It is always hard to set expectations for these sorts of games, and not just if you’re a Vanderbilt fan, but if you are a fan of any team that is not in the elite echelon of college football. As a fan, you want to see your team win every game and if not win, at least be competitive but it is very hard whenever there is such a large talent gap between the two programs that are playing.
Nevertheless, there are some lessons you can learn when watching these sorts of games. Vanderbilt was seemingly outmanned at every single position on the field and struggled to keep up with the depth and talent that Nick Saban has accrued during his time at Alabama. When Clark Lea and the staff look at the film, there will be lessons that must be learned and mistakes that must be rectified, but there are also a few tidbits of positivity that we can find when we re-watch the tape.
Offense Sputters Against Elite Defense
Vanderbilt struggled to get any sort of rhythm going on the offensive side of the ball. The run game of Vanderbilt has been impressive this season despite sustaining injuries early on. Against Alabama, the running back corps was completely healthy with Rocko Griffin getting action and Patrick Smith coming off disciplinary action. Still, Vanderbilt struggled to find any traction between the tackles. Ray Davis led the way with carries with 11 but only averaged 1.5 yards per carry and finished the night with yards rushing. Rocko Griffin coming off injury seemed to be on a snap count. Rocko recorded three carries for 19 yards and had one run of 12 yards. Patrick Smith got 5 touches Saturday in his first game of the season but only recorded 11 yards on the ground.
The offensive line struggled against the Tide’s elite front seven. Not only could Vanderbilt not get anything going in the run game, but the inexperienced offensive front also struggled mightily against the Tide. The offensive line allowed 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss.
It is a tough task to guard potential Heisman finalist Will Anderson no matter who you are but especially when you’re freshman left tackle Gunnar Hansen. Hansen was baptized by fire by having the daunting task of protecting AJ Swann against Anderson. Hansen often found himself in one-on-one situations with Anderson on the edge and struggled seemingly all game long.
Despite all the negatives that you can pick and pull from the offense, there are some positives. One big positive was that freshman quarterback AJ Swann and the Vanderbilt offender had zero turnovers against the Tide. The offense was smart with the ball and did a good job protecting it. Swann did not force very many ill-advised throws and the backs and receivers made sure to protect the ball. It is important that when Vanderbilt goes up against teams where there is such a talent gap they don’t make mistakes like turning the ball over.
Defense a Few Steps Too Slow
Like the offense having to go up against a potential Heisman finalist, the defense was charged with the task of defending against potential Heisman finalist Bryce Young. The defense struggled to keep up with the high-powered Bama offense. Vanderbilt allowed 400 yards through the air and 228 yards on the ground.
Vanderbilt struggled to get pressure on Young and that translated poorly in the secondary. Young had loads of time in the pocket to scan the field and this allowed the Alabama wide receivers to find the soft spots in the zones and sit in those pockets and wait for the ball. Vanderbilt very rarely runs man coverage in general, and they only ran it a few times against Alabama, but this was much of the same. It is very hard for any secondary to keep up with wide receivers, let alone the Alabama receiving core for five, six, or seven seconds.
On the bright side, Anfernee Orji continues his tear on defense. It was a foregone conclusion that Orji would be the most important player on the defensive side of the ball but Orji has solidified it with his play. Orji continues to be impressive in the pass rush and an impressive defender when having to drop back in coverage. Orji lead the team in total tackles with 13 and recorded 3 solo tackles.
Early Bye Week A Blessing in Disguise
Teams typically would rather have their byes a little bit later in the season but for Vanderbilt, this one comes at an opportune time. The bye week allows Vanderbilt extra time to look at film and fix the mistakes that were made against Alabama, and time to get rest and recover from the poundage that comes from playing a program like Alabama. Vanderbilt comes home to play Ole’ Miss on October 8th.
MVPs of Week Four
Special Teams: Matty Hayball, Punter
432 yards punting, three tackles, one forced fumble
Defense: CJ Taylor, Linebacker
9 total tackles, 5 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass deflected