Robbie Caldwell said Monday that Vanderbilt’s offense has done little – if anything – in recent losses to provide a spark for the defense.
Not that there haven’t been opportunities.
Caldwell said his decision to punt on fourth-and-2 from the Georgia 37 on the opening drive last Saturday was the wrong one and was based on some incorrect information. The punt resulted in a touchback and fewer than four minutes later the Bulldogs kicked a field goal, which started their 43-0 romp over the Commodores.
“If I knew it was fourth-and-2 instead of fourth-and-(4) early in the game, I probably would have went for it,” Caldwell said. “Would it have made a difference? I don't know.
“The information came to me that it was fourth-and-4 so I decided to punt it and try to pin them down inside the five, but we didn't. That was the biggest regret.”
Of the 12 drives that followed, only one ended inside Georgia territory, at the 40-yard line. Eleven of the 12 lasted fewer than two minutes and seven ended in three plays or fewer.
It was similar to the 40-21 defeat at Connecticut two weeks earlier, when the offense was stopped short of midfield on all eight of its second-half possessions.
The Commodores’ average time of possession in those two contests was a little more than 23 minutes.
“We have to help them offensively,” Caldwell said. “Leaving them on the field … we have to give them a spark and a hope. This is a team thing. You haven't once heard since we've been at Vanderbilt that it's offense vs. defense. That's the way it will always be. But – I can say it now that I coached on the offensive side – we never gave the defense a spark, a hope, or sustained a drive.”
The last time Vanderbilt gave up 40 or more twice in the same season was 2005. Then, the Commodores lost a pair of shootouts to Florida (49-42 in double-overtime) and Kentucky (48-43) in back-to-back weeks.
This season, the Commodores (2-4, 1-3) have run 352 total plays in their six contests, which is fewest in the SEC. They also are last in first downs (84), third-down conversions (18) and average time of possession (25:21).
“We’ve had some injuries to some of our key contributors on defense,” senior defensive tackle Adam Smotherman said. “… We haven’t been as stingy as we normally are, but I think this is a great week for us to reevaluate ourselves and get back to a point where we dominate the offenses we play.”
Now, if only Caldwell could go back to that fourth down play early last Saturday.
“I should have been more attentive,” he said. “I thought it was fourth-and-4, and I was mistaken. My fault.”
• Starting center Joey Bailey has a high ankle sprain and is not likely to play against South Carolina. Among the candidates to start in his place are freshmen Logan Stewart and James Kittredge.
“When your rear end puckers in front of that big of a crowd ... it's hard to think,” Caldwell said. “… Just the nerves of it all. (Stewart), (Kittredge) whoever it may be are very intelligent young people. Intelligence has nothing to do with it when you go into that kind of venue with people screaming and hollering."
• Caldwell said linebacker Chris Marve, who returned to action last after having missed one game due to minor knee surgery, experienced swelling in the knee on Sunday and likely will miss practice time this week.
“Hopefully he'll be ready for the (South Carolina) game (Saturday),” Caldwell said. “It means the world to us defensively to have him in with our confidence level and the leadership. We are very limited in that position.”
• The accumulation of hits on quarterback Larry Smith is a concern, which is why the last two weeks quarterback Jared Funk has been inserted at quarterback in the final minutes rather than redshirt-freshman Charlie Goro.
Funk is No. 2 on the depth chart ahead of Goro and junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers.
“We have six games left, and I’d love to get Charlie in there,” Caldwell said. “But we have to have Jared straight too because … as much as Larry’s been hit, the odds are you can easily get an injury.
“Jared’s not very experienced. He might be a senior, but he’s not very experienced.”