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2019 Season Opponents Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores

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Unfortunately we don’t get to play every game at Faurot

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt Commodores

Last Season: 6-7 (3-5)

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Georgia
Derek Mason: lifts weights
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach: Derek Mason – 6th year (former Stanford DC)

Overall Record: 24-38 (9-31)

School Record: 24-38 (9-31)

Offensive Coordinator: Gerry Gdowski – 1st year (former Vanderbilt QBs coach)

Defensive Coordinator: Jason Tarver – 2nd year (former San Francisco 49ers defensive assistant)

Last Game Against Mizzou: 2018 at Faurot Field, lost 33-28

This Year: at Vanderbilt Stadium – Nashville, TN – October 19th, TBD

Projected Overall S&P+ Rank: 53rd

Projected Offensive S&P+ Rank: 22nd

Projected Defensive S&P+ Rank: 91st

Returning Production: 58% – 72% Offense, 43% Defense (91st in the nation)

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri
It’s super easy to find photos of Vaughn scoring against Missouri :(
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Players to Watch

-Riley Neal (Ball State) – QB – SR: 194-335 (57.9%)/1,917 yards/11 TDs/4 INTs/14 sacks/5.2 ypa

-72 rushes/452 yards/5 TDs/6.2 ypc/62.5% OPP rate/2 fumbles

-Ke’Shawn Vaughn – RB – SR: 157 rushes/1,244 yards/12 TDs/7.9 ypc/51% OPP rate/0 fumbles

-19 targets/13 catches (68.4%)/170 yards/2 TDs/13.1 ypc/8.9 ypt/4.7% tr

-Kalija Lipscomb – WR – SR: 120 targets/87 catches (72.5%)/916 yards/9 TDs/10.5 ypc/7.6 ypt/29.7% tr

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Neeeeeeeeeeeeerds
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Players to Watch

-Dayo Odeyingbo – DE – JR: 22.5 tackles/17 solo/6.5 TFLs/2.5 sacks/0 INTs/2 PBUs/1 FF/42.2% HAVOC

-Dimitri Moore – ILB – SO: 65.5 tackles/47 solo/3.5 TFLs/1 sack/0 INTs/3 PBUs/0 FFs/9.9% HAVOC

-Tae Daley – S – JR: 38 tackles/33 solo/5.5 TFLs/1.5 sacks/0 INTs/1 PBU/0 FFs/17.1% HAVOC

Preview

Vanderbilt is a hard job. Any school that has rigid academic restrictions is a hard job from an athletics standpoint, but definitely when you’re the token smart-kid school in the biggest, baddest football conference in the country. They’ve had 26 winning seasons since becoming members of the SEC in 1933, but none under current coach Derek Mason. In fact, between 1982 and 2008, Vanderbilt had ZERO winning seasons, and 2008’s campaign finished at 6-6 before beating Boston College in the Music City Bowl. The fact that James Franklin (the coach, not our beloved Tanklin) led Vanderbilt to not only two straight winning seasons, but NINE wins each (!) shows just how special of a coach he is. Vandy is constantly out-manned from a talent standpoint, and despite all the money in the world from the fancy doctor people alumni base, support for the football team has wavered between blasé and lukewarm. This is evident, again, by the fact that Derek Mason has had zero winning seasons and he’s still the head man in charge, going into his sixth year at Vandy. Now, I always preach patience with coaching hires and Kentucky demonstrated the benefits of such with Mark Stoops last year. Maybe Vanderbilt is more interested in the longest of long builds and does not need the flash of a new coach to bring in more revenue for the program? But even in the most patient corners of Vanderbilt football, I have a hard time believing the Mason stays if they don’t make it to a bowl this year. The fact that this staff needs a bowl season and will be trying to do so after losing a great quarterback and returning only 58% of last year’s production is not a great place to be.

So, let’s talk about that production, shall we? It is my humble opinion that Kyle Shurmur was one of the great underrated quarterbacks in the SEC last year. He started for four years, threw for over 8,000 yards and 64 touchdowns and got better each year, much like our beloved departed Denver Bronco, Drew Lock. But he’s gone and his replacement will either be career backup Deuce Wallace or Ball State transfer Riley Neal. Neal wasn’t an elite level performer at Ball State and was a little too interception-prone, but was consistent in his completion rate (between 58-61% every year) and was good at avoiding sacks. He has seemingly taken the lead in the quarterback race this fall and will probably get the first start of the year. Neal (or whoever gets the job) will mostly be there to do two things— hand the ball of to Ke’Shawn Vaughn and throw to Kalija Lipscomb. The former might be the best running back in the league, and despite not starting until halfway through the season, Vaughn ended the 2018 campaign with over 1,200 yards rushing and 12 TDs. He runs hard and fast and will be the main focal point of the Commodore attack this year. On the outside is Lipscomb, a receiver who was targeted 30% of the time and had nearly 1,000 yards to go with 9 touchdowns. Either by design or necessity, former OC Andy Ludwig ran a two bell-cow offense, alternating between Vaughn and Lipscomb to take advantage of any mismatches they could find. And while tight end Jared Pinkney was targeted 20% of the time and contributed over 700 yards, there’s no other running back on the roster with significant snap experience— the rest of the receivers are upperclassmen backups. They do add Harvard transfer Justice Shelton-Mosley to increase depth there, but a new quarterback will be trying to break in a mostly new receiving corps with Lipscomb probably carrying the majority of the work. And with the line losing three starters there will be a lot of pressure put on Vaughn and Lipscomb to constantly pull this unit up.

For his first four years as head Commodore, Mason was his own defensive coordinator. Last year he released control to former NFL coordinator Jason Tarver to positive results, but certainly not where they had been before:

Defensive S&P+ ranks…2014-57th, 2015-16th, 2016-48th, 2017-79th (uh oh!), 2018-57th

Basically, Tarver got them back to where they started in 2014 but will only get 43% of last year’s defensive production back. The Commodores were excellent at stopping big plays last year, but allowed a lot of third-down conversions and bent a lot at the beginning of drives. The rushing defense ranked 106th but do return 7 of the 9-man rotation on the line, including high 3-star defensive tackle Daevion Davis. However, they also lose 3 of their top 4 linebackers so the run defense might be a weakness for a second straight year. Their 42nd ranked pass defense played 11 guys consistently but lose 5 of them. The top of the depth chart should be outstanding again, but the depth behind them is either untested or super young.

Vanderbilt has actually been a pretty reliable win in Missouri’s tenure. They’ve beaten us twice in that time frame, but it was 19-15 in the injury-riddled 2012 season and 10-3 in the offensively-challenged campaign of 2015. I say that now and OF COURSE we’ll probably lose, but Vandy hasn’t been able to make a lot of movement in the East, and while they’re super talented at the starting positions, a few injuries could completely derail their campaign. This will be the second road trip for the Tigers (in October!) and the first conference/division road trip of the year. This is considered the “easy” conference road trip and they’ll need to capitalize as such. Take care of business and gear up for the next week’s INEVITABLE GAME OF DOOM (cliffhanger!)