Posted: 1:50 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013
By Whiskey Wednesday
Let me lead with a heavy emphasis on my opinion that I really, really, really hate starting off the football season with a solid, in-conference opponent. Especially in a year like this one, a year that many see as a transitional year for our program (as in, transitioning back into a team that wins football games), starting the year on a Thursday night against a program that has not just gotten our goat as of late, but has adopted our goat into its family, named it, and lets our goat sleep at the foot of its bed… I digress. Combine that with the overall record for Thursday night home underdogs (they’re a pretty damn good bet, it turns out), and couple it with our last horrifying Thursday night experience way back in 2009, and it’s generous to say that I was a catatonic, nervous wreck of a football fan leading up to (and several hours after) this game.
All of that said, being 1-0 feels incredible. After all the buildup, after a game that so completely exceeded the hype, and after a long weekend of processing everything that went down, most of us are still cautiously optimistic. But a cautiously optimistic 1-0 is worlds better than the alternative.
I’ve all but given up on trying to weave a coherent account of everything that I wanted to mention about this game and it’s ramifications; I’m still too scatter-brained. I’m going to lean heavily on bullet points from here on. You like bullet points, right? Good.
Nashville is still an awesome city. Vanderbilt is still not really an SEC school. Guys, your fanbase is an awful, B1G 10-meets-CUSA mashup of face-painted yankees who don’t know shit about football, tailgating, or dressing themselves appropriately. Get it together.
Defensively, this game was a good reminder that our coaches are not infallible. I can understand Wommack’s initial game-plan: drop seven men into coverage on almost every play, and hope that your line can create pressure and manage the run game. However, the defensive line that we put out there wasn’t adequate to get that done, and it’s on Wommack to have some idea of that going in. Most defensive lines, even good SEC ones, aren’t able to create pressure, generate sacks, and limit the run game without some different blitz/coverage looks from the back seven. The things we ran appeared to be really vanilla, and we didn’t even do a good job of consistently doubling Jordan Matthews. When we did, we weren’t particularly assignment sound.
Mike Hilton was already one of my favorite defensive players, and Tony Conner has quickly joined him on my list. With recent news of Hilton getting a shot at cornerback, I think we’re seeing the defensive staff trying to get both of them on the field at the same time. It’s frustrating to see all of these adjustments, and wonder why the need for them wasn’t more obvious until the first game. The silver lining there is that the staff also made continuous adjustments to the lineup last year, and most of them seemed to make a positive difference.
Many of our best defensive players seemingly made little to no impact on the game. Elston disappeared, Denzel was playing hurt (with Bryant suspended and unable to back him up), CJ Johnson was obviously not himself… we know that those guys are good, and are going to help us in the future. That we could make some plays and win a game without much help from them is hopefully indicative of better talent across the board for us.
Bo Wallace appeared to be very risk-averse in this game. If that continues, then we’ll likely feel a lot more secure down the stretch against the teams that we’re supposed to beat. Hopefully, picking his battles against the more elite teams will pay off too. At times, Bo appeared to feel panicked by phantom pressure; that’s my biggest concern with him going forward. I was really impressed by his decisions running the ball, and I always love what he does with his pump fake.
Offensively, we suffered from many of the same problems that we did on defense: guys trying to play hurt, having men in the wrong place in the lineup, and underwhelming performances from guys we’ve relied on in the past. Donte Moncrief had an underwhelming game; yes, he was interfered with on two big plays (only one of which was called) that would have improved his stat line considerably, but Andre Hal did a great job on him overall. Hopefully, Hal is about as good as he’ll see this year, and we’ll get more production and highlight-reel material from him. We’ve heard nothing to indicate otherwise.
Until relatively late in the game, we weren’t able to get much production from our run game. That’s somewhat unsettling, but it’s also something that Vanderbilt was able to force on us last year as well. It just seems like they have great run-stopping defensive linemen, and they play their assignments extremely well across the board. I’m interested to see how the young running backs are able to contribute moving forward. Freeze continues to emphasize that I’Tavius Mathers’ absence is a big one.
I hate to be the millionth person to mention our freshmen, but holy hot damn. They are pretty good. Where the hell did they find Evan Engram?
Overall, I think that the players and coaches responded well to adversity on the road, lineup changes, injuries, and an extremely motivated Vanderbilt team. Good for them for overcoming, instead of folding late.
I really, really, really don’t like James Franklin. At all. Good coach, terrible person, somehow even more terrible facial hair configuration.
So another advantage of bullet points is that they’re very conducive to starting conversations. Anything I totally missed? Anything you totally disagree on? Mash that comment button. See you next week guys, where hopefully we’ll be talking about the minutiae of a 63 point Rebel win.