I was watching the Vandy-Ole Miss game while doing my treadmill jog at the gym – because, you know, season ticket holders still aren’t allowed to attend. On this Halloween afternoon, The Blair Witch Project happened to be playing on another screen. It was difficult to determine which massacre was worse. Sadly, it was never a contest at Vanderbilt Stadium. And this wasn’t 2011 Alabama, or Joe Burrow’s powerful LSU team from last season, rolling into Nashville mind you. This was 1-4 Ole Miss. Coach Derek Mason saying “we were off a little bit” after the game seemed equivalent to saying the Titanic had a little scratch. It’s hard to dissect too much from such a thorough beatdown, but here are my five takeaways:
More Key Players Out
In what has become a frustrating theme this season, we once again found out several key players would be out before the game. Ja’Veon Marlow, probably the team’s top running back, missed his second straight game for a violation of team rules. Sadly, we also found out freshman sensation Donovan Kaufman will be out the remainder of the season with an undisclosed injury which is a devastating blow to the secondary and special teams. Backup quarterback Danny Clark is opting out of the season, and quarterback Mike Wright was also out this game. Jeremy Soussa was Seals’ backup, followed by walk-on Jack Bowen as the third string.
Special Teams Shuffle
Vandy was also short on kickers as punter Harrison Smith and backup placekicker Javon Rice were out. Redshirt freshman Jared Wheatley took over punting duties. Placekicker Pierson Cooke, who is 1 for 4 on field goals for the season, was replaced by walk-on Wes Farley. Farley, a high school soccer player who was playing his first football game, finished 3 for 3 on extra points. He did not have a field goal attempt. Cooke continued to handle kickoffs.
Rust or Lack of Preparation?
Vandy is already overmatched athletically on Saturdays, they don’t need to help the opposition by beating themselves. The tone was set in the first quarter with an inexplicable illegal participation penalty because two Commodores were wearing the same number – not a good look for a coach with an all-time low approval rating. Unfortunately, that lack of focus from the coaching staff seemed to trickle down to the team. The opening quarter also featured back-to-back defensive offsides penalties at the goal line, a 4-yard shanked punt, and a poor choice to return a kickoff to the 17 which was further backed up to the 8 by a penalty.
We have a defensive-minded head coach who had three weeks to prepare. How is the defense this bad? Ole Miss moved the ball at will, scoring touchdowns on their first five drives. In the second half the Rebels picked up right where they left off scoring touchdowns on their first three drives. They did whatever they wanted on offense, and the Commodores were helpless to stop it. Honestly, it isn’t an exaggeration to say they could have put up 70+ if they wanted to.
Although the Commodore offense was largely overshadowed by the record-setting days of Matt Corral and Elijah Moore, Ken Seals quietly had the best day of his young career. Seals finished 31 of 40 for 319 yards, most by a Commodore freshman since 2000. Almost half of his completions were short routes to Cam Johnson, who had 14 receptions but none longer than 14 yards. He also threw two touchdowns and had one interception. While this is quickly looking like a lost season, the focus should be on Seals’ continued development and building around him for the coming years.
Vandy will now shift its focus to Mississippi State in trying not to let another 1-win team look like a juggernaut.