Pop on the video from Vanderbilt-Ole Miss, when the Commodores kept a talented Rebels squad in a slugfest, one thing becomes apparent very quickly.
Vandy gives South Carolina no shortage of things to prepare for.
The Commodores deploy a good deal of formational diversity on both sides of the ball. On offense, you’ll see I-formation and two-tight end heavy single-back sets befitting of coach Derrick Mason’s background with Stanford (and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s recent tenure at ground-and-pound Wisconsin). But you’ll also see the shotgun, a range of spread sets, up-tempo play and the zone-read game, a staple of newer schools of offensive football.
On the other side, Vanderbilt is based in a 3-4, getting more speed and tacklers on the field, but it has a lot of flex. Sometimes they’ll go into four-down fronts. Sometimes they’ll slide the line over and put both outside linebackers on one side of the formation. Against Ole Miss, they deployed a popular 3-4 nickel approach with only two defensive linemen and the outside linebackers in as stand-up defensive ends (it’s a 2-4-5 that aligns as a 4-2-5).
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With so many smaller players, it’s little wonder the Commodores staff is not shy about dialing up a range of exotic blitzes and pressures and going to them early.
It means while the Gamecocks will almost assuredly have more talent, they’ll have to be ready for everything.
- The most interesting Vanderbilt players on film are outside linebackers Nehemiah Mitchell and Stephen Weatherly. The staff asks them to do a lot in terms of moving around, widening the front to make the 3-4 mimic a 5-2 or putting a hand on the ground to play defensive end. Combined they only have 4 1/2 tackles for loss and one sack, and the team is middle-of-the-pack in terms of getting to the quarterback.
- The Commodore linebackers were taking big drops against Ole Miss, starting deep and often dropping a bit farther. This is likely because of the explosiveness of the Rebel passing game as compared to its work on the ground. In contrast, there’s little surprise they played closer against Georgia with Nick Chubb.
- Based on advanced metrics, the unit has been better against the pass than the run, primarily by limiting big passes and making marching on the ground a challenge.
- The Vandy defense ranks 26th nationally in points allowed per game, despite playing at a top-20 pace, and ranks 23rd in a per-play defensive metric adjusted for the opponent.
- Immediately one will notice the receivers often find themselves reaching back for passes and falling over. This is because quarterback Johnny McCrary is not particularly accurate. He’s quick enough to add something to the running game, with 7 yards per carry discounting sacks, though he didn’t look particularly fast against the Ole Miss Landshark defense.
- The Commodores will attack with a few running concepts, including zone, power and a split zone where a tight end arcs across the formation to help with cutback lanes. A wide receiver speed sweep was often added to occupy backside defenders.
- One favored play came in the shotgun with receivers executing bubble screens on both sides and the option to run a zone read in the middle.
- Despite a smattering of explosive plays, Vandy is one of the worst rushing teams in the country on a per-play basis. The Commodores also don’t generate much explosiveness through the air, leaving a unit only ranking in the top 60 in total offense because it ranks ninth in plays per game.