This was an old school football game. It was the best defensive performance I have seen by a Vandy squad in a long time. Kansas State is very good - they will beat a lot of people this year. This win will carry a lot of weight as the season progresses.
The secondary deserves the game ball here. It was spectacular. Hungry and mean. To be honest, K State receivers dropped a few balls - especially in the first half. But they also heard footsteps. Our secondary was blasting people - and separating balls from receivers pretty regularly. This was Williams finest game to date - and Tarpley and Herndon seemed to be both blanketing receivers and coming up and making strong tackles on runs. Tarpley is a particularly good open field tackler for a corner.
It did appear that - after Ertz carved us up with keepers in the first half - we moved the corners up and aggressively took away the QB run. We would let them beat us some other way - but not on Ertz's legs. It was a really nice halftime adjustment.
Williams and Burks and White set the tone in the early second half with some really bone-jarring tackles on Ertz. To Ertz's credit, he just kept hopping up - and he hung over 120 yards on us with his legs. But only 76 yards through the air. Again, this was largely on K State's receivers who just were not getting open. On the critical final fourth down play - Ertz had a great deal of time to throw - but no one was open. Burks saved the day there. Great games were turned in by many on defense. Burks, White, Williams, Smith played outstanding football. The whole secondary was tough as nails. Wright is a force - and when he went down at the end of the half, our pass rush got much weaker. We were very fortunate he could return as he makes a big difference. When Ertz went to hand signals, the play was often a pass. I wondered if our D was reading this tell? - Again, the pass defense was so good, it seemed we knew what was coming on their passing routes.
We turned in 8 tackles for loss - and held a team averaging 55 points per game to 7. K State was 10-28 through the air and White and Wiley turned in nice picks. The defense continues to play brilliantly on third down - holding K State to 4-17. There were a couple of "missed INTs" in the first half - but the D graded out to an A tonight. I do think K State did us a favor by not playing Silmon more - he gained 41 yards on three carries and seemed to be running downhill on us. Not sure what the back-story was there - but they seemed determined to throw and we simply did not give them any separation. The secondary was the story of the game.
The performance of Kyle Shurmur gets pretty high billing too. He was throwing darts. And he was reading the field well. He was 14-23 for 205 yards with one throwing TD and one running TD. Frankly, the running TD showed an enormous amount of poise - because the snap was on the ground and the timing of the play was fouled up. He willed himself into the end zone - and if we had had to settle for a field goal, K State would have been able to kick to tie it up at the gun rather than forced to convert on fourth down.
Nice games turned in by Sherfield and Duncan. But yardage was hard to come by - and, again, there was absolutely no green up the middle. We were relentlessly stuffed on the ground between the hashes. On the bright side, after the opening stuffage of the first drive - we got fairly creative with play action and first down calls. We did open up the field a bit - and we did run some sharp passing routes off the faked run up the middle. It was a close to the vest offensive game plan - but a flexible one that seemed appropriate under the nip and tuck circumstances.
It is hard not to note the critical "overturn" on what looked like a Shurmur fumble. We have had so many heinous reviews in the last few years - that I do not mind if we stole a call there. But the truth is, there were six inconclusive views and one where it appeared Shurmur's knee did bounce off the turf a mili-second before the ball squirted out. I only saw that view once - from the others it really did not look like the knee touched.
The total inability to run north/south remains a concern. We did add some nice, occasional east/west plays - the tight end jet sweep was a surprise which gained ten yards. The tight end screen was a great first down call that, unfortunately, was well-defended. Shurmur threw a lovely first down play action bomb too - and although it was broken up, it gave K State a lot to think about. On the whole, I thought our play calling was relatively creative after a bland start.
On the negative side, our red zone fumble was both debilitating and unforced. Webb ran into his own man - it appeared to be our own version of a butt-fumble, but the replay was unclear. The other serious concern was a cascade of holding and personal foul calls on the O-line. I know we were playing a very talented defense - but the calls took away several first downs and murdered field position on several drives. The refs had their hands full for much of the game - the non-call on the flagrant pass interference at the end of our last drive was a very bad miss. We only had 7 first downs through the first three quarters - and 11 overall. But it was enough.
Special teams remains a mystery. Openshaw's kickoffs were great again. And then, after we got the lead - we pooched one to give away the ball at the 38. Not sure what we were thinking there. Loy hit two punts in the twenties in the first half. I realize he was trying to keep it away from their dangerous returner - but there was a feeling all night that K State was ready to break one. And then they did. Mercifully, the guy who threw the flag on the return made a nice toss - and it was clear the TD was coming back before the returner broke the 30-yard line. Still, the block in the back - which was clear - did not seem to affect the return much. So our special teams did not do a great job on that play. K State had two TD's called back - and that makes for a long drive home. We've been there before more times than we care to remember.
Last year, Cunningham's amazing game-saving stop against Georgia seemed to play out in slow motion. Tonight, Burks' stop of Ertz on fourth and eight was the same way. Ertz made a great effort on that play - and escaped three or four tacklers - but Burks and Wiley flew in at the last minute to ice the game.
We should savor this win. But Bama is coming.