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The Commodore Review: The coaching staff has no confidence in the Vanderbilt offense

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Derek Mason doesn’t trust his quarterbacks to come through with the game on the line.

NCAA Football: Florida at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In three games against Power 5 opponents, Vanderbilt is averaging 7.7 points per game. Now the Commodores may have to improve on that number without their starting quarterback.

It’s gotten so bad not even Vandy’s coaches have faith in their team’s ability to score.

We’ve repeatedly seen a lack of confidence in the Commodore offense; Saturday’s 13-6 loss to Florida was just another frustrating example of it. After a promising offensive performance against Western Kentucky, the playcalling reverted back to SEC mode. The Gators loaded up the box and waited for predictable run plays up the middle. After starting the first two drives of the game off with passes, Vanderbilt called running plays to start its next seven drives. Nearly two-thirds of the team’s plays on first or second down were handoffs.

That didn’t make things easier for Kyle Shurmur who completed just nine of 25 passes before leaving the game with an injury in the fourth quarter. Eleven of the team’s 15 third downs had to go a distance of seven yards or greater to keep the team’s offense on the field.

That made passing downs predictable, and with an SEC defense waiting for the ball the Commodores completed just 50 percent of their passes in this situation while throwing an interception and absorbing a sack. Only five of those third down opportunities resulted in a fresh set of downs.

So maybe that’s why Vanderbilt keeps punting late in games in what should be four-down territory.

The Commodores’ lack of spine played a role again on Saturday. Vandy trailed by seven points when it faced fourth-and-seven from the VU 43 — but it also had all three timeouts. Mason elected to kick the ball back to the Gators and hope his defense could hold out, knowing even one Gator first down could effectively seal the game.

It was a familiar strategy. Vanderbilt was tied with Western Kentucky in the fourth quarter of last week’s game when it sent Sam Loy out to punt from the WKU 34 yard line on fourth and nine.

As easy as it is to criticize this timidness, it’s worth pointing out Mason’s strategy has paid off in each of the two weeks. The Hilltoppers took their ensuing drive 80 yards for a touchdown, but Vanderbilt still found a way to win that game. On Saturday, the ‘Dores held Florida to a three-and-out and had time left to engineer a game-winning drive.

But that call also sends out a message. It’s a white flag; a hope your opponent will make mistakes and present opportunities rather than creating your own. If Mason can’t be confident in his offense, why should his players?

The Good:

Ralph Webb creeps up on Zac Stacy. With 110 rushing yards, Webb pushed past Frank Mordica and into second place on Vanderbilt’s all-time list. The junior got stonewalled a handful of times but also ripped off eight runs of six yards or more against a Gator defense increasingly prepared to stop him. He currently ranks eighth in the nation in ground yardage after averaging more than 116 yards per game for the Commodores.

The defense shows up (with help from Austin Appleby). Vanderbilt has held SEC opponents to 13 points per game this season. It’s held Conference-USA opponents to 27. The Commodores weren’t perfect against Florida on Saturday, but they made enough plays to take advantage of the Gators’ below average quarterbacking. Vandy held Florida to just 236 total yards and 2.6 yards per carry. UF had gained 402 the previous week against Tennessee.

The Bad:

The passing offense. Vanderbilt’s receivers dropped at least four catchable passes on Saturday. That’s not 100 percent on the wideouts, however. Many of the passes were rushed as Shurmur dealt with a ferocious pass rush all afternoon as the Gators repeatedly found ways to throw a blitzing Alex Anzalone at the young quarterback. The team’s disappearing aerial attack was the result of a team effort — everyone shares a bit of the blame this week.

Landon Stokes’s stupid, stupid personal foul. A post-whistle shove turned third-and-10 into first-and-goal in the second quarter. Two plays later, Florida turned the opportunity into the game’s only touchdown.

The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Adam Butler

PiBBPOTWButler

Butler had the kind of game we’ll see on highlight reels during the NFL Draft. Florida tried to block him one-on-one. This was a mistake.

The senior finished his day with five tackles, two sacks, and -13 yards of Florida offense.