Leach’s Air-Raid Offense Dominates Vandy 45-6

Vanderbilt’s near-miss against South Carolina last week led to hopes that their contest with Mississippi State would be competitive. Those hopes didn’t last long. 

The Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead and methodically pulled away to a 45-6 blowout that lacked anything to feel good about from a Vandy perspective.  

Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense moved the ball at will and controlled the clock with five scoring drives of over 10 plays. The Commodores, on the other hand, couldn’t sustain anything on offense all afternoon.  As the scoreboard would suggest, the Bulldogs dominated Vandy in total yards (522 to 155), first downs (29 to 5), and time of possession (39:02 to 20:58).

“We’re disappointed,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said after the game. “We all work hard. The kids work hard. We work hard to attain results, and when you fall short, it hurts. It hurt last week. It hurts this week. I think any time that you’re building something, any time that you’re young into that, you’re gonna go through the throes, the highs and the lows. But there’s a better game out there for us today. We have to go actualize it, and we didn’t.”

Mike Wright got his second career start but this time the other team had a week to prepare for him, and the results weren’t pretty.  His final numbers don’t look terrible – 12 of 17 for 122 yards – and also credit him for the Commodores longest play of the season – a 61-yard dime to Devin Boddie in the first half that set up the Commodores’ first field goal. Unfortunately, that was the only real highlight of the day for Vandy. Wright consistently showed questionable decision-making, threw a head-scratching interception on what appeared to be a miscommunication, and was unable to break any runs against a defense that was ready for him. All these factors contributed to the Commodores’ dismal 1 of 11 third down conversion rate as the offense struggled to help keep their tiring defense off the field. If there was a quarterback controversy heading into this game, Wright’s limitations getting exposed to this degree might have ended it. It’s hard to envision Ken Seals not retaking the starting spot when he is healthy.

Not that Wright should shoulder all the blame for the offensive struggles. He was sacked three times for 21 yards with an offensive line struggled both in pass protection and run blocking. Running backs Rocko Griffin and Patrick Smith were completely ineffective, with a combined 8 rushes for 14 yards.

Defensively, while the unit struggled, there were a few big plays. The Commodores sacked MSU quarterback Will Rogers three times and picked him off twice. Jaylen Mahoney had a brilliant game with a sack and an interception – and he should have had two interceptions but his second was inexplicably overturned upon yet another of those reviews that only happens against Vanderbilt. And in a classic Vanderbilt series of events, Alex Williams would rough the MSU punter on the ensuing play leading to a Bulldog first down and ultimately a touchdown drive. MSU finished 10 of 15 on third down conversions.

“We have to be complementary in our football,” Lea said. “By getting off the field on third down, you get the ball back to the offense, the offense has to extend drives and keep the defense off the field. It’s totally unacceptable for us to play 50 snaps on defense in the first half, that’s never gonna be a formula here for success, and I think that includes special teams where we had a critical penalty.”

Vanderbilt Athletics

The same issues keep cropping up with this Vanderbilt team. The Commodores have now allowed points on the opponents opening drive in seven straight games.  They have been outscored 100-13 in the first quarter this season.  Whatever game planning or scripted plays the coaches are coming up with needs to be re-evaluated because this obviously can’t continue. Winning games is difficult enough for Vanderbilt.  It becomes exponentially more difficult when you are consistently behind two scores right off the bat.

In four SEC games, Vandy is averaging 6.5 points.  Obviously, the personnel has deficiencies, but the coaches have to find a way to get more creative with the few playmakers there are on the team. Don’t tell me players like Chris Pierce, Cam Johnson, and Will Sheppard couldn’t play for other programs in the SEC.  

As the SEC losing streak reached 17 games, Vandy next faces what many would argue is its last realistic chance at a win against a struggling Missouri team.  

“When you fall short, it hurts. It hurt last week, it hurt this week,” Lea said. “We are disappointed, but we don’t have time to be victimized by it. We have to get back up off the mat.”

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