Preview 2017: Vanderbilt Commodores
Previewing and looking ahead at the Vanderbilt Commodores season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Vanderbilt Offense
The running game was great. Ralph Webb is one of the SEC’s best backs, and Khari Blasingame ran for ten scores. But overall, the attack struggled averaging just 356 yards and 23 points per game.
The passing game has to improve, and it should be with just about all the top targets back. The top four wide receivers return along with the top three tight ends in a young group that can’t help but be better if QB Kyle Shurmur keeps on improving after a strong final month of the season.
The O line should be okay, especially at guard, but losing top blockers Will Holden and Barrett Gouger is a problem. Pass protection is the big issue, but lasting away for the ground game shouldn’t be a problem.
Biggest Key To The Vanderbilt Offense
The passing game has to be more consistent and efficient. No one’s going to expect Texas Tech-like production out of the Vandy passing attack, but it can’t be so inefficient and so inconsistent. There was hope late in the year with a 416-yard day against Tennessee, and with 200 yards or more in each of the last four regular season games, and then came the clunker in the bowl loss to NC State.
Shurmur is a veteran quarterback now, and he has almost all the top receivers to work with. He only hit 55% of his passes with nine touchdowns and ten picks, but if he can stretch the field a bit more and connect on third downs, he’ll be doing his job.
What You Need To Know About The Vanderbilt Defense
The amazing part about Vandy winning six games and going bowling was that the defense just wasn’t that great. It was amazing at bending but not breaking – leading the nation in red zone defense – but it wasn’t a brick wall. It was effective enough, though.
Seven starters return, led by a loaded group of safeties that make a whole bunch of stops and are brilliant against the run. However, star corner Torren McGaster is gone after a huge season, and now the secondary has to find ways to come up with more big plays without him.
Adam Butler was the best pass rusher on a line that didn’t generate any pressure in the backfield, but ends Nifae Lealao and Jonathan Wynn are two veteran run-stoppers for the front three.
Even with all the returning experience, there’s no replacing Zach Cunningham, the SEC’s best defensive player last year. All he did was lead the conference with 125 stops with key play after key play time and again – ask Georgia. Now the Commodores need to come up with more gamechangers and …
Biggest Key To The Vanderbilt Defense
The pass rush has to be stronger. By far, the 15 sacks generated by the Commodore D were the fewest in a long, long time. Three of them came in the layup paycheck game against Tennessee State, struggling time and again to generate enough pressure. Is there’s a killer on the outside who can get to the quarterback and change games around? The coaching staff needs to find one.
Vanderbilt Will Be Far Better If …
The offense keeps the chains moving. Converting on third downs hasn’t been a positive for the Vandy offense for a long, long time, but at some point, hitting 40% of the attempts on a regular basis would be nice.
102nd in the nation in third down conversions, with an offense that doesn’t come up with a ton of big plays, and relies on a tough defense and time of possession, the Commodores have to do a better job of grinding out drives.
Best Vanderbilt Offensive Player
RB Ralph Webb, Sr. – Could he have been a decent draft pick if he left early? He might be just a mid-to-late round flier who’ll get a shot in a camp, but as a college player, he’s been fantastic for a team that desperately needs star power.
The 5-10, 202-pounder followed up a 1,152-yard, five-score season with 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns averaging almost a full yard more per carry. A 20-plus carry workhorse, he didn’t wear down, running for 100 yards or more in each of the final three games, hitting the century mark seven times on the season.
2. OG Bruno Reagan, Jr.
3. QB Kyle Shurmur, Jr.
4. RB Khari Blasingame, Jr.
5. OT Justin Skule, Jr.
Best Vanderbilt Defensive Player
S LaDarius Wiley, Sr. – The 6-1, 205-pounder only started for just over half of the season, but he was a huge hitter whenever he got his chances. The team’s second-leading tackler made 76 stops with four broken up passes, used like an extra linebacker at times against the run. While he doesn’t do a whole bunch when the ball is in the air, he’s brilliant at making stops in the open field.
2. S Ryan White, Sr.
3. LB Oren Burks, Sr.
4. DT Nifae Lealao, Sr.
5. S Taurean Ferguson, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
OG Bruno Reagan, Jr. – The line might get back three starters, and it should be okay on the inside in time, but it loses the two top blockers in OT Will Holden and C Barrett Gouger. It was a good group for the ground game – paving the way for Webb and Khari Blasingame to combine for over 1,700 yards and 23 scores – but it allowed 32 sacks.
The 6-3, 310-pound Reagan is a solid starter at right guard. Now he has to be an all-star caliber paver for a line that needs to be a plus.
The Vanderbilt Season Will Be A Success If …
The Commodores get to seven wins and a bowl game. This could and should be a better team than the 2016 version, but the schedule is brutal. When your non-conference games including a date at Middle Tennessee and battles with Kansas State and WKU, there’s a problem.
Playing Alabama from the West doesn’t help, and having to go to Florida and Tennessee isn’t going to be easy. Winning six games – somehow – and getting back to a bowl would be a massive success.
Key Game To The Vanderbilt Season
Sept. 30 at Florida – Vandy has been able to beat Tennessee. It’s got by the Vols last year, and Georgia, too. Can it get by Florida again after coming so achingly close over the last few years? The Commodores lost to the Gators 13-6 last year, and just … couldn’t … score in a 9-7 loss in Gainesville two years ago. They won in 2013 – so it hasn’t been that long – but beat the defending SEC East champ on the road could be a must with Alabama the week before and Georgia right after.
2016 Vanderbilt Fun Stats
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 92 – Vanderbilt 52
– Interceptions Thrown: Vanderbilt 11 – Opponents 5
– Red Zone Scores: Vanderbilt 43-of-46 (93%) – Opponents 32-of-49 (65%)