Monday, October 5, 2009

What a Difference a Year Makes

At this time last season, Vanderbilt was 5-0 and ranked 13.5 (13 and 14 in the respective polls) headed to Starkville for a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. This year, the Commodores are a disappointing 2-3 (including 0-3 in the SEC) and headed to West Point for a chance to become .500 perhaps for the last time this season. The question is why?

We have posited a number of reasons on VSL. To beat the proverbial dead-horse just to make sure it's good and dead, I could go on about the offensive play-calling (which is absolutely awful, despite the head in the sand mentality the coaching staff appears to be taking). But I won't. Instead, I'd like to point out a few key statistics that are indicative of why the Commodores have struggled this season. Don't post comments about how I'm using stats to be a Vanderbilt apologist. I will be the first to admit that Vanderbilt's 5-0 start wouldn't have been apparent based on the stats compiled at this point season. I will also concede that Vanderbilt has been extremely hard-hit this season by injuries. Still, the team's performance thus far as been nothing short of excruciating to watch. The question is: why?

1. Red-Zone Efficiency. Vanderbilt has made 2 more trips to the red-zone this season than last. The difference between this year's 21 trips and last year's 19 is how successful they've been once they get there. Last season, Vanderbilt converted 18 of 19 red zone trips, including 13 touchdowns. This season, Vanderbilt is a disappointing 14-21 in the red zone. Of those 14, only 9 have been for touchdowns. Perhaps even worse is Vanderbilt's red zone defense this season, as compared to last. Last year, Vanderbilt limited opponents to scoring just 62% of the time (5 TDs and 3 FGs on 13 drives). This year, opponents are 11-11, including 6 touchdowns. Through 5 games last season, the defense would bend but not break. This year, the defense is bending AND breaking. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the red-zone defensive breakdown is that bad. The fact that they are preventing opponents from getting in the end-zone almost half the time is impressive. A few stops here are there would be great, but you can certainly understand why that's difficult based on the next stat...

2. Time of Possession. After 5 games last season, Vanderbilt was averaging a time of possession of slightly more than half the game (30:51). This year, the are averaging just under 4 minutes less for an average TOP of 26:58. The defense is exhausted because the offense can't get first downs. Even if they move the chains, the no-huddle is making what few drives the Commodores have that much shorter, thereby giving the defense less time to recover (Vanderbilt had run 295 plays at this point last season; this season, they've run 368). Perhaps the most indicative example of the impact of the defense's time on the field: the red-zone defense discussed above.

3. Penalties. Whenever you watch a Vanderbilt basketball game, you are sure to hear the phrase "Princeton offense" at least 5 times. When it's football, the cliche of choice is "disciplined football." Not this year. At this point last season, Vanderbilt had earned 16 penalties for 152 yards, the total averaging out to 30.4 yards a game. This year, Vanderbilt has amassed more than twice as many penalties (34) and been assessed 239 yards. Worse, they are averaging 47.8 yards of penalties a game. Those numbers are bad, but they are even worse when you consider Commodore opponents have only been assessed 22 penalties for 188 yards.

4. What It's Not. As Seamus highlighted in his excellent post-mortum of the Ole Miss debacle, Vanderbilt's defense (despite the 2-3 record) is very good and should not be overlooked. With all that said, would it surprise you to learn that this year's defense is BETTER than last year's at stopping opponents on 3rd down: 36.5% last season, 30% this year. It's also not a lack of turnovers. Vanderbilt's early success last season was sparked by forcing, and subsequently taking advantage of, turnovers (again, see red zone efficiency discussion above). Still, Vanderbilt has a +7 turnover margin this season, compared to a +9 margin last season. Hardly a steep drop-off.

Commodore fans have reason to be gloomy headed to West Point this weekend. To say Saturday's game is a "must-win" is honestly laughable because the math getting to 6 heading into our SEC East schedule is more difficult than the calculus class I had to withdraw from freshmen year. Unless something changes, and fast, the rest of this season is about looking towards the future and finishing with some pride. Not the way we wanted to follow-up our first bowl win since Eisenhower, but the numbers don't lie as to why the Commodores find themselves in this particular predicament.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you bring up 2008: That team underperformed in the second half. At 5-0, did "the numbers" predict they were going to lose to both Duke and MSU?

With a defense that will keep them in games for the rest of the year, even a marginal offensive improvement could bring 6 wins.

Army's important: To get the offense back on track as well as to give the defense experience with the triple option before seeing run with more talent by Georgia Tech.

Stanimal said...

Keep drinking that kool aid sportsfans. It's......over.

I'll tell you one problem which is overlooked, and this goes directly to the problem of time of possession. If you are going to run the no-huddle spread, you'd damn well better run it effectively. If you don't, the result becomes a LOT more time for your defense to be on the field. Why on earth would you want to speed up your offense if you're going to rely solely on your defense to play well?

Do you realize how much an average of 4 minutes more per game that the opposing team has the ball is? It's at least one additional 6 play drive for most teams. That's six more plays that have chances at home runs, or six more plays that can score. That's where your disparity comes in. The way we played last year left us little to no room for error. Well now that our clock control has decreased for a solid four minutes, our defense just can't hold up as well. While we may not be as good in the red zone as we were last year, we're also telling our defense that they have to tread water for four minutes more than they were last year. That's not going to work if you can barely skirt by on offense.

Ted Cain gambled for his job by putting together a gimmick offense with terrible receivers and a talented but inexperienced QB. The offense isn't getting fixed until his butt is gone. So sorry Vanderbuddies, but this sour grapes Vandy fans says stick a fork in 'em.

Now when's basketball season?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the coaches don't call for a quick out, slant, or screen pass, something of the 3 yard variety. Do it very early in the game, like the first 3 plays of the first possesion, do it to give Larry some and the offense some confidence. They didn't have a SINGLE EFFIN CATCH in the first half, 0-8! Cover your eyes terrible.

I mean, WTF coaches, call some high school pass plays to gain some confidence. LOL at "setting things up for later in the game", get an effin first down you rocket surgeon coaches. Terrible really.

End Rant.

Anonymous said...

"Stanimal" is exactly correct. Oh, after Army it's the scary SEC, and Johnson's proven he can't win in this conference! There's a definite 0% probability that they will win another game after this weekend, to think otherwise is to drink the Jonestown kool aid...who plays the part of Jim Jones? Bobby Johnson? Who just won a bowl game?

Since there's no possibility of victory after Army, the rational move is to forfeit the next seven games. After all, BB's going to the elite 8 (guaranteed) and could really use FB's remaining discretionary and expense budget.

Dr. Mz said...

A year ago, Michael Jackson was still alive, Chris Brown's music was still okay for family radio stations, and Mark Sanford was considered to be a politician with nationwide potential.A lot of crap can happen in a year -- especially when you disappear to Argentina to go bang your mistress.


Dr. Mz

Anonymous said...

football? what is that? basketball starts practice..... is it today? this week? idk, but i know it's soon... jenkins. save us.