Monday, November 24, 2008
DAY TRIPPER: Why Vanderbilt can't win daytime games
OK, OK, I know this isn't a particularly sophisticated line of thinking, and I've been following it all year. But I think there's something to the fact that the Commodores can't win a ballgame played in the daylight.
In fact, I started talking about this phenomenon before it even started, when the Commodores were 5-0 (all night games) and about to play Miss State in the afternoon. In my preview of the Starkville game, I wrote:
"Could Vanderbilt lose this one? Absolutely. For one thing, Vanderbilt has played all of its games at night. I don't know what that means."
In that same post, I expressed fear that we were going to run out of gas in October and November just like we do every year.
And here we are, winners of one of our last six ballgames — including losses to non-bowl eligible teams Miss State, Duke and Tennessee. That's bad.
But here's some good news: Our next game, against Wake Forest, is at night. And if we go to the Liberty Bowl, as I believe we will, that game will be in the evening too.
Here's a breakdown:
• Miss State, lost 17-14
• Georgia, lost 24-14
• Duke, lost 10-7
• Tennessee, lost 20-10
Day record: 0-4 (0-3 SEC)
Day offense: 11 ppg vs. defenses that allow 22 points ppg
Day defense: 18 ppg vs. offenses that score 21 ppg
Summary: Our daytime defense is stout, holding teams below their average, while our daytime offense is atrocious, scoring half the points that our opponents ordinarily allow.
• Miami-Ohio, won 34-13
• South Carolina, won 24-17
• Rice, won 38-21
• Ole Miss, won 23-17
• Auburn, won 14-13
• Florida, lost 42-14
• Kentucky, won 31-24
Night record: 6-1 (4-1 SEC)
Night offense: 25 ppg vs. defenses that allow 22 points ppg
Night defense: 21 ppg vs. offenses that score 28 ppg
Summary: Our night-time defense is as stout as ever, holding teams to a touchdown below their average, but the difference at night is our offense, which scores a field goal more than their opponents are used to allowing — and more than twice as many points as we score in the day.
Here's the perplexing thing: We play tougher teams at night. All but one of our four daytime losses have been to teams not going to bowls. Five of our seven night opponents are bowl eligible (six of seven if Auburn upsets Alabama on Saturday) and we've beaten four of those five bowl eligible teams (and five of six if Auburn wins). While we've faced higher scoring teams at night, we've scored more than twice as many points as we have during the day while facing the same caliber of defenses. So the problem isn't the team we're facing. The problem is us. We can't figure out a way to score against teams we should beat.
Here's a thought: Maybe we lose in the day because those generally are games we're favored to win, and any game we're favored to win either draws interest from Raycom or nobody, and so those games are scheduled during the day. And because we feel we can win those games, we come out and run the ball three times and punt, thinking we'll rely on our superior turnover margin and tough defense to bail us out in the end.
But at night, we're not favored. (Even against Miami-Ohio and Rice we weren't favored.) We're on ESPN because we're playing a superior team with national appeal and we're in the role of the lovable underdogs who are capable of pulling the big upset. So we're not expected to win and we come out and do things like throw the ball long to D.J. Moore in the end zone twice in a row like we did against Kentucky. But in the same position against Miss State and Duke and Tennessee, D.J. is on the sidelines and it's Justin Wheeler or George Smith getting covered like a blanket. And maybe Chris Nickson is just not a morning person. He's been electric under the lights — even against Florida — and he's been nothing short of awful in the sunshine.
This Saturday, we're playing Wake Forest. It's at night. It's on the ESPN family of networks. And the Demon Deacs are favored to win. So expect to see the coaches open up the offense and play to win.
Which, in my humble opinion, we should be doing regardless of whom we play.