The 2017 Vanderbilt football season has come and gone. VandyMania.com takes a look at the several key team areas from the 2017 Commodore football season and applies a grade to each.
PASSING OFFENSE: B
This was the lone bright spot on the team. The Commodores threw for nearly 244 yards per game on average, good for 53rd in the nation. Junior Kyle Shurmur had a solid season connecting on 220 of 380 passes for 2,823 yards 26 touchdowns and 10 inceptions. Interestingly, seven of Shurmur's 10 picks thrown can in two games, Missouri (3) and Kentucky (4). Shurmur now has 5,735 career passing yards for 40 touchdowns. C.J. Duncan (52), Trent Sherfield (50), and Kalija Lipscomb (37) were Shurmur's top target.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D
The collapse of the Commodore running game compared to 2016 was the biggest stunner of the 2017 season. The Vandy rushing attack dwindled at under 100 yards per game for most of the season. A 246-yard rushing performance in the win over Tennessee helped get that average to over 100 yards for the season. The Commodores finished the season with ranked a paltry 121st nationally out of 129 teams. This is just mind-boggling considering the hopes and expectations that were set for the team before the season with the all-time leading rusher, Ralph Webb, returning. In truth, this serves as an example of the importance of a well-coached offensive line that has chemistry. The 2017 Vandy offensive line was much more suited for a passing attack.
OVERALL OFFENSE: D+
There were some good things on offense. The 24.6 points scored per game was good for just 94th nationally but, by Vandy standards, it wasn't too bad. In reality, that needs to reach about 30 points a game next year as teams are developing more high powered attacks in the SEC. The median average points per game for the 129 FBS teams is a little over 28 points per game so 30 would help propel Vandy to the next level. During the spring the team should push run blocking hard but also work on fine-tuning the passing attack. Shurmur could be a beast next year for the opposition but it will take the implementation of a more potent offensive attack than what we saw in 2017.
PASSING DEFENSE: C+
Statistically, Vandy's passing defense finished 28th in the nation allowing just 194.6 yards per game through the air. However, consider that Vandy's rushing defense was the worst in the SEC and among the worst nation. Opponents will run the ball when a team can't stop the run. Running is safer, burns up clock and wears down opponents. Vandy was ranked 18th nationally in fewest opponent passing attempts but 65th in yards per completion (12.23) and yards per attempt (7.12). The Commodores passing yards allowed per game were lower because opponents were much more often running than passing. Vandy's passing defense was better than its rushing defense but in truth, it was about average.
RUSHING DEFENSE: D-
Vandy's gave up 2,382 rushing yards on 479 attempts (4.97 ypc) for 30 touchdowns. What caused that? Likely the loss of Zach Cunningham and Adam Butler from Vandy's middle D. The Commodores went from the run stopper Cunningham to a former safety/outside linebacker. Oren Burks likely has a future in the NFL but it won't be at middle linebacker. He did his best and made some plays but he and no one else on the Vandy D was a Zach Cunningham.
OVERALL DEFENSE: D
After fielding feared defenses in 2015 and 2016, the Commodore D took a step back in 2017, giving up over 31 points a contest and over 40 points game in the conference. The rushing D is mostly the blame but a less formidable pass defense also had a hand in the VU defensive slippage.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Vanderbilt's special teams were the worst we've seen under Mason and probably the least expected and disappointing development the 2017 season. VU special teams looked improved last season under first-year Vandy special team's coach Jeff Genyk. With nearly everyone back on the unit along with a seasoned veteran long snapper transfer from Michigan, it was presumed that the unit would help the team win games. It did not but rather contributed to several losses. Special teams are called "special" because there is a very little margin for error. A failure of a military special operations unit to take out an enemy weapons of mass destruction facility can lead to much loss of life. Similarly, a failure during a game to properly execute a punt, make a field goal or cover an opponent's kick/punt returns, can be detrimental to a football team. All these special team's blunders were way too common in 2017 for Vanderbilt.
SEASON GRADE: D+
It's a shame this football team didn't get to a bowl. Had they made a bowl the team would have been practicing right now and not only preparing for that bowl but, more importantly, for the 2018 season. This is certainly not the worst VU football team ever fielded. The team did some good things like beating a ranked Kansas State team and knocking off rival Tennessee on the road. Vandy fans would have been dancing in the streets a few years ago to beat MTSU 28-6. Now we are back to expecting to win against the Blue Raiders.