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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Webb and Blasingame keep offense fresh with balance of speed and power

Running+backs+Ralph+Webb+%287%29+and+Khari+Blasingame+%2823%29+as+Vanderbilt+defeated+Middle+Tennessee+State+47-24+at+Vanderbilt+Stadium%2C+September+10%2C+2016.
Monica Gallagher
Running backs Ralph Webb (7) and Khari Blasingame (23) as Vanderbilt defeated Middle Tennessee State 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium, September 10, 2016.

Smash and Dash. Ground and Pound. Thunder and Lightning.

The Webb Jet and the Blasing-train.

Even though the pair of Commodore running backs couldn’t come up with a nickname for themselves, those are a few ways to describe Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame, a duo that has sparked the Vanderbilt offense this season.

It’s been a monumental season for both running backs, but for different reasons. For Webb, he’s locked in a three-horse race for the SEC’s rushing title with 730 rushing yards through seven games. For Blasingame, he’s playing his first full season at running back after initially playing linebacker at Vanderbilt. He’s notched 201 yards on 47 carries so far this season, averaging more yards per carry than Webb did last year.

The two of them bring different skill sets to the position. Webb is a speedy, agile runner who can break off a huge run, use his quick feet to get around a defender or spring up to hurdle someone in the open field. Blasingame is a big body, standing at 6’1” and 235 pounds, who can barrel over any defender and get first downs in key short-yardage situations. He looks very much like a linebacker.

As they both put it, the key word between them is depth.

“It’s about depth,” Blasingame said. “Depth is always important. It allows him to stay fresh, it allows me to stay fresh.”

Depth is especially important now, as Webb is playing through an ankle injury suffered against Kentucky. Even though he played against Georgia, he may not be back at 100 percent ability yet. Webb has the sixth-most carries in the FBS, so while he plays through a bad ankle, Blasingame’s role might increase even more.

“I think it’s always good to have depth,” Webb said before the ankle injury. “Just to get a guy out when he is feeling tired. To have fresh legs rotating in there when a guy needs to come out. I just think football is not a one-man sport. It takes all 11 on the field to get the job done.”

That rotation came in handy in Vanderbilt’s shocking 17-16 upset win over the Georgia Bulldogs. In the fourth quarter, Webb broke off a huge 37-yard catch-and-run on third down to bring the Commodores inside the red zone. Gassed from the big play, he came off the field in exchange for Blasingame. From there, the “Blasing-train” took three short runs to get over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown.

The complementary difference in skill set was evident on that sequence.

I think he’s a different kind of back than me,” Webb said of Blasingame. “He brings more power and speed. He’s a great physical runner. I think he brings a physical presence to our backfield, so I definitely think he’s a great complement.”

The emergence of Vanderbilt’s running back duo has helped this offense keep moving, even when the passing game stalls. This season, quarterback Kyle Shurmur has 946 passing yards, just 15 more than Webb and Blasingame’s 931 combined rushing yards.

Shurmur is grateful to have the two of them work on his offense.

“It’s great, it’s like a quarterback’s best friend,” he said after practice before their Week 2 game against Middle Tennessee. “It’s great for the offense and it’s great having them.”

The two backs said they are friends off the field and hang out and grab meals together, but when they’re on the field or in the weight room, they’re competing.

“There’s competition in the room between everybody,” Blasingame said. “Everybody wants to compete with each other because we think that competition makes you better. There’s always competition. I’m competing with him, Dallas [Rivers], Josh [Crawford], we’re all competing with each other.”

Blasingame’s journey to the running back position was anything but ordinary. Having played running back in high school, he came into Vanderbilt as a linebacker, making 13 tackles in 11 games in 2015. Then, in the offseason, the coaching staff wanted to try him out at running back. He took a crack at it in the spring and showed some budding talent at the 2016 Spring Game.

As a top-talent running back himself, Webb liked what he saw with Blasingame’s transition to the other side of the ball.

“I was impressed, as far as him making the transition from LB to RB,” he said. “I heard he played RB in high school, but I had never seen any film. I was very impressed as far as his abilities to make the transition so fast and to learn the offense.”

For Blasingame, the toughest part of the transition for him was learning the complexities of run- and pass-blocking, and with running routes. But, when he has the ball, he really knows what he’s doing. He knows he has the ability to go around someone or through someone, and it comes down to two things.

“Angles and space,” Blasingame said. “If I have the angle, I’ll try to make a move. If not, I’ll try and make some space by going through somebody.”

When asked about the feeling when he puts his shoulder into a defender, Blasingame’s face lit up.

That’s fun, man. It’s always fun to try and dominate people.”

As the season rolls on, the Webb Jet will continue to fly and the Blasing-train will continue to chug along the tracks. As they’ve both said, they elevate each other’s game.

He just makes me compete and just not get too complacent and not settle when I have the job,” Webb said of his partner. “It just makes me go out there and work hard to compete with him every day.”

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About the Contributor
Cutler Klein
Cutler Klein, Former Sports Editor
Cutler Klein ('19) was the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He majored in communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When he's not writing stories, tweeting silly GIFs or watching any hockey game he can find, Cutler is running the sports department of VandyRadio, hosting VU Sports Wired on VTV and covering the Nashville Predators as a credentialed media member for Penalty Box Radio. Cutler has had bylines on NHL.com and VegasGoldenKnights.com.

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