So Ole Miss, a team ranked No. 3 in the country after slaying Bama in Tuscaloosa, looked thoroughly unimpressive in a 27-16 win over a now 1-3 Vandy team that's just three weeks out from losing to a Conference USA school. This thing was tied midway through the third quarter and you didn't feel completely comfortable until Jaylen Walton scampered into the end zone with less than six minutes to play.
We see this all the time: a top-five squad struggles to put away a team they were expected to maul and all of the talk shows and ESPN analysts are asking if it's TIME TO PANIC YET and then that top-five team comes out the next week and looks like a top-five team again and everyone forgets the struggle game (see: Ohio State vs. NIU). This was a Rebel team coming off a physical and emotional slugfest against Bama and was probably peeking forward to next week's showdown in the Swamp. And to Vandy's credit, they're a much better team than they were a year ago.
But at various times this week, your coworker or fraternity brother or husband or pizza delivery guy or annoying uncle is going to come up to you and ask whether or not you're worried about __________. Some of the things they're going to bring up are legitimate concerns. Some of them are not.
Here's what you're going to hear and how you should answer.
"Chad Kelly sucked it up."
Yea, Swag completed an unimpressive 57 percent of his passes (3-of-9 on third down) and tossed a pair of awful interceptions into bracket coverage. But I'm just chalking this one up as a bad outing. He looked great in his first three games, and one not-so-hot outing against a good defense isn't gonna change my mind.
Which is an important point to make: Vandy has a good defense. These fellas came in having given up an average of less than 12 points per game (remember that 14 of Georgia's 31 points were scored on defense and special teams) and now rank in the SEC's upper half in total defense. Derek Mason's offense still has a long way to go, but his defense is starting to come around.
Vanderbilt's defense is pretty nasty. Held everyone so far way under their season averages.— Bud Elliott (@TomahawkNation) September 27, 2015
"Our offensive line is hot garbage."
Yea, I'm freakin out.
Swag was sacked three times and although the official scorebook logged only three QB hurries, it was definitely more than that. The running game averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, and if you take away four garbage time carries on the final drive, that drops to 3.3.
Remember when we heard all of that talk about how Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd were going to return the inside power game? Those two had just nine carries compared to 21 from Jaylen Walton, who racked up an impressive 133 yards but did so mostly on the edges. The Rebs O-line still can't generate inside push, which was infuriatingly obvious during those terrible goal line possessions.
In fairness, the line was missing two starters: Laremy Tunsil is still out and Justin Bell is injured. But until they come back and prove that the running success against UT Martin and Fresno State was real, this offense is going to remain one dimensional.
"Our defense couldn't get off the damn field."
Vandy's 10-of-22 third down conversion rate isn't particularly impressive, but they converted eight of 11 tries on their four scoring drives. A big part of that was a complete lack of edge pass-rushing, which let Johnny McCrary look shockingly competent while picking apart a Rebel D that was content to sit back in soft coverage and give up pass after pass to the damn tight end.
But this was a defense that was obviously still feeling the effects of playing 100 snaps last week in Tuscaloosa. We saw a lot of second and third teamers on the field -- John Youngblood, Ray Ray Smith, hell, even Tayler Polk -- as early as the first quarter. The edge rushing (which struggled to contain Jake Coker, for God's sake) needs to step up, but other than that the defense will be just fine.
"Hugh Freeze's play calling was lame as shit."
Eh, wait and see.
A week after I heaped praise on Freeze for staying aggressive against Bama, he was back to calling halfback sweeps, WR screens and other hey-let's-try-not-screw-this-up plays as Vandy clawed back into the game.
But let's note a couple of things. First, Freeze did call some downfield passes in the second half, but good coverage from the Vandy secondary, crumbling Rebel pass protection and/or some hesitation from Swag Kelly after those picks meant those passes never got thrown. And because of those two things -- a shaky O-line and a struggling QB -- you can't fault Freeze too much for toning it down down late.
I still think Freeze needs to be consistently more aggressive while playing with a late lead, but I'm not gonna jump down his throat for what we saw against Vandy.