Vandy fell short against No.5 Georgia 45-14 on Saturday, failing to rack up two straight wins against the Bulldogs.
There are two glaring weaknesses on the 2017 Vanderbilt Commodores Football team.
Through the four-game stretch of Kansas State, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, Vanderbilt may miss run-stuffing Defensive Lineman Adam Butler and Zach Cunningham, along with Barrett Gouger and Will Holden more than Derek Mason wants to admit.
Even with SEC sack leader Charles Wright (6) and NFL prospect Nifae Laelao anchoring the line, Vanderbilt’s defense is worn from the heavy snap count.
Butler, now a heavy contributor with the New England Patriots, and Cunningham, now with the Houston Texans, are both seeing their roles increased with their respective teams. Holden is the starting Left Tackle for the Arizona Cardinals.
Vandy has surrendered just shy of 1,200 rushing yards in these four weeks combined, but the ‘Dores looked to get back to their stifling defensive ways – Vandy managed to hold Kansas State to just 7 points in their lone win during the stretch.
Georgia Quarterback Jake Fromm passed just seven times in Saturday’s 31 point win.
The Commodore Offensive Line has struggled run blocking for Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame. The running back tandem of Blasingame and Webb have yet to get going, after combining for 23 touchdowns last season. Through six games, Webb (3) has accounted for all rushing touchdowns.
The Commodores let a winnable game with the Gators slip away late, in a game where they showed little resolve against the run.
Vanderbilt offensively has struggled at the point of attack, and understandably so, trying to replace Gouger and Holden along the Offensive Line.
However, Offensive Coordinator Andy Ludwig continues to pound the ball up the middle too often with the run game. It ultimately, plays into opposing defenses hands – and exposes Vanderbilt’s one true weakness offensively.
Vanderbilt’s one strong point on offense – Kyle Shurmur. The Junior has tossed 13 touchdowns, to just 1 interception – a pass that deflected off the hands of Jared Pinkney against Alabama. Shurmur turned in another strong performance against the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Shurmur experienced a stellar first half of the season, as he has greatly improved from his 10 touchdown, 9 interception Sophomore season.
In addition, Vanderbilt has a multitude of receiving weapons. As many as 10 Commodores have recorded a reception, as C.J. Duncan, Caleb Scott, Nathan Marcus, Trent Sherfield, Kalija Lipscomb, and Pinkney give the ‘Dores a very dangerous passing attack.
Lipscomb leads the group with four touchdowns, but his counterparts are following his lead.
Vanderbilt’s final six games are: Ole Miss, South Carolina, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee – all winnable games for the ‘Dores.
Vandy is still poised for a big time season, and Derek Mason knows it.
However, in Mason’s fourth year some may expect the team to be more competitive overall, and turn the corner and beat the likes of Florida.
Vanderbilt (3-3) is a game better through last season, and looks to rejuvenate, as its sights are set on Ole Miss on Oct. 14.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 on SEC Network.