How each unit ranks after 9 matches

In 2021, the only lasting trend in Vanderbilt football is to find ways to lose games.

. The Commodores (2-7, 0-5 SEC) won’t be eligible for bowling and likely won’t win an SEC game. But it was always going to be a bottom-up reconstruction for new coach Clark Lea.

With that in mind, here’s how each unit did with three games remaining:

Offense

The offense was unable to find an identity. Part of that is due to injuries – top running back Re’Mahn Davis played three games before sustaining an injury at the end of the season and tight end Ben Bresnahan and quarterback Ken Seals missed the time – but even taking this into account, this offense was never able to sync. The offensive line struggled, hampering running play.

Before Seals got injured, it seemed like Vanderbilt couldn’t figure out how he wanted to use his quarters. Now that the injury has forced Mike Wright to act on a daily basis, the strengths and weaknesses of both players have become evident. Wright can run and make big plays, but Seals is more consistent.

One of the most curious things about offense has been how two of its best returning players, Bresnahan and wide receiver Cam Johnson, have essentially disappeared. But new receivers have appeared in their place, including Will Sheppard and Chris Pierce.

There is talent here, but without a true identity the Commodores have struggled to score regardless of the opponent.

Class: VS

Defense

After looking shaky at first, the defense has found an identity. Lea manages a high-risk, high-reward style that focuses on turnovers and sacks. It’s worked.

Léa recognizes that this defense is limited, on the talent side. It doesn’t have the speed to track SEC receivers. That’s why Vanderbilt is still giving up too many big plays and too many points. But against lower level opponents, the defense started to be the type to keep the Commodores in games. The South Carolina game, despite the ending, was a good example.

Defense has potential, and if Lea can recruit to increase the talent level of her staff, maybe there is something here.

Class: B

AND NOW?:How should Vanderbilt football proceed as the reality of the season sets in?

GET OUT OF THE FIELD:Why improving offense wasn’t enough for Vanderbilt’s football against Missouri

Special teams

Vanderbilt had two winning baskets in his only two wins. It must count for something.

But outside of these, the special teams were a disaster. Missed kicks, bad coverage, penalties, questionable decisions. While better special teams may not have given the Commodores another win, they certainly haven’t helped.

Class: D

framing

Léa’s job is extremely difficult. He was never going to topple the Commodores in a year, and while the ETSU game was a bad loss, the overall performance wasn’t much worse than expected.

There have certainly been signs of progress. Defense, for example. Lea and Jesse Minter have proven adept at exploiting their strengths and making adjustments in the game. Vanderbilt is tied for second in the SEC in forced turnovers. The Commodores were also able to dodge penalties, ranking third in the SEC for least penalties per game and fourth for penalty yards per game. This is a sign of strong discipline, which can do credit to the coaching staff.

Other things have not worked so well. Signs of attacking trouble were present early on, with wide receivers coach David Raih being demoted from his playcall duties even before the start of the season. Since then, the offense has no identity. Lea is a defensive coach, which is good, but it’s important to hire the offensive staff well.

Overall, the rating is somewhat incomplete. We won’t really be able to assess Lea’s work until she has formed a full recruiting class and develops these players. But his job this season has seen its ups and downs.

Class: B-less

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @aria_gerson.



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