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Vanderbilt's Offense: Meeting or Exceeding Expectations?

Has the offense progressed any from last season? Can it be even better?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question facing this Vanderbilt Football team in the offseason was, can the offense produce unlike last year?  Four games in and we're slowly getting an answer to the question.  Maybe. I did watch Vanderbilt vs Ole Miss the other night and I have watched every Vanderbilt game so far (thank you SEC Network and CBS).  So far I've been able to label some good things, some bad things, and some "what in the hell?" things.  Let's start being positive...

Positive Things:

(+) Trent Sherfield.  Who knew Sherfield would go off like this?  He had one reception last season for 9 yards.  Now, being fair he didn't really "go off" until the Austin Peay game, he was steady and solid against Western Kentucky, pulling in four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.  He had only one catch against Georgia, but his record breaking performance against Austin Peay followed up by a steady performance against Ole Miss has made him a guy to look out for in the future.  Talk about a Super Sophomore, and to think he was recruited as a safety (he was part of that Tarpley, Smith, Herndon, Blasingame class).

(+) Mason's guys are producing.  This goes a little bit off my last point and could be said for the defense as well, but Mason's guys are producing for Vanderbilt.  Two of Vandy's Top Three Receivers (in terms of receptions) are Mason recruits.  The previously mentioned Sherfield, and the highly underrated Caleb Scott both have been factors early on.  But this doesn't just apply to one side of the ball, as Tre Herndon, Arnold Tarpley, Nifae Lelao, The Smith Brothers (Josh and Emmanuel), Dare Odeyingbo, and Jordan Griffin have all played minutes for Vandy.  Three of those names are true freshman...

(+) DeAndre Woods has been a sensational second tight end for the Commodores.  He's played well enough that you can say Tight End is becoming a sexy position at Vanderbilt, along with linebacker.  Woods is able to play an athletic brand of football and stretch the field with his speed, but he's not so one sided and can lay the wood on a block too.

(+) Multiple formations, playing with tempo.  One of the things to be commended lately is, we've experimented with how we do things.  We've moved faster at times, we're put 3 and 4 wide out there at times, we've run multiple tight end sets at times, it's been a very balanced attack in terms of formations and how fast or slow we actually go.

Now...for every good thing you name, you can point out several bad things.

Negative Things:

(-) Ralph Webb and Dallas Rivers.  Earlier in the summer I projected these two leading the Commodores to new heights.  I thought it was plausible that they could both end up with over 800 yards in an attack I thought would feature a strong running game.  But...I may have overestimated our offensive line and our running back's abilities to hit certain holes.  Now, I will say this...if I were gameplanning for Vanderbilt I would want to stop Ralph Webb too.  But this has been remarkably bad.  Averaging only 3.4 yards per game, Ralph Webb would have to carry the ball about 290 times just to break the 1,000 yard mark.  If you think that's bad Dallas Rivers would have to carry it 476 times just to get to 1,000 yards.  Yikes...that's something that was suppose to be a strength turned into a weakness.

(-) Steven Scheu.  While what you said about Webb could be true, it's safe to say the same thing about Scheu.  He's been simply disappointing at best.  Going into the year if you had told me Steven Scheu would only have 9 catches and 0 touchdowns 4 games into the season, I would have laughed in your face.  But something has happened and for whatever reason Steven Scheu is able to be covered now, despite being one of the most uncoverable tight ends last year.  NFL General Managers are going to start taking notice and that's not going to help draft stock at all.

(-) Johnny McCrary.  I have a real freaking bone to pick with announcers on the television.  Every week we have to hear about "well Johnny McCrary is just growing into his role".  Over and over and over and over again.  Being completely honest, I'm really sick of hearing it.  Spin it however you need to spin it, but Johnny McCrary has been awful, AWFUL, REALLY REALLY REALLY AWFUL.  "You're being too hard on him!"  No, I'm not.  He has completed 51.9% of his passes against FBS teams, up from 51.3 in his sophomore season.  There are some guys who just never get it, Alabama fans say that about Jake Coker (though his TD:INT ratio is way better than Johnny) and Florida fans say that about Jeff Driskel.  Johnny McCrary is our Jeff Driskel and I seriously would rather had the staff burn a redshirt year off Shurmur because he couldn't be any worse.  If you though that wasn't bad enough, Freebeck managed to go 2 of 6 against Austin Peay...sheesh.

(-) The Offensive Line.  We'll chalk it up to injuries, but the holes just aren't there for the backs.  Now I'll give them some credit, their pass protection is the worst thing I've ever seen but we can't open holes to save our lives right now.  The good news is we're breaking in Skule a true freshman, so this time next year we should have a really strong, really smart tackle.  Until then however, it's target practice and Johnny McCrary is the guy being nailed.  Teams with strong pass rushers are licking their chops and waiting for Vandy to visit town.

Overall Thoughts

It's easy to sit here and point fingers here and there, anybody can do that.  It's hard to realize what Vanderbilt is exactly dealing with.  A young football team that is mostly Sophomores and Freshman, with a quarterback who is a redshirted sophomore.  Is it possible the offense gets better?  It is, but it starts up front and it starts with our quarterback.  A lot of people have said I'm too hard on Johnny McCrary and that holds some weight.  When I first saw McCrary he was the best quarterback in our black and gold game, now he just seemingly struggles at every turn.  5 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and the only game he threw for more than one touchdown was against Austin Peay.

How do you go about fixing an offense that just doesn't score a lot?  Well you start by letting the young guys grow game by game by game.  DeAndre Woods, Ralph Webb, Caleb Scott, and Trent Sherfield are all guys we're going to lean on in the future.  If Dallas Rivers doesn't get it together it might end up being the Josh Crawford show.  The biggest thing that will help fix this offense is reps in SEC games, going against some great defenses will help out a lot for the young guys.  It also starts with the talent you're bringing in, even if we don't want to admit it sooner or later you can't hit on the 100th best running back in a recruiting class, you've got to hit on the 20th best.  Development goes a long way but you can only get so much out of a certain amount of talent.

Do I still think Vandy goes bowling?  No, I don't.  I thought if we were to go bowling in the very least we needed a win against Western Kentucky, as it stands we can still beat MTSU and just won't be easy.  I think the best chance at a conference win is against the Gamecocks in what will probably be the final nail in the Spurrier coffin, but I don't think Vanderbilt beats fact they may have a better shot at beating Tennessee than beating Kentucky.  But I'll say this, I think Andy Ludwig has done a masterful job with the offense.  He has used guys in ways that have put them in a position to be successful.  Ralph Webb can't get it up the middle?  Throw him a pass and let him run.  Johnny McCrary turns the ball over in the red zone?  Let him run some option stuff.  As it stands he has his work cut out for him, but both Ludwig and Mason have earned another year...hopefully a year that sees Kyle Shurmur emerge from the rubble to carry the team to a bowl birth.