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The Statistical: Vanderbilt finished drives and MTSU didn’t

The Commodores can score a lot of points when they start drives in good field position, apparently.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders outgained the Vanderbilt Commodores by over a yard per play (5.75 to 4.71.) And Vanderbilt won the game by a score of 47-24. How does that happen?

Vanderbilt vs. MTSU -- Five Factors
MTSU Vanderbilt
Yards Per Play 5.75 4.71
Points Per Play 0.28 0.64
Success Rate 45.3% 44.4%
Avg. Starting Field Position 31.0 42.8
Points Per Trip Inside 40 2.4 5.63
Turnovers 2 1

Well, here’s one way that can happen. Middle Tennessee had ten drives that got inside the Vanderbilt 40-yard line. One of those really shouldn’t count — MTSU had a 4th-and-3 at the Vanderbilt 38, then took a five-yard penalty and punted. But five of the other nine drives ended thusly: fumble, interception, missed field goal, turnover on downs, turnover on downs. In other words, Middle got the ball inside the Vanderbilt 40 on five occasions and got zero points from those trips. That’s damaging.

Even more damaging? The fumble was returned all the way to the MTSU 13, and the interception was returned to the MTSU 7. Those two drives helped created a significant advantage for the Commodores in average starting field position. And more importantly, Vanderbilt had eight trips inside the MTSU 40 and only one of those came away empty; the other seven resulted in six touchdowns and a field goal.

If there’s bad news, depending on the other team failing to finish drives and getting big plays from defense and special teams (Darrius Sims had a big kickoff return and, after a 15-yard penalty, gave Vanderbilt another drive that started at the MTSU 30) isn’t always going to be a winning formula. Some teams will punish you if you let them get inside the 40 that often. But after the way the first game went, we really shouldn’t complain too much about 47 points.

Passing Stats
Comp Att Yds TD INT Sacks Yards Lost
Kyle Shurmur 15 28 113 1 0 2 -13

And, well, the passing game still has issues. Vanderbilt ran 30 passing plays and those resulted in 100 yards (losing 13 yards on two sacks.) Granted, Kyle Shurmur started the game by throwing seven incompletions in a row, but even when you remove those 100 yards on 23 plays isn’t exactly great. Shurmur showed that he can complete passes but those aren’t going for big gains.

Vanderbilt Rushing Stats
Att Yds YPA TD Long
Ralph Webb 29 211 7.3 2 49
Khari Blasingame 6 19 3.2 2 7
Dallas Rivers 5 7 1.4 1 3
Josh Crawford 1 5 5.0 0 5
Trent Sherfield 1 4 4.0 0 4
Tommy Openshaw 1 -2 -2.0 0 -2

Instead, the big plays are all coming from Ralph Webb. That’s fine as long as they’re coming, but so far no other big-play option has emerged for Vanderbilt. (Blasingame’s yards per carry total looks low, but it’s obviously skewed down by a disproportionate number of his carries being in short-yardage situations. When you get the ball on 1st-and-goal at the 1, you’re obviously not going to get more than one yard in that scenario.)

Vanderbilt Receiving
Targets Catches Catch % Yards Yds/Target TD
Kalija Lipscomb 6 1 16.7% 16 2.7 1
Trent Sherfield 5 4 80.0% 26 5.2 0
C.J. Duncan 5 1 20.0% -2 -0.4 0
Jared Pinkney 2 2 100.0% 32 16.0 0
Sam Dobbs 2 2 100.0% 18 9.0 0
Bailey McElwain 2 1 50.0% 4 2.0 0
Ralph Webb 2 1 50.0% -5 -2.5 0
Khari Blasingame 1 1 100.0% 9 9.0 0
Nathan Marcus 1 1 100.0% 9 9.0 0
Sean Dowling 1 1 100.0% 6 6.0 0
Caleb Scott 1 0 0.0% 0 0.0 0

All right, raise your hands if you saw Kalija Lipscomb (a) catching Vanderbilt’s first passing TD of the year and (b) being Vanderbilt’s most-targeted receiver through two games.


Actually, here’s a different way of looking at the passing game.

  • Vanderbilt receivers: 17 targets, 6 catches, 40 yards
  • Vanderbilt backs and tight ends: 11 targets, 9 catches, 73 yards

So Vanderbilt’s problems with the passing game may have as much to do with the receivers as it does with quarterback play. Those are some pretty bad numbers from the wide receivers. Or perhaps it’s an indication Shurmur has the short passing game down just fine, but struggles in the intermediate and long passing game. Or that the receivers aren’t getting open enough downfield.

Participation Report

Officially, Bailey McElwain (fullback) got his first start as a Commodore. Kalija Lipscomb started for the second week in a row. Other true freshmen who played were Sam Loy, Donovan Tennyson, and Joejuan Williams — these are the same five true freshmen who played in the South Carolina game, so no redshirts have been burned yet. Side note: Joejuan Williams has changed numbers from #17 to #8 (Ronald Monroe’s old number.)

Perhaps the most notable absence was DeAndre Woods, who still hasn’t played this season. Darrius Sims and Josh Smith returned to action after missing the South Carolina game, and Josh Crawford got his first action of the season. Jalen Banks and Andrew Rector missed Saturday’s game after playing in the South Carolina game.