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Commodore offense looks to learn and grow

C.J.+Duncan+%2819%29+gives+a+thumbs+up+while+playing+against+the+South+Carolina+Gamecocks+at+Vanderbilt+Stadium+on+September+1%2C+2016.
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Commodore offense looks to learn and grow

C.J. Duncan (19) gives a thumbs up while playing against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 1, 2016.

C.J. Duncan (19) gives a thumbs up while playing against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 1, 2016.

C.J. Duncan (19) gives a thumbs up while playing against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 1, 2016.

C.J. Duncan (19) gives a thumbs up while playing against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 1, 2016.

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

After garnering only 73 passing yards and scoring just 10 points during their opening loss against South Carolina, the Vanderbilt Commodores know they need to improve on the offensive end if they want to beat Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.

“I look for major improvement — in quarterback play, wide receiver play and offensive line play — from Week 1 to Week 2,” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said after a team practice on Wednesday. “During the course of my career, you see the largest gains in performance in that week. Obviously, we are counting on that with this upcoming opponent.”

One highly criticized decision during the opening game was playing Wade Freebeck at quarterback over Kyle Shurmur for two series in the first half, despite the fact that Shurmur has been touted as the clear-cut starter and did not throw a single interception in the game. In his press conference Tuesday, head coach Derek Mason clarified the quarterback dynamic going forward.

“Shurmur is our starter, and in situations where I feel a run-pass option is needed at the quarterback position, Freebeck is an option,” Mason said.

Mason touted Freebeck’s mobility and experience in the read option from high school, as well as Shurmur’s abilities in the pocket. However, according to Ludwig, Freebeck is not guaranteed any time on the field.

“We’re trying to get the quarterbacks experience, and if the situation comes up, that may happen,” Ludwig said.

Shurmur himself is not paying attention to the quarterback controversy and trusts his team no matter what.

“We all have confidence in each other, whoever’s in there, whatever situation, we’re going to get the job done,” Shurmur said. “Whether it’s me or Wade, we all have confidence that we’re going to get the job done.”

Despite the woes in the passing game, the run game was as strong as ever. Running back Ralph Webb split time in the backfield with linebacker-turned-tailback Khari Blasingame. The two combined for 165 yards in the game, with Blasingame scoring the Commodores’ lone touchdown.

Shurmur said the pair is a “quarterback’s best friend” on the field. The tandem has impressed so far because of the two’s diverse skills.

“They’re two good players,” Ludwig said. “We’ve got the chance to keep two guys fresh through the course of the game, through the course of the season. They both bring a little bit [of] something different to the table, and we look to maximize their potential every snap.”

Blasingame himself was just trying to get into the rhythm in his first game at running back and certainly did that.

“Having a game under my belt really gives me a lot of confidence,” Blasingame said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Going into the game, I just wanted to get some snaps after doing it in practice to see if I could get it done when the lights come on. That was the big thing for me.”

Other Commodore news and notes

  • Wide receiver and return specialist Darrius Sims is healthy and expected to play against MTSU. Ludwig said he saw “the Darrius Sims I’m used to seeing” in practice over the past few days.
  • Freshman punter Sam Loy should be the lead punter for this game after Reid Nelson took two in the opener, including one for just 21 yards. Loy punted six times for an average of 40.2 yards against South Carolina.
  • Vanderbilt did not commit a turnover on the offensive end against South Carolina. Shurmur said the team had “preached ball security” throughout camp and practice.
  • True freshman Kalija Lipscomb is listed as a starting wide receiver this week over redshirt junior C.J. Duncan, who missed last season with an injury. Ludwig said, “The true freshman’s playing better,” but Duncan will get plenty of playing time in three-receiver packages.

Vanderbilt takes on MTSU at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

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About the Writer
Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Cutler Klein ('19) is the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He is majoring in Communication Studies...

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