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VANDERBILT THREE KEYS: ALABAMA A&M

Vanderbilt opens its 2017 home slate on Saturday against Alabama A&M. Normally we would do our three keys but for this game we will set team goals for Vanderbilt. Of course, the first goal is to win the darn football game.

1. RUN BLOCKING IMPROVES

Last week at MTSU Vanderbilt gained just 71 yards on the ground. Of course, MTSU stacked the box to keep VU's running numbers down. Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason stated in his Tuesday press conference that running the ball is "who we are" and the team needs to be able to gain yards on the ground even when the box is stacked by opponents. Mason is right. The team needs to be able to eek out 3 or 4 yards on a run even with a stacked box.

2. BACKUP QUARTERBACK GETS SOME REPS

Right now only one player on Vanderbilt's roster has ever taken a snap as a quarterback in a live college game and that is Kyle Shurmur. Vandy needs to dominate early and get Shurmur out of the game by the beginning of the third quarter. Ideally, Deuce Wallace gets a quarter plus of playing time and Shawn Stankavage gets a couple series at the end. Vandy is only one play away at any given time from Shurmur being out for the season. He is a tough player but not infallible. Having a backup who has at last seen some playing time before will make things less stressful if Shurmur does go down.

3. SPECIAL TEAMS IMPROVEMENT

Not that we want to be forced to kick field goals against Alabama A&M but Tommy Openshaw needs to make a field goal to get things rolling this season. For some reason, he does really well with the long field goals but struggles at times with the shorter attempts. My guess is that it's an angle thing. If it's shorter and it's on a certain hash mark it may be tougher. Maybe Vandy should run plays to the side of the field he's better kicking from. I'm not saying settle for field goals over TDs. I'm saying if VU working for a TD and want to run, try running to the side of the field that Openshaw does better kicking from. You can't do this all the time, of course, because the opposition will notice that trend and adapt to it. Other areas of special teams could be improved also, according to Mason, as in kick/punt returns and coverage.

There's a lot of talent on this Vanderbilt roster and the sky is the limit for this team. However, the Commodores must strive to improve more every week. If they do not, future opponents that are struggling now but are working hard to improve will catch up to Vandy by the time they meet later in the season. I like how Mason is pushing for more excellence and improvement. It's the smart thing to do because every good coach is constantly striving for perfection in every facet of the game.

Saturday's game kicks off at 3 pm CT. It can be seen on the SEC alternate channel or Watch ESPN.

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