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When Vandy’s passing well, wins usually follow. Can Missouri prevent that?

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Kyle Shurmer has been outstanding in Vanderbilt’s four wins and dreadful in the Commodores’ six losses.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

See if you can spot a trend:

  • Vandy quarterback Kyle Shurmur in four 2017 wins: 63-for-90 (70%), 923 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INT, 192.8 passer rating
  • Shurmur in six losses: 109-for-207 (53%), 1,269 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs, 114.9 passer rating

Vanderbilt ranks 27th in Passing S&P+ and 15th in passing success rate. The Commodores have shown high upside and variety in the passing game this year, with four-star junior Shurmur taking a step forward in his development, two primary receivers with a 60 percent or higher success rate (C.J. Duncan, Trent Sherfield), and an exciting all-or-nothing threat (return man Kalija Lipscomb).

They have never really performed at a No. 27 level, though — it’s either top-20 or bottom 50. Mizzou fans, rooting for a defense that either allows either under 18 or over 30, can probably relate.

Backfield

QB

  • Kyle Shurmur (6’4, 227, Jr.) —172-for-297 (58%), 2,192 yards, 21 TD, 7 INT, 16 sacks (6.7 yards per attempt, inc. sacks); 9 carries, 21 yards (2.3), 2 TD
  • Deuce Wallace (6’2, 210, RSFr.) — 11-for-22 (50%), 94 yards, 1 TD, 0 sacks (4.3)

RB

  • Ralph Webb (5’10, 202, Sr.) — 149 carries, 623 yards (4.2), 6 TD; 15 targets, 10 catches, 152 yards (10.1), 1 TD
  • Khari Blasingame (6’1, 235, Jr.) — 45 carries, 147 yards (3.3); 8 targets, 5 catches, 35 yards (4.4), 1 TD

FB

  • Dallas Rivers (6’1, 225, Sr.) — 18 carries, 52 yards (2.9); 3 targets, 2 catches, 19 yards (6.3)
  • Jaire George (6’1, 230, So.) — 1 target, 0 catches

Ralph Webb is going to finish his career with 4,000 rushing yards, probably 70-plus receptions, and close to 35 combined touchdowns. The Gainesville (Fla.) product never got a sniff from Florida, but he ended up a successful back in the SEC all the same.

He’s never been all that efficient, though. I thought that was maybe because opponents could load up on stopping him since they never had a reason to fear the Vandy pass attack. Opponents do have that fear this year, but it doesn’t really matter—Webb is still averaging just 4.2 yards per carry, and Vandy ranks an abysmal 119th in rushing success rate.

Webb is more of a complementary piece this time around, though. Vanderbilt runs only 53 percent of the time on standard downs (100th in the country), electing to give Shurmur plenty of run early on downs. He’s completing 63 percent of his passes with a 147.5 passer rating on first down, and in the red zone, where most teams elect to run, Shurmur’s nearly perfect: 21-for-30 for 151 yards, 14 touchdowns, and no INTs. Hell, Shurmur might be the best red zone QB in the country. Whatever that’ll get you.

Shurmur’s getting hit less, too. You probably recall last year’s sackfest in Columbia; well, after ranking 108th in Adj. Sack Rate in 2016, VU’s up to 48th this time around. The early-down passing puts the defense on its heels and gives him a lot more easy looks. It works pretty well. Except when it doesn’t.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Ralph Webb (7)
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Receiving Corps

WR

  • C.J. Duncan (5’11, 203, Sr.) — 57 targets, 41 catches, 389 yards (6.8), 4 TD; 2 carries, 36 yards
  • Kalija Lipscomb (6’1, 200, So.) — 54 targets, 28 catches, 484 yards (9.0), 7 TD; 3 carries, 17 yards

WR

  • Trent Sherfield (6’1, 205, Sr.) — 56 targets, 40 catches, 621 yards (11.1), 3 TD; 5 carries, 91 yards (18.2), 1 TD
  • Caleb Scott (6’2, 202, Sr.) — 29 targets, 15 catches, 151 yards (5.2), 1 TD
  • Trey Ellis (5’9, 170, Sr.) — 8 targets, 5 catches, 70 yards (8.8), 1 TD

TE

  • Nathan Marcus (6’5, 242, Sr.) — 14 targets, 7 catches, 68 yards (4.9), 1 TD
  • Jared Pinkney (6’4, 255, So.) — 32 targets, 16 catches, 160 yards (5.0), 3 TD

First things first: Vandy might have the best end around offense in the country. Four WRs have carried at least twice, and they’ve combined for 12 carries and 203 yards. Sherfield leads the way with five catches for 91 yards, which makes sense—he’s also the most dangerous Vandy receiver when actually acting like a receiver, too.

Sherfield’s big plays are a bit of a giveaway that Vandy’s going to win. In four wins, he has 17 catches for 316 yards (18.6) and two scores; in six losses: 23 catches, 305 yards (13.3), 1 TD. He combines possession man Duncan’s high catch rate with the all-or-nothing Lipscomb’s explosiveness. He’s the best receiver Mizzou has faced since the Georgia game*, and he’s Vandy’s best shot at keeping up if the Tiger offense gets rolling again as it has been for the last six games.

* Note: that designation would go to Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland, but the Gators don’t actually have an offense designed to get the ball to good receivers.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Trent Sherfield
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Beyond Sherfield, this receiving corps is semi-manageable. Duncan is indeed a good possession man, and Lipscomb can bust random big gainers, but Sherfield is the guy who beats you.

Offensive Line

LT

  • Justin Skule (6’6, 315, Jr.) — 10 starts in 2017, 25 career starts
  • Cole Clemens (6’6, 305, Fr.)

LG

  • Saige Young (6’4, 315, So.) — 6 starts in 2017, 6 career starts
  • Ean Pfeifer (6’4, 300, So.) — 4 starts in 2017, 13 career starts

C

  • Bruno Reagan (6’3, 315, Jr.) — 10 starts in 2017, 24 career starts
  • Sean McMoore (6’4, 305, RSFr.)

RG

  • Egidio DellaRipa (6’4, 300, Jr.) — 6 starts in 2017, 6 career starts
  • Jared Southers (6’4, 310, So.) — 4 starts in 2017, 4 career starts

RT

  • Devin Cochran (6’7, 315, RSFr.) — 8 starts in 2017, 8 career starts
  • Bailey Granier (6’6, 316, Jr.) — 2 starts in 2017, 6 career starts

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s play-calling is more diverse this year, and that has helped keep the pressure off of Shurmur. That’s a good thing because I think the line needed the help. VU has eight guys who have racked up a combined 78 career starts at this point, but the run blocking has still been pretty bad.

With the way Mizzou’s defensive front has played of late, it would be disappointing if Webb and the Vandy run game got much going. In theory, that will help to render the Commodores one-dimensional, which could allow ends Marcell Frazier, Tre Williams, and company to tee off like they did last year. But if VU receivers (Sherfield in particular) are catching open passes on first down, teeing off won’t happen.

South Carolina v Vanderbilt
Justin Skule (58) and Khari Blasingame (23)
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images