Vanderbilt football report card: How we graded Clark Lea's final performance of Year 1

·2 min read

KNOXVILLE — For a week, Vanderbilt football talked about how it hoped to fine-tune the game plan it employed against Ole Miss during Saturday's game at Tennessee.

The Commodores got mixed results in the 45-21 loss to the Vols. Here's our report card from the game:

Offense

This much was clear: Vanderbilt was playing its game. The Commodores don't have an efficient offense, but they game-planned to try to make it work. In the third and fourth quarters, there was a glimpse of what that looks like, with two drives that took up nearly 20 minutes of combined time and resulted in touchdowns with five fourth-down conversions.

But the offense was at fault for two of Tennessee's touchdowns, with an interception returned for a touchdown from Mike Wright and a failed fourth down deep in Vanderbilt territory. Still, a Hail Mary touchdown from Wright to end the first half provided a highlight play.

Grade: B-minus

Defense

The defense was better than the final score indicates, as the offense handed some scores to the Vols. Remove those two touchdowns and the defense was on the hook for 31 points, the same it allowed against Ole Miss. That isn't exceptional, but it isn't horrible given Tennessee's up-tempo spread offense and high scoring rate.

The Commodores also picked up an accomplishment: forcing at least one turnover in every SEC game this year.

Grade: B-minus

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Special teams

Pierson Cooke kicked two kickoffs out of bounds and the punt coverage team allowed a 50-yard return. Joseph Bulovas couldn't redeem the unit, as Vanderbilt did not attempt a field goal.

Grade: D

Coaching

How well can a coach truly have done if his team finished 2-10 and didn't win an SEC game? That's the question Clark Lea is likely asking himself. But the game plan seemed to be on the right track. The Commodores took what they did against Ole Miss to the next level, converting 5 of 7 fourth downs. The offense ground it out and the coaching staff gave it chances.

Most of all, though, even as the team struggled to win, the team didn't quit. It frequently played better in the second half of games, as it did Saturday, There weren't any moments against the Vols where it felt like Vanderbilt was throwing in the towel, even with the chances of a win low.

Grade: B

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at agerson@gannett.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Vanderbilt football report card: Grading Clark Lea in final Year 1 performance

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