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Better Know An Opponent: Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt comes in riding a nasty (good) passing game and a nasty (bad) running game. Yay?

There is so much head coaching talent in this picture the mind staggers.
There is so much head coaching talent in this picture the mind staggers.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is the awkward part when I don't really know what to do with Vanderbilt's numbers so far. By the numbers, there aren't a ton to write home about:

  • Vandy's rushing offense is 13th in the conference (3.65 ypc, but 28 TD) and 100th nationally. The passing game: a bit better - 7th in-conference (8.1 ypa, 12 TD / 12 INT), 24th nationally.
  • The defense: average against the run - 7th in-conference (4.70 ypc, 15 TD), 57th nationally; against the pass, 2nd in-conference (6.5 ypa, 16 TD / 12 INT) 28th nationally. In short: keep the ball on the ground.

Matter of fact, the thing that gets stuck in your head is that this team is Jordan Matthews, a bit of Austin Carta-Samuels, and question marks? Yeah, that's not too far from the truth:

  • Vanderbilt's passing game basically consists of Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause. Matthews is an absolute beast - 8.3 catches per game at nearly 13 yards a pop is pretty close to a compete receiver. Krause does a bit of getting the benefit of coverage shading to Matthews, but 19 yards per catch (4 per game) is frequent enough to be dangerous. Beyond that? Yeah, don't bother.
  • Although Austin Carta-Samuels was out for a couple of games, he's back. Worse for Tennessee, he understands the offense - 8.4 yards per attempt, 27.6 attempts per game. For some reason, his TDs don't follow the numbers I'd expect - only 10 on the season. Patton Robinette may make a token appearance.
  • Ostensibly, it looks like Jerron Seymour (4.45 ypc, 13.9 attempts per game) and Wesley Tate (4.12 ypc, 7.9 attempts per game) are close to a tandem; however, Tate has basically ceded the backup role to Brian Kimbrow (4.19 ypc, 5.9 attempts per game). There's utterly no difference between them by the stats. For that matter, Seymour isn't anything to write home about.
  • Vanderbilt's offensive line is porous (31 sacks allowed on the year for -164 yards); the flip side of that is that both QBs will run, especially in goal-line situations. Their total stats: 66 carries for 333 yards (5.05 ypa, 6.6 attempts per game, 9 TD). It's not frequent, but it'll cause problems before it's all said and done.
  • The rushing and sack totals make me question Vandy's offensive line. Heck, Vandy's allowing opponents behind the line to the tune of six TFL per game (Tennessee, by comparison, has 49 TFL allowed on the season - and 12 sacks allowed), which is ...not good. Related: Vanderbilt's running game is the exact opposite of explosive - 38 runs of over 10 yards all season, which sounds like a lot until you realize Tennessee has allowed 70 and suddenly 38 looks pretty good doesn't it?
  • Kenny Ladler leads Vanderbilt in interceptions (4), tackles (81), and forced fumbles (4). He might be worth paying attention to. You know, just a thought.
  • Actually, this secondary period is tough, as both Andre Hal and Darreon Herring have 10 pass breakups apiece (12 and 10 respectively). Herring is also the team's second-leading tackler from the LB position; the combination of those two stats plus LB makes me wonder what exactly he's done on defense. I'd expect that from a CB who's getting thrown at 15 times a game, not a LB.

So yeah, something doesn't add up. Maybe it's F+/- not being particularly favorable - slightly above average across the board, which, sure, is impressive in the context of Vanderbilt but comes short of good; for the record, Florida's above Vanderbilt in F+/- - maybe it's a sense that Vanderbilt still seems less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it's S&P showing that Vanderbilt (63rd) and Tennessee (65th) are effectively the same team, but I don't really see a ton of difference here. (Florida is 36th in S&P.)

That's a really strange combo - the F +/- disparity roughly means that Vanderbilt's been better with drives, which means one of two things: lots of short fields or they're really good at the boom / bust game (no first downs / punt 4 times, then 2 TDs, rinse, lather, and repeat). Neither of those are really sustainable - or they shouldn't be, at least. Interceptions aren't really a skill (pass breakups, I think, are, but the INT-PBU ratio is wildly divergent on a season-to-season basis, but should be around 1:5), fumbles are ..kind of? a skill. Nothing tells me that's repeatable.

The S&P disparity - or lack thereof - tells me these teams are equal. That makes more sense, no? And yet, they're 6-4, we're 4-6, and suddenly Vandy or all things is a big game. I'm still not ready for this reality; can we get good again and stop this, please? Thanks.