The One Coaching Decision That Has Shifted the SEC East Landscape, And Why Nobody Is Talking About It
Heading into the season, we podcasted a preview of every single SEC team. During our talk about Vanderbilt, Chad and I opened by discussing a controversy at a crucial position on the Commodores’ roster. In case you missed that conversation, here’s the transcript (not a joke):
Andrew: There’s a punting controversy brewing in Nashville, Tennessee. You’ve got the top two returning punters coming back for Vanderbilt. One of them is obviously more experienced; I think he had 48 kicks last year and that is Taylor Hudson. The other—Colby Cooke, great name for a punter by the way. Colby Cooke is coming back. He only kicked 14 times but he had a higher average and he pinned eight of those 14 kicks inside the 20, so maybe he’ll just be used situationally. But who do you have coming back and winning this punting job?
Chad: I mean it all depends on Derek Mason’s philosophy. If he’s big on seniority then unfortunately Taylor Hudson, as a junior, is going to stick it out. But Colby Cooke had eight of his 14 punts downed inside the 20, averaged 45 yards a kick. I mean that is some stout, stout punting.
Andrew: It’s going to be interesting to see—you mentioned the new coach there—his philosophy on punting. I think this is a team that’s gonna be punting the ball a lot. Phil Steele actually has Colby Cooke winning the job as a sophomore. But if we’re looking for a guy who’s gonna be able to punt the ball and also be a safety valve in punt coverage we might end up going with Hudson. They’re both 6’3”, but Hudson’s 225 and gonna be able to wrap up a little bit better than Cooke, who’s a little bit lanky at 6’3”, 208.
Chad: I will tell you this though, both punters have good size. We could be looking at our next two Brad Wing’s in the SEC at Vanderbilt University.
Andrew: I’m for it. Again, talk about things we never thought we’d say. Two Brad Wing’s playing at Vanderbilt. These guys are gonna get a lot of work.
That was the preseason chatter. Now we’re three games into the season, and a few things are clear:
- Derek Mason doesn’t care about seniority.
- Derek Mason doesn’t care about controversy.
- Derek Mason might have made a mistake.
I don’t want to read too much into this, but this team has taken a few steps back. Maybe the departure of Head Coach/Inspirational Speaker James Franklin has hurt more than some thought. Or maybe—just maybe—this team is better when Taylor Hudson is punting the football, which he hasn’t done all season.
Locker room chemistry aside, Colby Cooke, talented as he may be, is a volatile performer. He’s hot then he’s cold. He’s yes then he’s no. He’s in then he’s out.
When Cooke is good, he’s great. He punted two balls out of bounds inside the 10-yard line in the season opener. That’s good Colby Cooke. When he’s bad, he’s not good. Against Ole Miss he booted two 55-yarders; both resulted in touchbacks and net yardage of 35 yards. Later that afternoon he booted a 49-yarder that was returned 24 yards to the middle portion of the football field.
So how volatile is he? I created the DudeYouCrazy TPR (Total Punter Rating) to demonstrate his ups and downs. The formula is simple:
- Punt Distance: 1 Point Awarded Per Yard
- Punt Return: 1 Point Deducted Per Yard Allowed (20 Points Deducted for Touchbacks)
- Net Punt Position Between the 10 and 20-Yard Line: 5 Points Awarded
- Net Punt Position Inside the 10-Yard Line: 10 Points Awarded
- Return to 50-Yardline: 5 Points Deducted
- Return for Touchdown: 10 Points Deducted
- Divide Total Points By Number of Punts
Here’s how he’s looked over three games:
Vanderbilt doesn’t need that kind of volatility. But as a result of it, this behemoth of football prowess has diminished and the SEC East is now wide open. So maybe as Georgia (or Missouri or Tennessee or Florida or South Carolina or Kentucky) fans, we should be thankful that Mason has allowed punt volatility to drive Vanderbilt away from its course of dominance.
That’s all I got/