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Vandy’s Changes On Offense Only Lead To More Questions

Last week, Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell decided that changes were necessary on the offensive side of the ball.  Play-calling duties were stripped from Jimmy Kiser and given to new offensive coordinator Des Kitchings.  Heading into a game with an Arkansas squad that had given up more than 1000 yards in its previous two games, expectations were high for the Commodores.  More carries for Warren Norman and Zac Stacy were expected.

Here’s how things played out in Fayetteville:

Vandy’s first drive — 0-0 tie
Warren Norman rush for 2 yards
Warren Norman rush for 51 yards (15 yard Arkansas penalty)
Jonathan Krause 21 yard touchdown run on a reverse
Vandy 7, Arkansas 0

Vandy’s second drive — 7-6 Vandy lead
Larry Smith run for 7 yards
Zac Stacy run for 4 yards
Larry Smith incomplete pass
Larry Smith run for 13 yards
Larry Smith pass complete to Tray Herndon for 6 yards
Larry Smith run for 4 yards
Larry Smith incomplete pass
Larry Smith incomplete pass
Warren Norman run for 6 yards
Larry Smith pass complete to Brandon Barden for 12 yards
Vandy false start (-5 yards)
Larry Smith touchdown pass to Brandon Barden for 8 yards
Vandy 14, Arkansas 6

Not a bad start.  Two series, two touchdowns.  And then the Commodores lifted Smith to give backup quarterback Jared Funk some playing time. 

Result: An interception on his second pass which gave Arkansas the ball on Vandy’s 20… along with all the game’s momentum.  The Commodores gained 140 yards on their first two possessions.  They gained 13 total over the game’s final three quarters.

Final score: Arkansas 49, Vandy 14.  And for all the talk of giving more touches to Norman and Stacy, the two finished with a combined 17 carries.

To be honest, the Razorbacks likely would have picked apart Vandy’s secondary eventually anyway.  But the coaches’ decision to toy with a good start won’t be a highlight of their season-long audition.

You can bet that a lot of Vandy fans and boosters were saying what we often write on this site — If the plates are spinning, don’t touch ‘em.  For a quarter, the plates were spinning for VU’s offense.  But rather than ride the flow of the game and scrap their pregame plans to give Funk the third series, Caldwell and Kitchings chose to mess with success.

The head coach defended his decision after the game, saying that Funk had earned the playing time in Series Three with good practices.

“And it might have helped Larry play better, having a little pressure on him.  Who’s to say whether it did or didn’t?”

True enough.  But who’s to say a coach can’t change his mind if things are going well for his team?

Caldwell didn’t.  He rewarded Funk for his practice work and benched a hot hand.  By doing so he cost his team all its momentum.  And he might’ve cost himself more than that.

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