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The Commodore Review: Just run two minute drills from here on out

Kyle Shurmur is a much better quarterback when the Commodores are forced to throw the ball when trailing late.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the offenses we’ve seen work for Derek Mason’s Vanderbilt teams.

  1. Giving Ralph Webb the ball until he throws up from exhaustion (55% success rate)
  2. Kyle Shurmur’s two minute drill.

Shurmur’s work in high pressure situations have produced the closest thing to an SEC offense the Commodores have seen since 2013. He shined in week four when he led Vanderbilt to a come from behind victory over Western Kentucky. On Saturday, his last-ditch drive covered 64 yards in 58 seconds — or nearly 23 percent of the team’s total offense.

Shurmur completed six of seven passes for 50 yards and scrambled for another 14 to put the ‘Dores on the UK doorstep with 35 seconds left in the game. The Vandy drive stalled out from there — and it came against a Wildcat defense that was tiring — but it was another instance of Shurmur’s potential behind center when his team diversifies its passing offense.

The Commodores avoided their standard plan of screen passes and occasional deep balls to develop a mid-range aerial attack that spread the field and kept opponents guessing. It’s the same passing offense that has confounded the Vandy defense in 2016; a spread out approach operating in the gaps of zone coverage and exploiting single-coverage matchups in man-to-man schemes.

Over the past five weeks, Shurmur has shown increased awareness in the pocket, and his offensive line has helped provide the time needed to check down through his route tree. He has the talent to be a legitimate SEC quarterback, but his playcalling has done him few favors.

The Commodores have favored a conservative passing attack aimed at limiting turnovers and gradually winning the field position game. It’s been successful in the former; Shurmur has only thrown three interceptions this season. Last year, Vandy QBs combined for 10 in its first six games against FBS foes.

It’s also hamstrung the team’s scoring attack. Vandy is averaging nine points per game against Power 5 Conference opponents. It’s overall scoring offense ranks 120th out of 128 I-A teams.

It’s only when Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig have no other choice but to take to the sky that Shurmur really shines. Quick reads, simple route trees, and a little confidence elevate the young passer’s game in pressure situations like the ones Vanderbilt has faced the past three weeks. If he hadn’t suffered an eye injury against Florida, we likely would have seen another solid drive then.

In those three game-ending drives and overtime against WKU and Kentucky, Shurmur has completed 12 of his 19 passes (63.2%) for 129 yards and a touchdown. That’s good for a passer rating of 137.6. The rest of the season? 72-140 (51.4%), 708 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. His passer rating before crunch time is just 94.3.

Even with a small sample size, the best Kyle Shurmur is two-minute drill Kyle Shumur. Let’s hope Andy Ludwig can find a way to bring him out before Vandy is trailing by seven points with 90 seconds to play.

The Good:

Ralph Webb inches closer to Zac Stacy. Webb had his third 100-yard game of the season — and ninth of this career — on just 18 carries against the Wildcats. His ability to turn broken plays into four-plus yard gains has been an invaluable asset to a Vandy offense with few consistent weapons. With 2,741 career rushing yards he’s now fewer than 400 yards behind Stacy on the program’s all-time list.

The Bad:

Stupid, stupid, stupid penalties. Two separate delay of game penalties blew up Vanderbilt scoring opportunities, and that is in no way acceptable. The first came in the first half and helped turna third-and-seven from the UK 23 into a fourth-and-18 from the 34. As is tradition, this led to a Vanderbilt punt.

The second was even worse. Shurmur failed to get a snap off facing fourth-and-goal from the UK 8, making the team’s last-gasp effort to tie the game even more difficult. These were penalties an already deficient offense couldn’t overcome, and it may have been the difference between 3-3 and 2-4 on Saturday.

Ralph Webb gets hurt. It was inevitable. Webb’s workload means he’s carried the ball more than all but three other players in the FBS. Factor in his work on special teams and he’s got more miles on his tires than any other running back in the country. So it wasn’t surprising to see him leave the game with a leg injury in the fourth quarter. If Webb can’t play or is limited, the Vanderbilt offense takes a significant hit against Georgia. Khari Blasingame is a capable replacement, but not the all-conference talent Webb is.

Jared Pinkney drops the potential game-tying touchdown. With Vandy trailing 20-13 and 20 seconds left in the game, Pinkney broke out of a corner route in the end zone. He separated from his defender just in time for Shurmur to deliver a pass into his outstretched hands. And then the ball fell to the turf, and the Commodores wouldn’t come any closer to tying this game and locking down the first SEC road win of the Mason era.

A one-dimensional quarterback burns the ‘Dores. Stephen Johnson was never going to hurt Vanderbilt through the air, but he proved mobile quarterbacks are Mason’s anathema in the SEC. Johnson was limited to just 49 passing yards, but had much greater success on the ground. He carried the ball 10 times for 55 yards; six of those runs ended in UK first downs. Another resulted in the game’s first touchdown.

Vanderbilt has struggled to contain dual-threat passers in the past. Johnson proved that trend isn’t going anywhere in 2016.

The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Ja’Karri Thomas

Thomas moved into the starting lineup for an injured Nigel Bowden and made himself extremely familiar to Kentucky’s ballcarriers. He led all players with 10 tackles — all solo -- and stood out as a testament to this team’s depth at linebacker.