Heading into the regular season, it was no secret what Vanderbilt’s biggest strength would be: defense.
And after an excruciating season-opening loss to South Carolina, that was evident. The Commodores only managed 10 points against the Gamecocks, thanks in large part to a coaching scheme and strategy that made little sense.
Fast forward one week, and Vandy now looks like a completely different team.
The Commodores scored a 47-24 win over MTSU and looked a team with an entirely different offensive playbook.
There was plenty of criticism aimed at head coach Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig following the South Carolina loss, and rightfully so. The coaching staff showed no situational awareness and no ability to alter its original plan.
That changed on Saturday. Ludwig opened up the playbook and put his offensive players in positions to succeed.
The result? One of the most impressive offensive performances of the Mason era in Nashville.
Ralph Webb dominated the ground game in rushing for 211 yards on the day, becoming the first Vanderbilt player to rush for over 200 yards since Frank Mordica did it in 1978. Khari Blasingame added even more power and scored two touchdowns.
Of course, Vandy fans knew what they were getting out of those two. It was the quarterback situation that continued to be the biggest problem after Week 1.
Luckily, the Commodores got the answer that they were looking for.
Shurmur started slow in missing on his first seven passes, but rallied to go 15-of-21 after that in what was one of the most solid performances of his career.
The numbers weren’t flashy: 113 total passing yards and one touchdown. However, they didn’t have to be, and won’t have to be throughout the season.
The one-two punch of Webb and Blasingame will be difficult for teams to stop. The defense has the potential to be great and showed that by forcing key turnovers that swung the momentum of this game. Those two aspects are enough to keep Vandy in games.
So, for Shurmur and the offense, it’s all about being efficient and limiting mistakes. And on Saturday, it was mission accomplished.
Of course, MTSU is not an SEC team. While certainly talented, the Blue Raiders did not have the depth or scheme that could slow down this Vanderbilt offense once it got rolling.
Teams around the SEC will have those pieces in place. The question is, how will Ludwig and the Vandy offense adapt?
Saturday’s victory was proof that Ludwig knows how to adapt. It’s just a matter of will he adapt.
If the Commodores are going to reach that six-win bowl mark this season, they’re going to need to move beyond a basic, conservative approach on offense.
The MTSU win was a major step in the right direction in terms of fixing that problem. The offense kept its foot on the gas and kept going with what was working. That’s an easy enough process, but hasn’t always been present with this current coaching regime.
Momentum is everything in sports. Vanderbilt has a huge wave of momentum heading into next Saturday’s clash with Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
And for Vandy fans, it’s a waiting game.
Will this team continue to open up the offense and adapt to what works? Or will it revert back to South Carolina and stick with an ineffective plan no matter what?
Judging by the entirely different outcomes of the first two games, one of those would be much better than the other.