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The Commodore Review: How to squander Vandy football’s goodwill in three easy steps

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Vanderbilt lost a winnable game against Missouri thanks to its own mistakes and an inability to capitalize on the Tigers’

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt lost 26-17 to a team whose only victories before Saturday had come against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. If Missouri had been able to get out of its own way, the score would have been even worse.

Two trips inside the Vandy five-yard line resulted in zero third quarter points for the Tigers, allowing the Commodores opportunities they’d squander in a must-win game. A missed 21-yard field goal and a fumbled snap kept Derek Mason’s hopes for a fifth victory alive, but his team’s once-rejuvenated offense ran out of gas in Columbia. After scoring on the opening drive of the second half, all Vanderbilt could do was punt until the clock ran so low the only alternative was a turnover on downs.

While some questionable refereeing didn’t help, this loss was on the Commodores. A usually-stout Vanderbilt defense got burned by Drew Lock and Damarea Crockett, who combined for 462 yards of total offense. When Vanderbilt was given the opportunity to take the lead in the second half, a previously dynamic offense crawled back into its shell. Without a healthy Ralph Webb to buoy the offense, the Commodore playbook shrunk, ultimately hamstringing a team that desperately needed points.

And that late game conservative shift didn’t make much sense. Darrius Sims earned seven carries and gained 86 yards as a lightning quick change of pace in the Vanderbilt backfield through the first three quarters. He didn’t touch the ball in the fourth. Caleb Scott, who displayed the solid hands that make him one of Vandy’s most reliable receivers, didn’t get a target in the final period after gaining 63 yards in the first three.

The players who have emerged as the key pieces in the Commodore offense’s mini-revival the past two weeks took a back seat when the team needed them the most. Maybe it was unintentional. Maybe it was a trust issue. Maybe these players had injury concerns that haven’t been made public. But turning away from what works certainly seems like a curious strategy.

And it’s the kind of strategy that burns all the goodwill of a 4-4 start and a promising showing against a top 10 team into cinders.

The Good:

Kyle Shurmur is the right man for the job. The sophomore quarterback threw a pair of interceptions on Saturday. This one definitely wasn’t his fault.

His second, which led to a pick-six, was the result of a weak, blown-out route from Trent Sherfield.

So while Shurmur wasn’t perfect, he continues to look comfortable finding targets and making accurate passes 10 to 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s something we couldn’t say earlier in the season. Shurmur is growing as a player, and in a good position to be this team’s leader in 2017 and 2018.

The Bad:

Pass blocking. Shurmur was sacked six times, and the bulk of those tackles for loss happened in the second half when Vanderbilt’s offense sputtered. Shurmur looked good throwing from designed rollout situations, but he’s not a numble quarterback who can reliably escape pressure.

Defensive lapses. One week after limiting a dangerous Auburn defense to 386 yards, the Commodores allowed a two-win Missouri team to pile up 481. Derek Mason has been the man to oversee the development of standouts like Zach Cunningham, Torren McGaster, and LaDarius Wiley, but he’s also had several performances that call his defensive playcalling into question. Mizzou was always going to be more dangerous than its 2-7 record indicated, but it took a handful of mistakes to prevent a team who had yet to win an SEC game in 2016 from scoring 40 points or more Saturday.

Sam Loy had a rough day. Loy is, for all intents and purposes, a strong addition to this roster. He’s played very well as a true freshman despite an up and down 2016 and will be a piece of the Vandy’s special teams foundation for the next three years. On Saturday, however, he made way too many short, line drive kicks that set up big returns and favorable field advantage for the Tigers.

In all, Loy punted the ball seven times for an average of fewer than 35 yards per kick. His long on the day was only 41 yards. He pinned Missouri inside its own 10 yard line zero times.

Unfinished drives. Vanderbilt drove to its own 49 or deeper eight times. The Commodores scored only 17 points as a result. Backwards plays helped push the team out of field goal range and into improbable third-and-goal situations, and a bizarre Khari Blasingame pass eliminated any chance of an important fourth-and-2 conversion in the second quarter (to be fair, the play would have worked if Blasingame, a running back by trade, were a better passer).

Vanderbilt had several opportunities to score on Saturday. It only capitalized on three. With points hard to come by, every stalled drive was another stick wedged into the spokes of the bicycle we better know as Andy Ludwig’s offense.

The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Zach Cunningham

Hey Mizzou, how’s your fourth-and-1 plan coming along?

Right.