The three lingering questions entering the 2017 season for the Vanderbilt Commodores were quite simple, and through the first week of the season the Commodores answered resoundingly Saturday night in Murfreesboro in front of a nice Vandy contingent.
The ‘Dores snapped a five-year skid in season openers to give coach Derek Mason his first victory to kick off his fourth season in charge by beating MTSU 28-6.
Mason emphasized a better pass rush, more balance on offense, and protecting Kyle Shurmur in the offseason. The Commodores were up to the task in all phases of the game from the opening kickoff, setting the tone. The Commodore defense registered five sacks, and allowed the Blue Raider offense inside the 25-yard line just a pair of times throughout the ball game. Vanderbilt complied 15 sacks in all of 2016, last in the SEC.
Vandy’s defense held Blue Raider quarterback Brent Stockstill to a very pedestrian 18/31 with 166 yards, 1 touchdown and an interception. Stockstill threw for 399 yards last season, in a 47-24 loss.
He was well acquainted with Charles Wright who led Vandy with three sacks, while the entire defensive line stymied the run and was the catalyst of the overall performance of the defense, following his lead. Middle totaled just 215 yards total offense, after coming into the season averaging 517.7 yards, ranking 12th nationally scoring 39.7 points per game. A credit to what appears to be a stingy Vanderbilt defense once again, proving what MTSU is like offensively when facing a legitimate pass rush.
Wideout Ritchie James got his catches, totaling 10 for 112 yards and a touchdown, as MTSU avoided the shut out. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig dialed down the play-calling towards a run heavy tendency the majority of the second half as the Commodores were well in control.
Kyle Shurmur looked like the Quarterback that ended the season against Ole Miss and Tennessee, and on a night when Ralph Webb faced nine men in the trenches, Shurmur’s play was essential. The junior threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, tying a career best. Shurmur was sacked just once, and had virtually no pass rush the entire night picking apart the Blue Raider defense.
Shurmur aired out two touchdowns to sophomore receiver Kalija Lipscomb in the first half, while tossing a third early in the third quarter to Ralph Webb as he ran free for a 73-yard touchdown, untouched. Webb tallied two touchdowns on the night, after plunging into the end zone in the first half for his lone touchdown run. Webb amassed 104 receiving yards, while adding 49 on the ground. Nine different receivers hauled in a reception for the Commodores.
Vandy scored touchdowns in their first three possessions to put a stranglehold on the contest in the first half, seemingly before the Blue Raiders could even kick start a respectable offensive drive. Brent Stockstill was not in rhythm all night long, as the Vanderbilt Defensive Line seemed unblockable through much of the night.
Vanderbilt will turn their attention to a date with Alabama A&M on Saturday Sept. 9, kickoff is set for 3 p.m. inside Vanderbilt Stadium.