Halfway through the season there is a clear-cut difference between the performance of Vanderbilt’s offense and it’s defense. There is no divide in the locker room, though, according to linebacker and team captain Patrick Benoist.
“I think our team has way too much chemistry for a rift to be created,” Benoist said. “The offense has a lot of great leaders and a lot of great players too. They’ve been practicing hard, practicing well and they’re playing hard. They’ve just had a few unfortunate breaks lately but they’ll bounce back. I know they will.”
Vanderbilt (2-4 overall, 0-3 in conference) is fifth in the Southeastern Conference in both total defense (yards allowed) and scoring defense (points allowed). In both cases, it ranks among the top 25 nationally.
The offense, however, is ninth in the conference in total offense and last in scoring offense. At 18.8 points per game, the Commodores are 108th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“You have to have a little bit of pride about yourself and — really — about the offense because the defense is playing tremendous,” wide receiver John Cole said. “We’re struggling on offense, to say the least.
“It really is frustrating because you see them playing so well and they’re out on the field a whole lot. We really just have to step up so the defense can get off the field.”
One common factor in Vanderbilt’s four losses has been an inability to sustain drives. The offense has averaged 12.3 first downs in those contests, which has caused the defense to stay on the field for significant amounts of time.
The difference in time of possession in those contests was a minimum of 11:38 (Ole Miss) and a maximum of 16:18 (Mississippi State).
The Commodores’ defense has been on the field a total of 418 plays, third-most in the conference. Yet ppponents have averaged just 4.1 yards per play. In the SEC, only the teams that have played Florida and Alabama have had less overall success.
“Football is a team sport,” Benoist said. “I think everyone will tell you that — win as a team, lose as a team. It’s kind of cliché but it’s really how it is. They have struggled a little bit, but they’ll get back on track.”
The next opportunity to do so is Saturday against the University of Georgia (11:20 a.m., Vanderbilt Stadium). The Bulldogs are next-to-last in the SEC in total defense and have allowed an average of 30.7 points per game, the highest total in the league.
In its losses, Vanderbilt’s offense has produced two touchdowns and 14 points. Special teams have accounted for 18 — three field goals, one kickoff return and a safety.
“We need to continue to play well on defense and try to maintain our upward trend on special teams,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “If we can do that, we are going to have a good chance to win the game.”
At the risk of pointing out the obvious — better play from the offense would improve their chances.
The time for the Oct. 24 game at South Carolina has been set.
Kickoff will be 6 p.m. (CDT). The contest will be broadcast on ESPNU (Comcast Ch. 272).