An in-depth look at the underlying storylines from Vanderbilt's resounding 45-0 victory over Western Carolina.
If offenses were cars, the Vanderbilt Commodores rolled into--and through--their opening game in a very different model than the one usually seen in black and gold on Dudley Field. In an effort to improve on last year's offensive output, there were upgrades installed to literally make the Commodores run as fast--and as much--as possible. Here's a look at those upgrades and why, at least for one night, it appeared Vanderbilt was sporting a Ferrari.
In most cases, an offense is about as good as its quarterback. On Saturday, it looked as if the Commodores have one with the potential to be special. Though some of his throws were spotty (especially in the second half) and his diving effort for the goal line on the offense's first series led to a fumble, those proved to be minor squalls in what was mostly smooth sailing for the redshirt sophomore.
Smith displayed deadly precision, patience, and a powerful right arm, with his most notable throws being a 46 yard touchdown strike to redshirt junior Justin Green and a beautiful 23 yard pass to redshirt sophomore Udom Umoh. On both throws, Smith made the correct reads and looked off Western Carolina defenders, a sign that he is growing in the offense and, consequently, the offense is growing around him. He finished the night 10-18 for 153 yards and the touchdown to Green while rushing for 73 yards on 11 carries.
"We have a chance to be better this season offensively because we have younger players from last year who have matured," said head coach Bobby Johnson.
Smith is one of those players.
Employing the no-huddle offense
The Commodores were able to dictate the pace of the game right out of the gate by adapting what has become the niche way to keep defenses off-balance and on the field in college football. Showing off superior conditioning and timing, Smith and Vanderbilt's stable of running backs were able to stay fresh while the Catamounts faded as the night wore on. Not only did this lead to a significant advantage in time of possession--Vanderbilt had the ball for nine more minutes than Western Carolina--but it gave an offense with four first-time starters (freshman running back Zac Stacy, redshirt freshman receiver John Cole, redshirt sophomore tackle James Williams, and redshirt sophomore receiver Udom Umoh) ample snaps and experience.
"As our offense got more snaps, I think [the game] slowed down a bit," Stacy said. "The tempo of the game came a little fast at first but I got used to it."
Vanderbilt's version of the Wildcat offense clawed its way out of the playbook and into the end zone, with Stacy taking snaps out of the shotgun and the rest of the offense running wild as a result. This came much to the chagrin of the Catamounts but was exciting for offensive players like freshman running back Warren Norman.
"(The Stallion) is my favorite formation," Norman said. "I think [it] keeps the defense off guard a bit and...adds a nice wrinkle to our offense."
Though the first play out of this new formation resulted in Stacy stumbling when trying to execute a keeper on the option, he more than atoned for it by rushing for a nine yard touchdown and stringing together several solid gains out of the Stallion. Johnson expects more from this offensive set--and the offense overall--as the season rolls along.
"It was good," Johnson said. "But it could have been better."
Game Ball: Rushing Attack
A team doesn't rush for 433 yards on the ground (second-most in the nation on opening weekend) without stellar play from all involved with the ground game. Stacy (20 carries, 133 yards, TD) and Norman (18 carries, 105 yards, 2 TD) stood out on the stat sheet, but redshirt junior Kennard Reeves (7 carries, 62 yards) and redshirt sophomore Jermaine Doster (5 carries, 36 yards) kept up the momentum late. The real anchor to the attack, though, was a very experienced offensive line. Did you see the holes redshirt senior Bradley Vierling and Co. were opening throughout the game? Stacy and Norman could have crawled to 100 yards behind them.
On a night where the stars shone bright, the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle made his case to become one of them. Greenstone led the squad with 5 total tackles (including a sack), and was constantly pushing through the line of scrimmage, allowing the team's linebacking core to patrol the field and hold the Catamounts to a paltry 115 total yards.
Play of the Game
Redshirt sophomore sensation Chris Marve set the tone early for what became a very long night for the Western Carolina offense. On the third play from scrimmage, Marve stripped sophomore running back Nate Harris after an 11 yard completion, the first of four turnovers the Commodores would force throughout the game. Though the offense was unable to capitalize on either of Marve's forced fumbles, it was clear from the onset the defense would stand out in their first shutout in a decade.
"Heading into the game, we just wanted to go out there and set a good tempo," Marve said. "Our goal was to intimidate and dominate from the first snap of the first quarter and I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight."