Now, that’s more like it.
More than a week after being embarrassed on opening night against South Carolina, the Vanderbilt Commodores responded with a decisive 47-24 victory over the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
It was by no means perfect, but they were able to power through a lightning delay lasting over an hour and a half, mistakes on special teams and an MTSU quarterback in Brent Stockstill that was on his game for most of the afternoon.
Here’s your Commodore Brunch menu for Week 2:
Shurmur was finally Shurmur
He wasn’t perfect, but Kyle Shurmur finally looked like a poised, strong quarterback out there. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Despite a low stat line by most standards, he completed far more passes than he did against South Carolina. Shurmur kept Vanderbilt not just a one-dimensional team throughout the game.
As the game went on, he got even more confident. He was taking more deep shots, finding his receivers through tight windows and even making great plays on designed play-action rollouts.
“You saw a lot of play-action pass,” Shurmur said. “Ralph Webb and the offensive line did a great job running the ball, and that’s really what set it up. It was just a matter of execution, playing within ourselves and not trying to do too much.”
In the first game, the play action wasn’t a very smart call because Shurmur wasn’t in rhythm. But, if he can have the confidence to make strong throws inside or outside the pocket, this offense could do serious damage against any defense.
Special teams: the Silent Killer
Vanderbilt’s special teams fit into one of two categories at any given moment: A Series of Unfortunate Events or The Greatest Show on Turf.
In the first quarter, Tommy Openshaw opened the scoring with a field goal, and the special teams unit followed it up by forcing a safety off a punt. MTSU returner Richie James was caught deep, Ralph Webb popped the ball out, the Blue Raiders got the ball back in the end zone and were forced out of bounds for a safety.
On the flip side, two of Openshaw’s kickoffs went out of bounds and Sam Loy had a punt blocked right out of the weather delay.
I like to say that special teams cannot win you games, but it can lose you games. The Commodores were lucky none of their special teams errors tonight proved too costly.
Oren Burks: International Man of Mystery
What position does Oren Burks play?
Why, “Star” of course.
Coach Derek Mason created that position for Burks, who can play up front on the line and cover receivers in the secondary.
“It’s a special position and takes a special kind of guy to play that,” Mason said. “How many guys that you know can play on the line of scrimmage then drop back and cover a wide receiver and then jump up and pick off a pass and put us in scoring position? He did some amazing things tonight, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Burks had one interception, four tackles, one sack and three pass breakups in the game. Mason is right: there are very few players that have that diverse of a skill set on the defensive side of the ball.
That flexibility can make playing against Vanderbilt a living hell for opposing quarterbacks.
“It’s a lot of fun, just being able to move all around the field and make plays,” Burks said. “Coach Mason has done a great job of dialing up some plays where I’m dropping or coming off the edge. Just a lot of different looks for the offense. It makes it difficult for them to adjust.”
Keep an eye on Burks throughout this season. He may rise on some NFL draft boards real soon.
Thunder and lightning on the field and in the atmosphere
Some very loud claps of thunder and very bright flashes of lightning delayed this game for more than an hour and a half, but it was the thunder and lightning between Khari Blasingame and Ralph Webb that stole the show.
Webb ran for 212 yards, the most by a Commodore back since Frank Mordica in 1978, and two touchdowns. Blasingame had 20 yards and two touchdowns to complement Webb.
As offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said before the game, the Commodores are a run-first team, and with two talented backs like that, they damn well better be. On one play, Webb is hurdling defenders, and on the next, Blasingame is knocking people over. Once a defense slows down one, they’ve just woken up the other.
It’s a lose-lose for the defense. And if they keep this up, Vanderbilt could start winning games on the backs of its tailbacks.
Side note: Blasingame’s nickname must become “The Blasing-Train.” We will have failed as a university if it does not stick.
-Even with the blocked punt immediately afterward, it was nice to see the Commodores win a game that featured a lengthy delay (remember Temple?).
-MTSU got really chippy by the end of the game and had one special teamer ejected for targeting. Mason called the game a “backyard brawl.” The Commodores were lucky to escape this one without major injuries.
-The moment of the game was when MTSU cornerback Jeremy Cutrer delivered a late hit (no flag thrown) on wide receiver C.J. Duncan, then proceeded to trash talk right in the face of Mason on the sideline. The Vanderbilt bench boss kept his cool, though, and just told him “Keep playing. You keep playing, and we’ll keep playing.”
Cue the air horns and “Supa Hot Fire” GIF.
The Commodores hit the road for the first time this season next week when they take on Georgia Tech from Atlanta. Kickoff is at 11:30 a.m on ESPN.