Vanderbilt starts the season 0-6 for the first time since 1998 and lost it’s 10th straight SEC contest as the Wildcats ran all over the Commodores 38-35. While Vandy continues to show a lot of fight and the game was never a blowout, a couple of late touchdowns in the final minutes by the Commodores made the final score deceptively close. As the offense continues to improve while the defense continues to flounder, here are my takeaways:
Another slow start
Before the game, Tennessean beat writer Adam Sparks astutely pointed out how Vandy scored a field goal on their opening drive of the season and haven’t scored a first quarter point since. That trend held true once again as Kentucky quickly jumped ahead of the Commodores 14-0 in the first quarter. What is particularly disappointing are the unforced errors, such as a fair catching a kickoff on the one-yard line. Is it a problem in preparation? Mason and his staff have to figure out a way to get the team to come out stronger. Winning in the SEC is difficult enough, and it’s even harder when constantly playing from behind.
Give Coach Rossomando a raise
No unit on the team has overachieved this season more than the offensive line, and as a result what was expected to be a significant weakness this season really hasn’t been. Even with the experienced senior Drew Birchmeier – who played his first three years on the defensive line – missing time, this patchwork unit of mostly younger players continues to hold its own. Run-blocking is getting better, and while Seals has been under duress at times, he was only sacked once against Kentucky and 11 times total this season through the first 6 games. I think with all the preseason opt-outs and transfers Commodore fans would have gladly taken that.
Young playmakers emerging
We’re beginning to see glimpses of the future of the Commodore offense, and it isn’t just Ken Seals. While the true freshman QB took a lot of blame, fairly or not, for the loss last week there is no question he played well enough to win this one with easily the team’s best offensive performance of the season. Henry-Brooks is looking like the primary running back heading forward with a career high 121 rushing yards. His performance was marred somewhat by a fourth quarter injury that forced him to leave the game, but early indications are encouraging that it wasn’t too serious. Abdur-Rahman, who had been quiet in recent weeks, had a team high 7 receptions and 89 yards. Junior Chris Pierce is playing the best football of his career right now, and sophomore TE Ben Bresnahan has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear any such turnarounds for the defense are imminent. As we’ve seen most of this season, Kentucky came out and did what they wanted. The Wildcats scored on their first five possessions, including four touchdowns. The rash of defections have certainly hurt, but Mason is a defensive guy. He and Ted Roof have to figure something out.
To that point, if your defense can’t stop anyone it had better generate turnovers. The Dores recovered three turnovers, and a safety, against Texas A&M which kept them in the game. Since that season opener, they’ve only forced three turnovers total in the five games since. Even more disappointing, no turnovers in the past two games, which were very winnable where one or two could have made the difference in the outcome. Against the likes of Florida and Georgia it won’t make a difference, but with winnable games against Tennessee and Missouri, Vandy will need to start generating turnovers to avoid a winless season.