For 3:46 in the first half, Vanderbilt fans got to see what it's like when the sky falls. A muffed punt set Austin Peay up on the Commodore 17-yard line, and three plays later Derek Mason stood and watched as his team fell behind an FCS program that has won only one game since 2013. Snark became a commodity on message boards and comment sections. Vandy's doomsday seers grew crapulent from the schadenfreude. National pundits felt compelled to chime in. Somehow, the Commodores' lowest points from 2014 began to shrink in the shadow of an inexplicable meltdown against the one gimme game on the schedule.
That panic never set in on the sidelines of Dudley Field. Vanderbilt took the ensuing drive 78 yards to erase a 3-7 deficit. They scored on six of their next seven drives - the only zero came on a missed 50-yard field goal - to reestablish the gap between these two programs. The 'Dores went on to win 47-7. Austin Peay managed a meager 96 yards for the rest of the game.
This was a statement game that made two separate statements as the shadows grew longer in Nashville. The first was that this team still needs the extra polish to eliminate the mistakes that allow an awful FCS program from finding easy touchdowns. The second was that this team is still growing; the defense is still laps ahead of the offense, but that offense made some big strides on Saturday.
The most obvious example came through the air. Johnny McCrary put on a clinic, completing 28 of his 33 passes despite being affected by a few drops by his otherwise sure-handed receivers. Trent Sherfield was the biggest benefactor of that effort; his 16 catch, 240-yard effort rewrote the Commodore record book for most receiving yards gained in a single game. Ralph Webb was limited to an underwhelming 3.6 yards per carry, but he also proved that he can score in the red zone. That's a major development for a team that had come away with 16 points in their last nine trips deep into opponent territory.
This happened against a mostly inept Austin Peay team, so take these improvements with as many grains of salt as needed. Vanderbilt responded to their tune-up opportunity with 47 points and a full display of the potential this team holds. Despite an early setback, they handled their business and dispatched an overmatched opponent at home. Now they have to prove that they can roll that confidence and momentum over to a road contest against an Ole Miss that just ran past #2 Alabama. That won't be easy - but Saturday's result shows that it won't be impossible, either.
McCrary-to-Sherfield forever and ever. These two sophomores set personal and Vanderbilt records on Saturday in what turned out to be a glorified game of pitch and catch against the Governors. 240 of McCrary's 368 passing yards went to Sherfield, who proved to be too shifty for anyone in the Austin Peay secondary to keep up with. The pair had a solid performance in the season opener, but McCrary only found Sherfield once against Georgia in a 31-14 loss. That raised some questions about whether or not this team had a true #1 receiver, but yesterday's result affirms Sherfield's status as a legitimate first target.
Another botched punt return. Vanderbilt lost their second punt of the season on a bobbled catch that set up Austin Peay's only points of the game. While the team's kicking game has been solid, the Commodores' special teams unit has now set their opponents up for 14 points so far in 2015 - and it could have been more if their defense didn't bail them out against Western Kentucky.
The rushing attack. Austin Peay had given up 250 yards per game on the ground to the first two opponents they played. On Saturday, Vanderbilt managed 147 yards on 35 carries. Ralph Webb and Dallas Rivers were each held to fewer than four yards per carry against an ineffective Governor defense. That won't cut it next week against Ole Miss.
The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Trent Sherfield
Johnny McCrary made a run at the award by going 28-33 against an overmatched Peay defense, but Sherfield did something that Jordan Matthews, Earl Bennett, or any other Commodore receiver didn't do at Vanderbilt - haul in 240 yards of passes in a single game.