September 12, 2010

VandySports.com three questions: Offense

Vanderbilt dropped to 0-2 on the 2010 season with a 27-3 loss to the visiting LSU Tigers. A week after the Commodore offense gained the most yards its posted against a BCS conference opponent since 2006, Vanderbilt mustered only 135 total yards on 48 plays and gave up six sacks. It was the worst offensive performance since Commodores 15-3 loss against Mississippi State on September 19th, 2009.

Following each game this season, VandySports.com publishers Chris Lee and Jesse Johnson will present a series of questions to recap both the offensive and defensive performances.

1. How do you fix what's wrong with the offense?

Chris: "Plain and simple: start by blocking somebody. People complain about game-planning and everything under the sun tonight, but the world's greatest game plan wouldn't have made a hoot of difference tonight. The offensive line got dominated from start to finish, from tackle to tackle, by an LSU team that (when I really paid attention to what the Tigers defensively) didn't send to send more people than VU had to block them.

"Second, Larry Smith has got to get rid of the ball sooner. Not only did he take a sack or two that he should not have, but he's going to get killed at this rate.

"It's hard to evaluate much else, because the blocking didn't afford ample opportunity for anyone else to show much."

Jesse: "Where do I begin? First, come up with something that is going to help the offensive line protect better. LSU just whipped them repeatedly tonight and though the Tigers traditionally have great defensive lines, most inside the Tiger program do not consider this to be the defense's strong point this year. North Carolina's depleted unit last week may have given up about four sacks, but even when the Tigers didn't get a sack tonight, the pressure was still there. Aside from some typical moves, the front four was mostly just over-powering the unit and the tackles and guards seemed to not know what to do in terms of helping or sliding. Caldwell mentioned in the post game that they needed to slide protect more and maybe that'll help. Still, the communication tonight between the linemen seemed to be poor from the press box.

"Other things that need to improve is the receiving corps. Once again, some of the starters were playing patty-cake with defensive backs and not getting off the line of scrimmage quick enough. Udom Umoh and Jonathan Krause got free sometimes, but Umoh was a complete non-factor and Krause was rendered a non-factor due to getting less reps as the game went on. I voiced my concern about this game, that VU needed to get more of the younger receivers in the game because their talent is just simply better than some of the veterans. However, we saw little Jordan Matthews and no Chris Boyd. Coach Caldwell said both need to get ready and get on the field, and I totally agree. It's time to just roll the talent out there, no matter how inexperienced it might be. This league will continue to eat up the passing game if not.

"Another thing that I would do is change philosophies and schemes to get the ball out quicker. On two of the drives in the second quarter, we saw some quicker drops and passes and VU actually moved the ball down the field. When your quarterback can't get more than two seconds without a man in his face, I think it would be wiser to call plays that get the ball out of his hand quicker. Larry Smith could've avoided some of his problems, he has to get rid of the ball when facing a high-caliber defense. If he does some of things he did tonight against a South Carolina or Florida, he'll have more terrible stat lines like tonights."

2. Is it time for a change at quarterback?

Chris: "I don't think so. I think we saw improvement from Smith at quarterback last week when he had time to make plays. I want to see what he does against a defense better than Northwestern's (assuming his line gives him time to throw, which may be a huge assumption this year) before I draw many more conclusions, but my sense is he can still have a decent season.

"Besides that, let's face it-it's likely to be a long season, but almost all the key players on this year's team return next year. With none of the other quarterbacks on the team looking ready for prime-time action-save Jared Funk perhaps, but he's a senior-getting him more experience is the only thing that makes much sense."

Jesse: No, because there isn't really much of another option. Quarterback play could've been better tonight but it was in no way the reason why the offense was so poor. Had some of VU's other quarterbacks been in the game, fans would've seen the same things happen and it might have been even worse. The one true option that the Commodores had opposite of Smith going into the preseason was Jordan Rodgers and he missed most of the camp due to shoulder and back problems and I don't know when he's going to be healthy enough to be a possible option again. It's not like Vanderbilt's had great luck with playing a quarterback with shoulder problems in the recent past.

"Smith makes mistakes, but he also gives the team the best chance to make plays from that spot at this time. Give him an offensive line that can block on a regular basis and not make stupid penalties, and he might be a decent quarterback in this league. Oh, and getting some receivers that will get off the line quickly and avoid getting eat up by DB's would help too. Again, I would play all three of the true freshmen receivers with Smith this year and try to build something for the future."

3. Could you take anything positive from the offense this evening?

Chris: "Not much. If you want me to stretch to find something positive to say, I thought Jonathan Krause showed some athleticism on his one touch that leads me to believe he'll be a major playmaker before his career is done.

"Other than that, we saw tonight just how far this team has to go to become a competitive Southeastern Conference offense. There will be a lot of teaching moments for the coaching staff this week."

Jesse: "Well, there wasn't any drops by the receivers, I guess that's a positive. Still, not only did the line and quarterback give up a ton of sacks in this game, but we even saw someone as sure-handed as Zac Stacy fumble a pitch on what looked to be a well-called play for a first down when the game was still just 20-3.

"The penalties are certainly not a positive. Your only offensive captain makes a foolish unsportsmanlike penalty is just unacceptable. The false starts by your best offensive tackle is not acceptable either.

"We did see some positives out of Brandon Barden and there were actual some different types of packages during the first drive of the game, but even it ended on a third and one with a unsuccessful deep pass to John Cole. So no, there wasn't much positive, if at all, in tonight's offensive performance."




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