Vanderbilt Report Card: Middle Tennessee

Vanderbilt defeated Middle Tennessee 17-13 on Saturday at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro.'s Don Yates grades the Commodores' performance in several key team areas.


Johnny McCrary has been improving of late as Vandy’s quarterback but this game wasn’t one of his better performances.   He passed for 177 yards while completing 18 of 31 passes for two interceptions.   McCrary’s interceptions hurt but at least they weren’t pick sixes or thrown into the end zone.  Interceptions happen. Trent Sherfield again led the Commodores in receptions with six for 63 yards.    Caleb Scott and Kris Kentera each had three receptions.  Unfortunately, Scott fumbled after one of his catches, in the red zone.   Vandy’s blockers allowed McCrary to be sacked twice. 


Vanderbilt averaged nearly six yards a carry rushing the ball.  Ralph Webb had his best day running the ball this season, picking up 155 yards on 25 carries.  His 39 yards gallop with 1:12 left in the game is one that Commodore fans will remember for a long time.   Johnny McCrary’s earlier 29-yard run helped start the Commodore comeback.   Trent Sherfield had a 39-yard end around run in the third quarter.  Vandy’s offensive line did a nice job opening up holes for the VU runners. 


Vandy’s passing defense did a solid job against one of the best quarterbacks they’ll face this season.  Vandy was only the second team this season to hold Brent Stockstill to under 300 yards passing, the other being Alabama (allowed 174).  Vanderbilt allowed Stockstill to complete 32 of 51 passes for 286 yards and, most importantly, only one touchdown.  He had thrown 12 of those previous to Middle’s game with Vandy.  Vandy didn’t have an interception but did have an impressive nine passes broke up led by Torren McGaster’s three.   Linebacker Zach Cunningham had two.   Vandy didn’t sack Stockstill but the defensive line did keep enough pressure on Stockstill to force him into some missed throws.  


The Commodore defense did a spectacular job taking away the run from Middle, limiting the Blue Raiders to just 48 yards on 34 rushing attempts (1.5 ypc).  Starting running back Jordan Parker had just two yards in two attempts before being replaced by Jeremiah Bryson who gained 20 yards on seven carries (2.4 ypc).  Zach Cunningham, still filling in as starter for Nigel Bowden, led the ‘Dores with 15 tackles including 2 ½ for losses.  Cornerback Torren McGaster, who is a punishing tackler, had six tackles.  The Commodores had another huge second quarter goal line stand.  Simply put, the closer you get to the Commodore end zone the harder it is to get into it. 


Vanderbilt’s special teams were decent.   The special teams were solid in that they didn’t’ have any muffed punts, long kick/punt returns by opponents, bad snaps or kicks blocked by opponents.  This was the first this season one of those hasn’t happened.   Tommy Openshaw had a poor game for him.  He made only one of two field goals, making one from 40 and missing another from the same distance.  Openshaw averaged just 31.4 yards on five punts.   A few of those were pooch punt varieties where Vandy was punting at the MTSU 40 or 42.  There was one that was very short from deep in Vandy territory though.  There were no significant kick/punt returns by either team.


I really liked Mason’s “leave no meat on the bones” speech before the game.   It shows that he does have the ability to fire up his players.   The story of this game was that Vanderbilt was able to run the ball but MTSU could not.  This is a tribute to both Derek Mason and Andy Ludwig, as well as their players.  Both coordinators have made vast strides with their units since the Western Kentucky game. 


Still work to be done for sure but the rallying for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter is a priceless event for the team and program.  This builds confidence in the team that they should never give up until the final horn.   Hopefully the team can take advantage of the off week to get some rest, do some healing and work on their red zone offense.

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