Lessons We Are Learning
What if I told you the biggest thing we learned was that this team could play a complete offensive and defensive game in the same game? Okay, so maybe the defense was not at their best on their first time on the field, but from that point forward, Shea Patterson spent the rest of his night running for his life. Akeem Judd found a little success, but a third of his 63 yards came on a 21-yard carry. On a night where the Rebels were held 90 yards below their season average and scored 15 points fewer than normal, Vanderbilt’s offense moved the ball 145 yards further than they have averaged along with outdoing their normal scoring by 17 points. Both sides of the ball played as well as they have all year. The defense has been mostly consistent with a few poor performances, often marred by a few critical mistakes, but the offense has struggled until lately. Those struggles appear to be giving way to an effective if not flashy offense.
A healthy Ralph Webb was the difference in this newfound offensive production and actually putting up points. The best player on the Vanderbilt offense has been hobbled for the past few weeks. The passing game had stepped up, and it needed the complement that Ralph gives them. It was the first time that Ralph has gotten more than 15 carries since the Georgia game. Webb’s ankle was still heavily taped and did not look quite 100% healthy, but it was a big improvement from his recent attempts to play. Another week to get better should have him even more ready to go for Rivalry Week.
Furthermore, the receivers continue to make plays. The stats are not going to blow anyone away, but they are making critical plays. These plays were missing early in the year and were a big part of the sputtering offense. The best example of their maturation was the first drive of the 2nd half. Scott started the drive with a great diving grab across the middle. Pinkney then made consecutive, high quality snags downfield. Duncan made a pretty athletic grab himself following that up. Ultimately, Ralph Webb got to finish the drive, but the guys catching Kyle Shurmur’s passes got the ball down the field.
One player lining up out wide is really offering a special spark. Darrius Sims needs to lose the position tag of a WR. His role is a do-everything weapon on offense. He had a nice, if bobbled, catch over the middle then slipped a tackle to get 39 yards with most of that after the catch. Sims also added 48 yards rushing on 10 attempts. A few of those got stuffed, but 4.8 yards per carry is nothing to ignore considering his big play ability. Sims had to overcome a rough start when called into emergency duty at punt returner with both Kalija Lipscomb and Ryan White not playing. He then dropped a screen pass, but those were his only mistakes of the night. Thankfully, his teammates helped him overcome them.
Another new aspect of the defense is coming to light. This defense can limit a very dangerous dual
threat QB. Shea Patterson may only be a true freshman in his first start, but he lit up the Texas A&M defense. This bodes well for this week against THEM. Mobile QBs have been an Achilles heel for Vanderbilt defenses for some time, as they are for many defenses, but they did an excellent job limiting a very talented player last week. Josh Dobbs has struggled as a passer against Vanderbilt but found ways to break big runs last year. If Mason can dial up similar schemes and have them executed as well, those runs can be limited and force Dobbs into beating us through the air.
Lessons We Know Well
Kyle Shurmur is the real deal. Three straight games over 220 yards passing with 221, 252, and 273. The raw yardage is not what stands out though. This offense is not asking him to throw it all over the yard nor does it ask for a lot of downfield passing. Instead, Shurmur’s task is to get first downs and keep drives moving. Completion percentages of 65.2, 66.7, 58.6, and 56.7 in the last 4. He is playing with confidence and intelligence. The number of mistakes is going down while the number of key plays is increasing.
Zach Cunningham showed us that he does not have make a tackle on nearly every play to make a difference. Number 41 was asked to a lot more in coverage along with acting as a spy on Shea Patterson. Cunningham had 5 tackles (3 solo and 1 for a loss) to go with his fumble recovery and pass breakup. It was not his flashiest game, but the schemes called for him to another job, and he did it well. He could very well see himself in a similar role next week against Dobbs and company. Cunningham is a very rangy player due to his athleticism and large wingspan. Those tools will be necessary against a team whose offense likes to spread the field.
Lessons for Further Study
How will this team respond to the task before them? Ole Miss led the game 10-0 in what was a must-win to keep hopes alive to get bowl eligible the usual way. When the Rebels started losing composure after a review they thought would reward them with a possession due to a fumble but instead only resulted in a key defender being ejected for targeting. Against WKU earlier in the year, they were staring down a bad loss, at least in optics, in Bowling Green and fought back to tie the game on the last play of regulation then win in OT. The Commodores will have to exhibit all three parts of the Relentless, Tough, and Intelligent mantra in this rivalry game.
Can Trent Sherfield make a few more plays? This time last week, Trent was on the naughty list for his poor route running and effort. He ran a couple of great routes to create a 67-yard pass on an out-and-up then create a yard of separation to catch his first TD of the season. He needs to add some more sparks to the offense and continue to put forth a high level of effort, or he may see other players continue to overshadow him.
Will the pressure on the QB continue? Neither last week or this week’s opponent boast great offensive lines. Shea Patterson spent a lot of time scrambling to avoid pressure, often times when Vanderbilt only brought 3 or 4 rushers. Another performance like that will cause problems for Josh Dobbs. Dobbs has had three games against the Commodores and not fared well as a passer yet. Last year was his best effort going 13-21 for 140 yards and 2 TDs. His previous efforts had seen him kept under 100 yards passing with 0 TDs and 4 INTs split evenly. Dobbs has had some success on the ground with 91 and 93 yards rushing with 4.3 and 8.5 yard per carry averages. Dobbs has shown himself to be a suspect passer under pressure, so if Vanderbilt can get after him, he has shown a tendency to give the ball to the black and gold.
To that point, can the coverage hold up like it did last week? Shea Patterson may have spent a lot of time running for his life, but he was able to keep plays alive. Meanwhile, our secondary and linebackers were running all over the field with a pretty good group of receivers and not giving him any really good options. Dobbs does not scramble around behind the line as much as Patterson did, but he can still keep plays alive in a similar manner. If he can find guys downfield on those plays, a defense can have its back broken. A repeat performance on the back end of the defense will be a key cog in getting win number 6.