It’s Vandy week. It’s a terrible week. We’re two weeks from Halloween and that somehow feels way too far out. Anyway, we talked to the people over at Anchor of Gold about Vanderbilt football, and, well, this is going to be a hammer fight.
RCR: So, what's the deal with Ralph Webb? The guy has had a beastly career, but he's sitting at 245 yards at 2.8 a carry. What gives?
This has been the mystery of the 2017 season for Vanderbilt fans. Going into the year, if you said that our running game was going to be the weak point, none of us would have believed you. There were a number of excuses that were reasonable enough the first few weeks, but it's just a reality that our run game isn't there. The blame isn't on Ralph; he's not slower or losing his vision or any of the normal things you'd might look for in problems with the tailback. If I really had to put blame somewhere I'm putting it on the OL not run blocking effectively enough. On top of that, we've had some guys graduate and moved our boys around so everyone is having new tasks to do on the line. So it's sort of understandable that the people in front of Ralph have just not been executing. I also feel as I should credit our own Thomas Stephenson with pointing out that FB Bailey McElwain, who was the lead blocker for Ralph last year, hasn't played at all. So in the end a lot of this just comes down to the guys in front of Ralph not getting it done. The irony here though is we're pass blocking better! Which leads me into your next question...
RCR: On the flip side, Kule Shurmur has thrown 12 TDs and only one pick after struggling with turnovers during his time at Vanderbilt. What do you think accounts for this newfound success?
Like Shea Patterson at Ole Miss, Kyle Shurmur is growing up. He's maturing and getting confidence in his throws. I realize that's a bit of a simple answer there, but I think it's the right one. OC Andy Ludwig has really done a good job of designing a good passing attack that's augmenting that as well. It's designed to get him into a rhythm making relatively quick throws with the occasional home run. It's also helped that while OL isn't so great at run blocking, our pass blocking is giving him time. In fact, it's only allowed 2 sacks all year (0 to Alabama!). Finally, Kyle Shurmur is the son of the rather famous coach Pat Shurmur (who basically made McNabb the QB he was). So he's got a lot of things going for him.
RCR: I noticed that Vandy's defense is pretty rough in most statistical categories, but the Commodored are 4th nationally in sacks. Who are the primary pass rushers for whom OM fans should watch?
LB Charles Wright is probably the name you'll hear a lot if you're watching the game on TV, because he's second in the SEC (behind Josh Allen) in sacks and #5 (T) in the NCAA. The thing that's buried in that factoid though is that half of em were against MTSU and 2.5 of the remaining 3 sacks were against KSU which does a lot of option. Nonetheless he's probably the biggest name against non-top 5 teams we've had. It's very likely to see a reawakening against a weak Ole Miss pass protection. On the edge, DL Dare Odeyingbo is a good threat as well. If you're a fan of focusing on play "in the trenches", I'd have to recommend watching NT Nifae Lealao, as the anchor of a 3-4 often does a lot of things that go unheralded.
AOG: Derek Mason has his ups and downs. What is the general fan sentiment about him, and how long do you imagine he'll be there? What keeps Jim in good graces? What draws fan ire?
How one views Coach Mason is probably one of the biggest rifts among Vanderbilt fans since he started here in 2014. I've always been much more on the positive / 'wait and see' kind of feelings about him, but we've certainly had fans that have wanted him fired since the start of his tenure. Part of that is his own doing as by his own admission he was in a bit over his head when he first got here. Exacerbating that, he made some poor coaching decisions in whom he hired for his first coordinators. To his credit, Coach Mason though is that he saw those problems and fixed them. More than that, he's been willing to straight up admit that he's growing right along with our players.
Another element of ire though was the change from the Franklin years. Your readers may not be aware, but the team Mason had was overloaded with underclassmen and had lost our best offensive talent in Jordan Matthews. Still, after the success of Franklin, a lot of Vanderbilt fans had high expectations that were quickly dashed. Mason's teams have shown steady improvement which really culminated in the final stretch of last year. So a lot of the things have recently come together for Vanderbilt, but these last three weeks have been hard.
Thus, most Vanderbilt's fans are in a "cautious" state for the moment. All the rest of the games on our schedule (OM, SC, UK, WKU, Mizzou, UT) are winnable, and Vandy fans want to see at least 6-7 wins on the season. Anything less than that is going to cause a lot of grumbling.
AOG: What's your prediction? Give a score and how it gets there.
Eeeech. This is going to be a cripple fight. In a lot of ways we're the same squad and hurting in many of the same ways. I see a few things tipping it in Vanderbilt's favor though. For one, Ole Miss doesn't have much of a pass rush, and Vanderbilt's offensive strength at the moment is on the pass. On the other side of the ball, Ole Miss isn't running, and on defense we're much better against the pass. In the end though I think it comes down to turnovers, where we're strong as well. So I see this as being a game of a lot of stalled drives and frustrating play. In the end, Vanderbilt edges it out off a big stop or a turnover. I do *not* see it being a slug fest as we've both been struggling to sustain drives lately. Gimme Vandy 24-17.