For the third time this season, we get to gather and ungunk our beloved Sunshine Pump following a win. More importantly, we are coming off of an SEC win. In a defensive battle, Vandy found a way to win 10-3. As low scoring as the game was, the worst part about it was the officiating. Like Derek Mason mostly has this week, I will mostly sidestep that topic. We won.
The nega-Dores will want to talk about only scoring 10 points. Guess how many points were needed to win that game. We needed 7 points, and that's just to keep it so Missouri needs a TD on the last drive. The way I see it, we had a FG to spare. A win is a win unless it is an SEC win then it is extra special.
So how did we get that win? Well, we scored more than the other team. We also put up more rushing yards (136) than anyone else has against Missouri. We averaged 3.4 yards per carry, which is 0.7 and 0.5 yards per carry more than Georgia and Florida respectively. It also was 10 more yards on the game than Vanderbilt's season average thus far.
The passing game unfortunately did not take off. Kyle Shurmur struggled to link up with his receivers thanks to some early inaccuracy and later drops. His 10/20 for 89 yards with no INTs or TDs stat line does not show the command and confidence he showed. Shurmur exhibited fantastic pocket presence, although he was forced to fumble due to a blindside rush that left Will Holden in the dust. The turnover should really be credited to the LT. Johnny McCrary also saw time and went 7/8 for 47 yards. JMac did lead a good drive where he picked up most of his stats, including a 14 yard carry, en route to the FG which led to the only made Commodore FG.
When it all came together, Vanderbilt's offense did enough this week. Good teams do enough to win tough games. The offense got above Missouri's average yards allowed by 22 yards with 304 yards of total offense which eclipsed UGA's previous week total of 298 yards. It comes down to the fact that Vanderbilt played a very good defense last week, and our offense topped what they give up on average. We also had only the 1 turnover. If we can keep those turnovers down, we have moved the ball fairly well in most games. Considering how well DC Derek Mason's defense has performed, being average will give us a good chance to win most every game we play.
Speaking of the defense, they owned Missouri's offense. The halftime totals for Missouri were 8 yards rushing (14 yards by running backs and -6 yard sack of QB Drew Lock) and 37 yards passing. The Yankee Tigers only first down (and 13 of their passing total) came on the very first play from scrimmage. This play followed a "controversial" ruling by the officials that a whistle had been blown inadvertently prior to a fumble during the kickoff return which would have given Vanderbilt the ball inside Missouri's 10 yard line. After that one misstep, Missouri was essentially strangled until halftime.
Surely, an SEC team would go into the locker room and figure out some ways to move the ball, right? If they did, Mason made even better adjustments because Missouri kept their 3-and-Out streak alive by recording 2 more to start the second half. Missouri's next 3 drives netted them 9 first downs and 0 points thanks to a missed FG, punt, and turnover on downs with 1 second left in the game. Thanks to those drives, Missouri scraped together 108 yards passing and 80 yards rushing. In case you were wondering, the Commodores did not allow any third down conversions on 14 attempts. Missouri's offense is bad (averaging 177.1 yards passing and 99.3 yards rushing), but they were held to well below even those averages. In fact, only Georgia allowed fewer yards (164). However, the Bulldogs did give up 6 points (while only scoring 9), while the Commodores held them to 3 (and scored 10). Not only are we better than Missouri, but it seems we also were unfortunate to play UGA before Kneeland Stadium's turf took out Nick Chubb.
All of that leads up to facing one of the best offenses in the country. Gary Ward Jr is one the most prolific offensive players in the country. Running down his accolades would take some time. Fortunately, the same could be said of our defense. There is one difference though. Vanderbilt's defense is well-tested. So far, there have been 3 instances in FBS where top 15 scoring offenses faced top 15 scoring defenses. Vanderbilt has been involved in 2 of them when we faced Ole Miss and Western Kentucky, and the defense more than held up their end of the bargain. Conversely, Houston's offense has faced the 2nd worst FCS defense, along with the 19th, 78th, 88th, 121st, 123rd, and 124th defenses in FBS ranked defenses by yards allowed. There may be better statistics out there, but when you have faced one defense who is above average in yards allowed then it is a fair point that your offense may not be battle tested. Of course, Houston has also not had starters play in the 4th quarter outside of the Louisville game (19th ranked defense with 1.2 ypg LESS allowed than Vanderbilt).
To be perfectly clear, Houston's offense is incredibly talented and HC Tom Herman is a fantastic offensive mind. He may not be the OC, but like all offensive coaches, his fingerprints are all over that side of the ball. Herman was the OC for Ohio State last year, and Urban Meyer has sorely missed him. If Urban Meyer, one of the most accomplished HCs in CFB today, misses your presence, you know what you are doing. Good thing Vanderbilt has our own brilliant football mind at HC/DC to directly oppose him. After seeing the turnaround Mason made from last year to this year by naming himself DC, I would put his mind against any offensive coach. The Commodore players are executing very well too. They will need to under the bright lights in Houston tonight on ESPN2, and this season's performances tell me they will.
The Vanderbilt offense also encourages me. The stats from the last game were not great, but we played a great defense. They found enough points to win. Kyle Shurmur is the likely starter, but expect to see Johnny McCrary again. Before anyone gets upset, I have an interesting hypothesis. I propose that Kyle Shurmur being the starter and #1 QB makes Johnny McCrary MORE dangerous (to the other team, to be clear) when he does get a drive or two. Hear me out. The most important player to protect on any offense is the starting QB, correct? Under that assumption, the player you least want to be hit is your starting QB. Johnny McCrary has proven himself to be a nifty runner when he is given the chance to use his legs. However, he has also been a decent passer WHEN he takes care of the ball. IF he is being used in spot-duty, McCrary does not have the pressure to win the game. Since he is no longer the starting QB, it also frees him up to run more since he is no longer the person OC Andy Ludwig least wants to see hit. In the last 10 years, teams have often used running QBs (or the "Wildcat" package) in play-by-play situations. When they enter the game, the defense can key on a small package of plays for that player, often taking passing almost entirely out of the equation. Vanderbilt has a guy who offers that running threat WHILE still being able to throw the ball. THAT is how Kyle Shurmur and Johnny McCrary combine to be the most dangerous threat Vanderbilt offers at the QB position.
Kyle Shurmur is the most important part of the above situation. He has to take care of the ball while moving down the field efficiently. It will be very interesting to see how he does in his first road action after a statistically lackluster first game. The true freshman became the first such Commodore play caller to win his first start. As already stated, he accomplished that against a stout defense.
Houston's defense is hard to figure out. They are 9th in the country at stopping the run, only giving up 98.3 yards per game, but they have not played anyone who uses a power rushing attack like Vanderbilt. The Cougars are 104th in passing yards allowed at 263.7 yards per game. Of course, when you are leading a lot that can be skewed, and they are 43rd in passing efficiency having snagged 9 INTs. Like it has every week, it will likely come down to whether the offense converts yards to points. With Shurmur and McCrary both hopefully freed up to play their best due to both getting time on the field, that may well come to fruition. The staff has made it clear this will not be a carousel, and Andy Ludwig seems much more prepared to handle the delicate balance than our previous OC. This year, we can also have confidence in both QBs to be put into positions to succeed. It may be a night game in Houston on Halloween, but Vanderbilt fans can have more than a sugar (fermented or not) high. We can light up the night with sunshine from a VERY ungunked pump.
Houston, YOU have a problem.