NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Defenses keep daring Vanderbilt to throw, determined to stop the Commodores’ all-time leading rusher and one of the best ever in the Southeastern Conference.
So that’s coach Derek Mason plans to do.
“We’re not abandoning the run,” Mason said Tuesday. “I just think you got to rethink what your process is and really put it in the hands of guys that can work for you now to help us balance out what we’re going through right now.”
The Commodores (3-2, 0-2) have the league’s worst rushing offense in SEC games with a meager 43 yards per game in losses to top-ranked Alabama and Florida. For the season, they can be thankful for Mississippi keeping them a spot out of the bottom running for an average of 79.2 games.
Ralph Webb ran for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, and the senior ranks seventh nationally among active running backs with 3,540 yards for his career. But Webb, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 98.7 yards per game last season, has just 198 yards and is averaging 2.6 yards per rush and 39.6 yards per game.
With defenses so focused on Webb, junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur has taken advantage with what’s already been a career year. Shurmur has 11 touchdown passes — two more than all of last season — and tied with Mississippi for most in the SEC. Shurmur has been intercepted only once with Vanderbilt allowing only three sacks all season.
But the offensive line has struggled to clear running lanes. Mason challenged his offensive line last week before a 38-24 loss at then-No. 21 Florida , and he also swapped up both guard spots on the line. Sophomore Saige Young started at left guard in place of Ean Pfeifer who started the first four games, and Egidio DellaRipa started at right guard over Jared Southers.
Mason said the Commodores still are trying to get their run game going.
“Ralph Webb is still Ralph Webb,” Mason said. “I mean we got to get more functional up front. We have to be able to move men against their will. And that’s the toughest thing when you’re playing the SEC. You’re playing against big guys that don’t move very easily.”
The task only gets tougher Saturday when Vanderbilt hosts No. 5 Georgia (5-0, 2-0). The Bulldogs rank third in the league giving up 90.4 yards rushing per game, and they rank fourth behind Vanderbilt allowing 153.6 yards passing per game.
Mason sounds confident Shurmur has plenty of targets with six different wide receivers catching at least one pass this season, three tight ends and three running backs. The Commodores are getting lots of one-on-one opportunities with defenses crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Vanderbilt from running.
“We got dudes that can make plays, so if people want to match up one on one, we’re going to make them pay,” Mason said. “I don’t care who you are. I don’t if we got to throw it 50 times. If those dudes are matched up one on one, we got enough guys that can win one on one, that’s what we’ll do.”
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