Standards Over Circumstance

Commodores hope to get off the mat after tough loss to Mississippi State

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If Vanderbilt showed great strides Oct. 16 at South Carolina, then Saturday’s showing against Mississippi State was a concerning step in the wrong direction.

Vandy gave itself little chance at breaking a long SEC losing streak in a 45-6 loss to Mississippi State. The visiting Bulldogs played their game and played it with ease to the tune of 524 yards of offense, 29 first downs, 39 minutes of possession time and nearly 10 yards per completion.

“It hurt last week, it hurts this week. I think any time that you’re building something, any time that you’re dealing with that you’re going to go through the throes, the highs and the lows,” Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea said after the defeat. “There’s a better game out there for us today. We have to go actualize it. And we didn’t. That’s total ownership like always. That starts with me and extends to our coaching staff and then, obviously, on down to the players. There are going to be things across the board that we can improve upon.

“We’re disappointed, but we don’t have enough time to be victimized by it. We have to make the decision to get up off the mat and get back to work.”

The Commodores (2-6, 0-4 SEC) were excruciatingly close to a win in the South Carolina contest, a battle which ended 21-20 after the Gamecocks scored in the final minute. Saturday’s affair with Mississippi State (4-3, 2-2 SEC) was anything but close.

Two second-quarter touchdowns allowed the Bulldogs to be up 24-3 – but the margin felt much wider inside Vanderbilt Stadium.

Mississippi State ran 50 offensive plays in the first half and totaled 282 yards. It held the ball for more than 22 1/2 minutes. It was 6 of 10 on third down and put together scoring drives of eight, 14, 10 and 11 plays, respectively.

Vanderbilt had six possessions in the first two quarters – three ended with a punt and one with an interception. The Dores had 76 yards at the break.

“We have to be complimentary in our football. 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,” Lea said. “It’s totally unacceptable for us to play 50 snaps on defense in the first half. That’s never going to be a formula here for success.

“What we experienced tonight was this breakdown of the complimentary aspect of football. We weren’t able to get off the field, we weren’t able to extend drives. Mississippi State had all the offensive rhythm in the first half and we weren’t able to dig ourselves out of a hole.”

The Bulldogs only had five possessions in the second half, yet scored touchdowns on three of them.

Vandy, meanwhile, wound up 1 of 11 on third down, totaled a meager nine yards rushing and leading receiver Will Sheppard had just one reception for four yards. The 155 yards of total offense was half the total the Commodores put up during the South Carolina game.

“I think one of the biggest things any week is not beating ourselves,” Vanderbilt senior wide receiver Chris Pierce said. “We’re going to go into the film on Monday and we’re going to ty to critique that because our biggest opponent is ourselves.”

Now on a three-game losing streak, Vanderbilt turns its attention to visiting Missouri – the Tigers (3-4, 0-3 SEC) come to Vanderbilt Stadium for a 2 p.m. kickoff Saturday. That matchup precedes Vandy’s bye week before entering the final month of the season.

Missouri is the last league team Vanderbilt defeated before the current losing skid against SEC competition began. To beat the Tigers again Lea’s squad will have to be much better than what it was against Mississippi State.

“I expect in our team meeting (Sunday) to enter a room with 94 guys that are locked in arms to go get the result that we want the next week,” Lea said. “This is a standards-over-circumstance program, a program that’s not victimized by results. We take ownership of that. We have way more control than sometimes we want to admit to. We’re going to find that in this result, too.

“(Saturday) didn’t happen to us. This is the result we actualized through performance. We shift gears and look at the performance and find ways to get better.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.