The Vanderbilt Commodores’ defense gave up more points on Saturday night than it had given up all season.
Of course, that was still good enough for the Commodores to pick up a 14-7 victory over the 18th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats, improving Vanderbilt to 3-0 on the season entering their SEC opener next weekend against Alabama.
After the teams traded punts to open the game, Vanderbilt opened the scoring on a two-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur to C.J. Duncan to cap a 13-play, 84-yard drive that drained 7:53 off the clock. The key play of the drive was a 38-yard strike from Shurmur to Jared Pinkney on 3rd-and-3 that set Vanderbilt up with a 1st-and-goal; the Commodores scored three plays later.
Kansas State answered with an 8-play, 75-yard drive capped by a Jesse Ertz touchdown run on 4th-and-1 on the first play of the second quarter. On the evening, Ertz ran 24 times for 126 yards; Kansas State’s other 39 plays netted a total of 151 yards for 3.8 yards per play.
A controversial play later in the second quarter might have turned the game. On third down, Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur appeared to lose the ball; Kansas State’s D.J. Reed scooped the ball up and took it in for a touchdown, but replay review overturned the fumble call and erased the touchdown. That kept the score at 7-7.
Vanderbilt eventually figured out a way to slow down Ertz as Derek Mason’s halftime adjustments kicked in, but Kansas State still had scoring opportunities. A 9-play, 48-yard drive midway through the third quarter ended with no points as Matthew McCrane missed a 42-yard field goal wide right; D.J. Reed had a punt return touchdown called back due to a block in the back.
Then things got sloppy in the fourth quarter. After the called-back touchdown, Ertz threw an interception that set Vanderbilt up in great field position — only to see Ralph Webb fumble on a first-down run at the Kansas State 12. But Ertz wasn’t done giving out gifts, as Vanderbilt’s Ryan White intercepted a pass on the Kansas State 33 that set up what would be the game-winning touchdown, a Kyle Shurmur touchdown run on a busted play on 3rd-and-goal that gave Vanderbilt a 14-7 lead.
Kansas State would make one last effort. After a 34-yard punt by Sam Loy gave the Wildcats the ball at the Vanderbilt 46 with a little over four minutes left, Ertz got the Wildcats a couple of first downs to the Vanderbilt 21. But Vanderbilt finally ended the threat as Ertz’s fourth-down scramble came up a couple of yards shy, and Kyle Shurmur kneeled down a couple of times to finish off the win.
Here’s what we learned.
Vanderbilt’s defense is legitimate
So, after three games, Vanderbilt has given up a grand total of 13 points.
Granted, two of the games were dominant performances against Middle Tennessee and Alabama A&M — but after mostly shutting down a Top 25 team, it’s time to take the Commodores’ defense seriously. Derek Mason has put together strong defenses the past two years, but this year’s defense appears to be taking it to another level. Kansas State mounted a few scoring threats but only found the end zone once — a major accomplishment.
The run game continues to look unimpressive, though
Vanderbilt ran the ball 32 times for 65 yards. That’s ... not good. Granted, some of that is on Kansas State’s defense, which had a strong performance in its own right, but in light of the Commodores struggling to move the ball on the ground against MTSU and even Alabama A&M, this might be an ongoing issue.
Vanderbilt’s longest run play of the night was a 10-yard jet sweep by tight end Sam Dobbs. That was, well, it. Whatever offensive threat the Commodores have had in their first three games has come from Kyle Shurmur and the passing game. Which, well, that’s been fine.
This team will probably be in the Top 25 next week
Yep. Is Vanderbilt one of the 25 best teams in the country? Maybe not, but after a 3-0 start (with an overall scoring margin of 84-13) and a win over a Top 25 team, Vanderbilt may well find itself ranked next week. Of course, with Alabama coming to town next Saturday, that stay might be short-lived. But it’s just the latest sign that Derek Mason has Vanderbilt on the right track and halfway to being bowl eligible.