NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three total points was not how Vanderbilt’s offense wanted to showcase itself Saturday against East Tennessee State.
Time to panic?
“It’s the first game. You can say things aren’t working but we’re stacking days on days,” Vanderbilt senior Chris Pierce said. “It should be expected for the first game to be the worst. If this was Week 6 then we’d have a problem. It’s Week 1 and we’re going to stack days on days and we’re going to get better. That’s one thing we’re not worried about.”
Pierce and his offensive teammates will be looking to put a more positive performance together this week after the 23-3 defeat to East Tennessee State that started the season. Vandy travels to Colorado State for a 9 p.m. CT Saturday game searching for the first win – and first touchdown – of the 2021 season.
The Commodores mustered just 318 yards of total offense in the opener and averaged only 4.4 yards per play. They were held to 82 yards rushing and committed six offensive penalties.
Vanderbilt also made just one trip to the red zone – and came away empty.
“The first thing we talked about as a an offense is we just got to become more of a disciplined offensive unit,” Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Joey Lynch said. “I talk about owning our operation and as a staff making sure from the time we break the huddle and get lined up and the call the cadence and that type of stuff – that’s stuff we can control.
“I don’t think we controlled the controllables as good as we can on Saturday night and it definitely cost us in some drives.”
Vanderbilt came into 2021 with some cautious optimism on the offensive side. Yes, a new staff and new scheme equated to some expected adjustments, but a solid wide receiver corps, a few veteran offensive linemen and two experienced quarterbacks gave the Dores a foundation with which to work.
The addition of Re’Mahn Davis in the backfield gave the unit a bell cow of a back.
But Davis had just 56 yards in his debut. Ken Seals and Mike Wright combined to go 24-for-43 through the air for 236 yards and Seals was picked off twice. Four different receivers caught a pass – but only one reception went for more than 20 yards.
Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea said his film review led to a confirmation of where exactly the mistakes and miscues were most frequent.
“How we’re running routes, how we’re adjusting routes, the reads were making at the quarterback position, where we go with the ball based off the box count – things that are fundamental that for one reason or another we missed on on Saturday,” Lea said. “It was disruptive to us and our rhythm on offense.
“Our offense becomes more aggressive when we design the post and it’s there and when we accelerate out of the break and when we put the ball on the money and we make the opponent pay. To me, opening up the playbook is a matter of maintaining and sustain rhythm and then having the chance to create explosive plays. That’s all in the base-level design. We aren’t able to get to that point, or we weren’t on Saturday, because we were undercutting our momentum.”
Vandy’s offense now faces a Colorado State defense that surrendered 464 yards (240 rushing and 224 passing) of offense to South Dakota State last week. The Rams gave up 7.5 yards per play and the Jackrabbits scored on all five of their trips to the red zone.
It’s a Colorado State defense Lynch should be extremely familiar with – Lynch was offensive coordinator at Colorado State in 2020.
“I know this – we got a lot of respect for them and they’re a tremendous program,” Lynch said. “There’s some familiarity with the guys on staff, no question. We’ll definitely use what we have and try to use it to our advantage.
“They got guys that fly around and do a really good job with their disguise stuff and have a really good pressure package. They want to create negative-yardage plays on first and second down. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Got great respect for them and looking forward to getting out there Saturday.”
Vanderbilt’s offensive funk, meanwhile, somewhat stretches back to 2020 as well. In its last three games overall Vandy has mustered just 20 total points and in its past four contests the Dores have scored just 14 total points in the second half of those games.
But Lea cautioned against the urge to reinvent the wheel moving forward. The Commodores must remain steadfast in their commitment to the process.
“We don’t shift philosophy here. We don’t all of a sudden say, ‘Well that didn’t work so it’s on to the next.’ It’s about finding the details that kept us from our optimal performance and not deviating from what we know to be true about our process which is going to be consistent and it’s going to be rhythmic,” Lea said. “We have to as a staff and players take ownership over all the little details that go into winning and winning’s hard. Once we have those details manifest themselves onto the field what you’re going to see is an offense that knows how to be explosive, that knows how to take what the defense is giving to them and it can execute.
“Execution will lead to points, points will lead to applied pressure on the opponent and now we have a chance to do and to execute the vision we have as a program.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.