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Vanderbilt 28, Middle Tennessee 6: Kyle Shurmur’s good enough

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The Blue Raiders sold out to stop Ralph Webb. That worked, except that Kyle Shurmur beat them instead.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Five Factors

Vanderbilt MTSU
Plays 62 57
Total Yards 368 215
Yards Per Play 5.94 3.77
Rushing Attempts* 33 21
Rushing Yards 78 81
Rushing YPP 2.36 3.86
Passing Attempts* 29 36
Passing Yards 290 134
Passing YPP 10.00 3.72
Rushing Success Rate 30.30% 28.57%
Passing Success Rate 51.72% 27.78%
Success Rate 40.32% 28.07%
Avg. Field Position 31.8 27
PP40 5.60 1.50
Turnovers 0 1

An explainer on the Five Factors, from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, is here. If you’re wondering why there are discrepancies between this and the official box score, for one thing, I’m counting sacks as passing attempts (where the official scorebook counts them as rushing attempts, but they’re really not.) And I also factor out kneeldowns: Vanderbilt “officially” had 367 yards of total offense but I’ve got them with 368 yards because they lost a yard in the victory formation at the end of the game. But that’s not really an attempt to gain yards, so I’m not counting it.

That said — the Five Factors are explosiveness (measured here by yards per play), efficiency (success rate — a “successful” play is defined as at least 50 percent of the needed yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third/fourth down), field position, finishing drives (defined as points per trip inside the 40, or PP40), and turnovers.

Vanderbilt won all five of those last night, and they won the two most important — explosiveness and efficiency — by big margins. They had a narrow advantage in field position, but while the game was still in doubt, that margin was bigger — the Blue Raiders’ first eight drives all started inside the 25 as Tommy Openshaw was putting kickoffs in the end zone. And, oh yeah, Vanderbilt finished drives (with one exception.) MTSU didn’t. And Vanderbilt held onto the ball.

Now, Vanderbilt completely dominated the first half and the first possession of the second half before essentially packing it in and putting things on cruise control to the finish. And yet, even with the offense doing very little in the second half, the final stats show that Vanderbilt won comfortably.

This game really felt like it exorcised a lot of demons. Vanderbilt hadn’t won a season opener since 2011, and hadn’t won a season opener against an FBS team since 2008. But it’s not difficult to remember a time when Vanderbilt would have played a team like MTSU and either lost or, if they won, had way too much trouble doing so. That wasn’t the case last night. This looked like, well, a game between an SEC team and a C-USA team.

Passing Comp Att Comp % Yds TD INT Sacks Yds Lost Net Yds Success Rate YPP
Kyle Shurmur 20 28 71.43% 296 3 0 1 6 290 51.72% 10.0
Rushing Att Yds YPA TD Success Rate
Ralph Webb 24 49 2.0 1 20.83%
Khari Blasingame 8 31 3.9 0 62.50%
Team 1 -2 -2.0 0 0.00%

The even better news, though, was that the offense got a great game from Kyle Shurmur and an iffy performance from the running game.

There was some debate in the comments last night about why the running game was struggling. There might have been some issues on the offensive line (where the right side of the line — RT Devin Cochran and RG Jared Southers -- were both making their first career starts, while C Bruno Reagan and LT Justin Skule were playing new positions on the line), or it might have just been that MTSU decided to load the box to stop Ralph Webb and never really went away from that in spite of the fact that Kyle Shurmur was killing them through the air. It might be a bit of both, but I think it’s mostly that MTSU’s game plan was to dare Vanderbilt to beat them with the pass and Vanderbilt did exactly that.

So, yeah. That’s different from last year (or, at least, last year excluding the Ole Miss and Tennessee games.) Vanderbilt (a) had an offense and (b) it was mostly the passing game that was doing the heavy lifting. While reading too much into a game against a C-USA team probably isn’t the best idea, I’d feel a lot worse about the offense going forward if Ralph Webb had run wild while Kyle Shurmur struggled. But in the reverse, Shurmur answered a lot of questions, while we should probably feel safe assuming Webb will figure it out.

After all, if Shurmur’s capable of beating you, other teams are going to figure out that loading up the box is a less profitable strategy than it’s been in the past. So Webb should, eventually, get more room to run.

Receiving Targets Catches Yds TD Catch Rate Yds/Target Yds/Catch Success Rate
Ralph Webb 3 3 104 1 100.00% 34.7 34.7 66.67%
Trent Sherfield 5 4 68 0 80.00% 13.6 17.0 80.00%
Kalija Lipscomb 2 2 41 2 100.00% 20.5 20.5 100.00%
Jared Pinkney 5 3 33 0 60.00% 6.6 11.0 60.00%
C.J. Duncan 4 3 19 0 75.00% 4.8 6.3 50.00%
Sam Dobbs 2 1 16 0 50.00% 8.0 16.0 50.00%
Trey Ellis 1 1 9 0 100.00% 9.0 9.0 100.00%
Nathan Marcus 4 2 6 0 50.00% 1.5 3.0 0.00%
Khari Blasingame 2 1 0 0 50.00% 0.0 0.0 0.00%

Webb did figure out a way to make an impact in the passing game, though, and Shurmur figured out how to spread the ball around, with nine different receivers getting touches. (Absent from the list: Caleb Scott. Scott apparently played according to the official box but I don’t remember hearing his name at all.) Kalija Lipscomb touched the ball twice and scored two touchdowns; Trent Sherfield also did a lot to stretch the field. Jared Pinkney was carted off with an injury toward the end of the first half and was held out the rest of the game for precautionary reasons, but managed to run over an MTSU defender while he was on the field.

All in all, though, it’s hard to find much to complain about with this one. Vanderbilt beat MTSU and the game was basically never in doubt, unless you have PTSD from repeated exposure to Vanderbilt football and are spooked about a 28-0 lead in the third quarter.

Notes

  • If it wasn’t obvious from the box score, Vanderbilt’s defense was spectacular on Saturday night.
  • LB Charles Wright got his first career start and made the most of it, sacking MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill three times.
  • CB Bryce Lewis picked up his first career interception.
  • WR Trey Ellis had his first career reception.
  • In addition to Wright, Cochran, and Southers, CB Joejuan Williams and FB Dallas Rivers made their first career starts.
  • True freshman watch: Dayo Odeyingbo and Jalen Pinkney were the only true freshmen to play last night (per the participation report.) It’s probably not a surprise that those two were the first two freshmen to play, as the defensive line is kind of thin, though I also wouldn’t assume they’re the only two true freshmen who will play this season. We should have a better idea who’s redshirting after next week: if you’re not seeing the field against Alabama A&M, chances are you’re going to redshirt.

What’s Next

Vanderbilt will return home next Saturday to face Alabama A&M at 3 PM CT. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network Alternate. Alabama A&M went 4-7 last year and lost to UAB on Saturday by a score of 38-7. If this game is competitive at all, your liquor cabinet will probably be emptied by the end of the day.