The Vanderbilt Commodores felled the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders 35-7 in the 2018 season opener.
Coming into the season, the ‘Dores had questions about their offensive production and in their secondary. Tonight, both were ultimately answered in the affirmative.
After a 30 minute weather delay, toe met leather at 7:00 PM. The ‘Dores came out the gate with a forty yard return that set the tone for the game. They drove the length of the field running Khari Blasingame left, right, and center, culminating in a 30 yard touchdown.
One question for Head Coach Derek Mason’s team, was what identity would they take with returning senior QB Kyle Shurmur and a core of running backs. The first drive seemed to indicate that they could line up behind an experienced line and run the ball.
Yet, as the first half waned, the Vandy offense stalled. By the end of the half, they had less than 100 total yards with only 12+ minutes of possession. They were an abysmal 2/7 on third downs.
Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders ran over 40 plays for nearly 150 yards, and at one point had converted 4 of their first 6 third downs. Veteran QB, Brent Stockstill scrambled often from the Vanderbilt defensive line pressure. MTSU’s best plays were when Stockstill threw back shoulder passes to wideouts in one-on-one situations or when Stockstill ran from pressure.
MTSU's two best plays are the back shoulder pass and Stockstill scrambling for his life.— Shawn Allen (@ShawnerAllen) September 2, 2018
This was a testament to the Vanderbilt front seven that applied pressure all night. By halftime, they had sacked Stockstill five times.
The defense was intense from the first play, showing in their line pressure, but also their attack against in the secondary. Senior safety LaDarius Wiley was ejected in the first quarter for a targeting penalty.
The Blue Raiders tied up the score with a pass to Junior CJ Windham. Once the Raiders got the ball back from a Vanderbilt punt, Stockstill threw a lateral pass that was dropped, scooped by the Vandy defense, and punched in for a touchdown.
By the middle of the second quarter, Shurmur was running play action out of double tight end sets trying to take the top of the MTSU secondary. The attempts were unsuccessful, and at halftime, Mason was frustrated at the lack of execution by the offense.
After halftime, the first drive of the third quarter for Vanderbilt was a sustained 90 yards drive where Shurmur dropped dimes across the middle and up the side line. The touchdown pass was a perfect example of pocket awareness where he side stepped a defender and the ball into a bucket to the outstretched hands of Chris Pierce.
The defense continued their dominance and Vandy continued their shots at end zone on offense. Shurmur received good protection, including great pass pro when he stepped up into the pocket and threw an outside shoulder 28 yard pass to Kalija Lipscomb in the front corner of the end zone.
Late in the fourth quarter, Frank Coppet picked off Stockstill on a fourth and seven and ended any real chance for MTSU to score again. Jamauri Wakefield punched in one final touchdown to punctuate a dominant performance by the Commodores.
Questions about the offense were answered. They worked a spread offense early, looking to find mismatches, but settled into several formations utilizing TE’s for protection and winning at the point of attack in the rushing game. It set up play action and allow Shurmur to shine with his accuracy and his touch.
The defensive front was dominant against an overmatched MTSU OL. The secondary adjusted and kept up with the slants and bubbles of the pass happy Raider offense. The only question left is if the Commodores can tackle in space when and finish plays.