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Previewing Alabama at Vanderbilt: The Commodores Offense

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It’s all about Shurmer and Webb on this side of the ball.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, Vanderbilt’s offense vs. the Alabama defense is an unequivocal mismatch. Of course, the game isn’t played on paper and they certainly have the ability to take advantage of mental lapses, which the Tide must avoid.

The Commodores are at a disadvantage athletically against most opponents and thus must rely on a combination of scheme and effort to find yards wherever they can. They are very methodical on offense, playing to their stingy defense in a manner that will remind you of the Stallings years in Tuscaloosa.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig calls a very “multiple” offense - on a given series you might see them line up under center in an I-formation, in the pistol, and even spread out in an empty set- but it unfortunately comes across less as a scheme designed to keep the defense guessing and more like a mad scientist trying to squeeze something out of nothing. They have had some major issues on the offensive line this season, rendering their running game almost useless despite a very talented feature back in senior Ralph Webb, who despite a potential NFL future has averaged only 2.6 yards per carry. He gets 20 touches a game, however, so look to hear his name called plenty on Saturday.

They have a smart (of course, it’s Vandy!) junior quarterback in Kyle Shurmur and he has been very efficient with the football, surrendering zero interceptions while putting up an excellent 10.2 YPA. He is very adept at hitting his hot reads against the blitz and excels in the play action game. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of talent in the receiving corps so he has had to play under duress as teams take their chances outside.

Speaking of the receivers, the name to know is Trent Sherfield. He is the home run threat on the roster, averaging a healthy 19.5 yards per reception on four catches per game. The 6’1 junior had a solid 4/97 in last week’s win over Kansas State. Slot receiver C.J. Duncan and TE Jared Pinkney are the other targets of note, combining for 21 catches and 225 yards in three games. The running backs are targeted in the passing game only 2-3 times per game, usually staying in to try and keep Shurmur upright long enough to throw the ball.

It’s tough to envision a scenario where this offense finds much success of any kind on Saturday, assuming that the Alabama defense plays to its standard. Coach Derek Mason’s message to the offense will be to do what they do, which is protect the football and keep their defense in the game. They will undoubtedly try to slow the game to a crawl to keep Jalen Hurts and company on the sideline, and try to be opportunistic when possible. The Tide defense will need to be disciplined and stay focused while Ludwig tries to lull them to sleep, and expect some trickery along the way.