This is the season opener we’ve been waiting for. After five years of 0-1 starts, Vanderbilt took advantage of a solid Conference-USA opponent and looked dominant, outclassing its foe with a more physical and athletic performance.
The Commodores jumped out to a 28-0 start behind a dominant first half performance. Kyle Shurmur threw for a career-high three touchdowns while throwing for 296 interception-free yards, showcasing the kind of growth that made him dangerous in 2016 wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee.
More importantly, the Vanderbilt defense was more than prepared for one of the nation’s better offenses. Middle Tennessee scored 35 points or more in 10 games last season. The Blue Raiders managed six on Saturday night. Brent Stockstill threw for 399 yards against the ‘Dores in 2016. On Saturday, he was limited to 166 on his home field.
There’s little Derek Mason and his offense could have done to build more optimism for the upcoming season. Barring a catastrophe against Alabama A&M, Vanderbilt will head into a Week 3 showdown with No. 20 Kansas State on the rise, equal parts monstrous offense and defense. Ralph Webb, who tallied 154 total yards and two touchdowns, will have the chance to use the game as his launching pad into the national consciousness. Shurmur, coming off one of the best games of his college career, will have a similar opportunity.
Vanderbilt won a challenging game on Saturday. 10 more challenges remain (sorry, Alabama A&M). The Commodores look every bit a postseason team after Saturday — and potentially even the kind of team who can challenge for an SEC East title. The first step toward getting there is replicating the intensity that defined the first 25 minutes of Saturday’s game. Vandy only needed 19 minutes to take a 21-0 lead over a good MTSU team, and only a handful of excusable early-season mistakes kept that from being a 35-0 halftime deficit.
Derek Mason sent a message Saturday. The players he’s cultivated since landing in Nashville almost four years ago are ready to turn his team into one of the best Vanderbilt teams on record. There are still 11 games to go, however — and the Commodores will have to do more than just rout Middle Tennessee State to leave their mark in the program’s record books.