of ability which isn't easily remedied.  The players should keep their heads up, knowing they are talented enough to win four more regular season games and play game number 13 in December.  In the past, the "same ole Vandy" teams would have found a way to snatch defeat out of the hands of victory.  Things have changed.  As Coach Dickens might sum it up, it's a far, far better team we see than we have seen in the past.  It could be a far better finish than we have ever known.

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