Vanderbilt football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Commodores, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Vanderbilt Offense
The offense that took the lumps of the youth movement last season should reap a few rewards this time around – at least it had better.
After averaging just 327 yards and 15.2 points per game – and after scoring more than 17 points just three times – there’s no reason to not do a whole bunch more with eight starters returning.
The line loses two starters, but after some movement, it’s set at tackle and should be set in the interior with Barrett Gouger anchoring things either at center or guard. Now it needs to do more for the ground game.
Kyle Shurmur did what he could as a freshman quarterback, but he couldn’t make the downfield passing game go. The production should be far, far better now with the top four wide receivers back, not including C.J. Duncan, who was knocked out last year with a leg injury.
The O will go around the running game as much as possible with Ralph Webb back after coming up with over 1,000 yards with almost no room to move. He’ll be the workhorse early on, but he’s not going to have to do it all on his own – finally, the Commodores have weapons.
Biggest Key To The Vanderbilt Offense
It has to score when it has its chances. The Commodores converted just two of their five chances inside the red zone against WKU – they lost 14-12. On the year, they converted just 21-of-33 of their opportunities inside the 20 with just six field goals and with five of the 15 touchdowns coming against Austin Peay. This isn’t going to be a big-time offensive juggernaut – the scoring chances are going to be hard to come by.
What You Need To Know About The Vanderbilt Defense
Head coach Derek Mason took over the defense last season and the results were phenomenal, especially considering the offense didn’t do a thing to help the cause. With seven starters and a whole bunch of developed depth returning, there’s reason to be excited.
The 1-2 linebacking punch of Zach Cunningham and Nigel Bowden give the Commodores a pair of next-level tacklers who should dominate against the run. With Nehemiah Mitchell also back as a hybrid type who can work on the end or at linebacker, there are options to play around with.
The defensive front might not blow it up in the backfield, but it’s a veteran bunch of upperclassmen with a good rotation of veterans that won’t make a whole slew of mistakes. This isn’t a flashy line, but it’ll be effective.
The secondary is also full of old guys with a terrific corner tandem – Torren McGaster is among the best in the SEC – and wit Oren Burks a solid safety who can pop against the run.
Biggest Key To The Vanderbilt Defense
Keep coming up with key stops. Two years ago, if you got your offense inside the 20, you were almost guaranteed to come away with points. Vandy was 121st in the nation in red zone defense in 2014, and last year it was sixth. Two years ago, the D allowed teams to score touchdowns 92% of the time when inside the red zone, and last year it allowed teams to get into the end zone just 71% of the time. Bend, but don’t break.
Vanderbilt Will Be Far Better If …
It helps out the defense by doing just about everything else right. The D did absolutely everything it could, but the return game was miserable, the punting game was among the worst in the country, and the offense – again – was a disaster. For this to work and the progress to come, Vandy can’t be hit with penalties – not a problem last year – it has to own the clock again, and it has to dominate the turnover battle. A -8 on the year and losing the turnover margin eight times isn’t going to cut it – the Commodores need all the breaks they can create.
Best Vanderbilt Offensive Player
RB Ralph Webb, Jr. – The hope is for QB Kyle Shurmur to rise up and become the SEC’s next superstar, but for now, Webb is the main man who tried to do whatever he could for the woeful attack. A tremendous athlete who hasn’t had any help, if he gets the right blocking, and a little bit of a passing game to take the heat off, he could be a statistical superstar.
Best Vanderbilt Defensive Player
LB Zach Cunningham, Jr. – The best player on a loaded, veteran defense, Cunningham led the team with 103 tackles and bolted into the backfield time and again from his inside spot. As sure a tackler as any in the SEC, he’s always in on everything between the hash marks, and can grow into a bigger pass rusher if needed.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Kyle Shurmur, Soph. – There’s only so far the Commodores can go without the quarterback play being far, far better. He’s an athlete with next-level size and a big arm, but he wasn’t able to make it work in his first year. He struggled to move the chains, he struggled with his accuracy, and he just struggled in general. If he’s not great at times, the season won’t go anywhere.
The Vanderbilt Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a six-win season. To beat the point deep into the ground, the defense will be there, and with a little offensive improvement the wins should start to come. On D alone there should be at least three wins against Middle Tennessee, Tennessee State, and throw in one other against a WKU and/or a Kentucky. There shouldn’t be too many blowouts, so come up with an upset at home against a Florida, an Ole Miss, or a Tennessee, or hold down a Georgia Tech offense on the road or shock Missouri, and six wins are possible. But life will be far, far better if it comes up with a win against …
Sept. 1 vs. South Carolina – The Gamecocks don’t have a high-powered offense, and the defense – while improved – isn’t going to be so much better that it should stop the Commodores cold. It’s the home, SEC, and season opener that would go a long way to defining what they can do this year. Win this, and its game on for a possible bowl run.
2015 Vanderbilt Fun Stats
– First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 62 – Vanderbilt 23
– Time of Possession: Vanderbilt 32:07 – Opponents 27:53
– Punt Return Average: Opponents 15.1 yards – Vanderbilt 6.5 yards