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The Commodore Review: Everything fell apart against Georgia Tech

How a defense expected to be elite was gashed by Georgia Tech’s dynamic offense.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech only needed one play to hang its first touchdown on Vanderbilt, but that wasn’t the problem. The issue was the 31 unanswered points that followed the Commodores’ first drive of the game.

Kyle Shurmur went 6-7 with 52 passing yards to give Vandy hope and tie this game at 7-7. Then, everything unraveled. The usually stout Commodore defense looked entirely unprepared to stop Tech’s unorthodox option-based offense. Zach Cunningham alternated between making superhero plays

and having his arm tackles shaken off as Yellow Jacket runners ripped off double-digit gains with regularity.

The rest of the team’s defense slowly gassed as Sam Loy got more and more field time. After allowing 14 points in the game’s first 29:38, Vanderbilt was gouged for 24 more in the final 30:22. It could have been even more if the Yellow Jackets hadn’t inserted their second and third quarterbacks into the game as time wound down.

While Shurmur had his most efficient outing as a college quarterback, he couldn’t will his team past a meager seven points. It was a clear step backwards from an opportunistic week two win over Middle Tennessee State. That week, the Commodores finished their drives with confidence; on Saturday, they stalled their way to nine drives that lasted five plays or fewer.

That gave Paul Johnson plenty of opportunities to expose Mason’s defense, and he took advantage of them. Vanderbilt struggled against MTSU’s spread passing attack last week. This week, it was embarrassed by a dynamic Georgia Tech offense that created running lanes and open space all over the field.

The Yellow Jackets forced the Commodores into situations where only one man could make a drive-stopping tackle, then reaped the benefits when those 50/50 outcomes fell in their favor. Then, with Mason’s defense spread wide near the line of scrimmage to stop the run, GT’s receivers found the open spaces to put Vandy’s defensive backs in no-man’s land. Modest pass plays led to huge gains and an astronomical 13.7 passing yards per attempt for the bees.

The end result? 38 points allowed — a number that would have been much larger had Tech not stepped off the gas pedal in the final quarter.

Now, Mason’s detractors are louder than ever after his 19th loss in only two and a quarter seasons. After Saturday’s defeat in Atlanta, it’s tough to come up with a productive counterargument.

The Good:

Sam Loy is going to be an All-SEC punter. He got a lot of practice on Saturday. Eight kicks, 321 total yards, zero Georgia Tech returns.

Torren McGaster stands out in an otherwise bleak day for the Vandy secondary. McGaster proved his worth as a cornerback who can be left on an island in single coverage. He limited the damage done to his side of the field and came up with an important second half third-down pass breakup before this game got out of hand.

The Bad:

6.3 yards per carry. That’s what Tech’s triple option gashed the Vandy defense for. That number was just 4.1 yards after the first two games of the season, and it was clear the Commodores well ill prepared to handle the Yellow Jackets’ multi-faceted rushing attack. Edge defenders failed to contain, allowing Tech easy avenues to the sideline and big gains. The ‘Dores frequently had two defenders where they needed three, closing in on a Yellow Jacket QB before watching the ball get pitched to a tailback with entirely too much room to work.

222 passing yards. Georgia Tech threw for 199 passing yards in its first two games combined. The Yellow Jackets got 40 percent of that total back on their first play from scrimmage. Vanderbilt left plenty of room along the sidelines for their opponent to work, and Tech was happy to take advantage of the opportunity. From there, sloppy tackling left the Commodores vulnerable and gave Tech big gains all afternoon.

The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Kyle Shurmur

Shurmur took a step in the right direction on Saturday, even if it didn’t lead to points. He kept his composure in the pocket, checked down to the proper receivers, and (mostly) avoided the forced throws that have given him problems in the past. His final line — 17-26 for 149 yards, a touchdown, and an interception — won’t wow anyone, but Commodore fans have seen where this team’s passing game has been under Derek Mason. In context, that’s progress.