Commodore Brunch: Vanderbilt vs. Auburn

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Commodore Brunch: Vanderbilt vs. Auburn

Zach Cunningham (41) recovers a fumble as Vanderbilt faced the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium Auburn, Al November 4, 2016. (Ziyi Liu/ The Vanderbilt Hustler)

Zach Cunningham (41) recovers a fumble as Vanderbilt faced the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium Auburn, Al November 4, 2016. (Ziyi Liu/ The Vanderbilt Hustler)

Ziyi Liu

Zach Cunningham (41) recovers a fumble as Vanderbilt faced the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium Auburn, Al November 4, 2016. (Ziyi Liu/ The Vanderbilt Hustler)

Ziyi Liu

Ziyi Liu

Zach Cunningham (41) recovers a fumble as Vanderbilt faced the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium Auburn, Al November 4, 2016. (Ziyi Liu/ The Vanderbilt Hustler)

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Read my lips: Vanderbilt will win at least two of their next three games and make it to a bowl.*

*If it plays like it did against Auburn on Saturday.

Yes, the Commodores fell 23-16 to the Auburn Tigers, but they arguably played their best and most complete game of the season in the process. However, in the end, an old issue reared its ugly head: turnovers.

Here is your Commodore Brunch menu for this week:

Career day for Shurmur

Perhaps the biggest reason for Vanderbilt’s success in this game was the fact that Kyle Shurmur looked sharp, the sharpest he’s ever looked. The vast majority of his throws were on target, and he made very few mistakes. He put up career highs in completions, pass attempts, completion percentage and adjusted QBR, according to ESPN.com.

The offense was relatively consistent as well but failed to put up enough points in the second half. Of Vanderbilt’s 10 drives in the game, none of them resulted in a three-and-out, and just three of them went for fewer than 10 yards total on the drive.

Quite simply, Vanderbilt’s offense looked competent, and Shurmur looked like the quarterback we all thought he could be. Running back Ralph Webb ran for fewer than 50 yards, so the running game was effectively neutralized. Shurmur threw the ball well and put it where it needed to be.

The one exception was the game-sealing interception in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Turnovers have not been an issue for the Commodores this season, but if it becomes an issue after this, the offense cannot function. Hopefully, this was just a one-time mistake.

Some may say “if only he played like this against South Carolina or Florida.” The reasons he didn’t play well in those games lie outside his control. Against South Carolina, he was pulled out of the game for two drives after leading a go-ahead touchdown drive (a decision I still don’t understand). In the Florida game, he was unable to play the last few drives because of an eye injury he sustained. I’m still convinced that if he had remained in the game, Vanderbilt would have beaten Florida.

If Shurmur plays at even 50 percent of the level he played at against Auburn, Vanderbilt should roll over Mizzou next week.

Zach Cunningham is not human

The play of the game, and perhaps of the year, was linebacker Zach Cunningham’s blocked field goal to keep Vanderbilt alive in the fourth quarter.

Watch as Cunningham defies gravity and completely clears the line over the top to go in for the easy block.

Notice that HIS FEET DIDN’T TOUCH THE AUBURN LINE. AT ALL.

It’s one thing to go over and block a field goal. It’s another thing to get that far in the air and block a field goal.

There was so much that went into this play. First, Cunningham had to time his run perfectly so that he made it to the line right as the ball was snapped. That required incredible ears to hear the count and intelligence to know when the snap was coming.

Next, he had to have the athleticism to leap over the line and land solidly on his feet. That requires elite talent and strength. If he had gotten his feet caught on an offensive lineman’s back, or leaned too far forward during his jump, he would have fallen and been slower getting to the ball, resulting in a successful field goal attempt.

Finally, he had to keep going and get his hands up in time to block it, all without getting too off-line and run into the kicker or the holder.

It’s a play only he could make, and he kept Vanderbilt alive, until that Shurmur interception.

The road ahead is paved with gold

Vanderbilt’s toughest games are behind it.

With four wins and two more (pretty much one more, actually) needed for bowl eligibility, Vanderbilt has good odds to get into a bowl game over these next few weeks.

Its three remaining opponents, Mizzou, Olé Miss and Tennessee, are all, for lack of a better term, dumpster fires.

Mizzou is 2-7, with its only wins coming against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State.

Olé Miss has lost its last three SEC games and just lost its starting quarterback, Chad “Swag” Kelly, for the season with a torn ACL.

So much for “watching your touchdowns, Chad Kelly.”

Finally, Tennessee has also lost its last three SEC games and its star running back, Jalen Hurd, who transferred mid-season in the fastest exit from Knoxville since Derek Dooley was exiled for the cardinal sin: getting blown out by Vanderbilt.

So, with three reeling opponents, Vanderbilt has the chance to, at the very least, get to five wins and earn a free vacation to the Bahamas for a bowl game meant for the MAC and Conference USA.

Vanderbilt gets back to work next Saturday at Mizzou. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. on SEC Network.

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