By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur has been a different quarterback in 2017.
At the midway point of the season, the junior signal-caller has evolved into one of the most effective passers in the SEC. That’s the expectation for Shurmur, who now has 24 career starts under his belt as the Dores prepare to visit Ole Miss on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT SEC Network).
“Anytime you get experience, you naturally grow as long as you stick to the process,” Shurmur said. “As an offense as a whole, we’ve grown a lot. We’ve built a lot of chemistry the last few years.”
A breakdown of Shurmur’s numbers illustrate the quarterback’s maturation. Through six games in 2016, Shurmur had completed 52.8 percent of his throws for 837 yards (5.3 per attempt). He had thrown just three touchdown passes while giving up three interceptions.
Shurmur has authored a remarkable turnaround this season. The junior has already thrown 12 touchdown passes – more than all of last season – against one interception, the top touchdown-to-interception ratio in the SEC. Shurmur has also improved in completion percentage (56.8), passing yards (1,157) and yards per attempt (7.5).
Improved play at quarterback has paid dividends for Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 3-3 at the midway point of the season, up from 2-4 through six games a year ago. That 3-3 start is the program’s best since 2013, when the Dores finished 9-3 with a win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Shurmur credited his play to a bevy of experience, including nine returning starters from 2016 and a camaraderie with third-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. But the junior said the Commodores aren’t satisfied.
“We’ve still got a lot more to give,” Shurmur said. “Anytime you have continuity, you build chemistry, and everybody starts to be on the same page. Everybody can be real with each other and hold each other accountable. We know what we’re capable of.”
More notes from the midway point of Vanderbilt’s season:
• Pass rush: Last season, the Dores had recorded just five sacks through six games. Outside linebacker Charles Wright has surpassed that mark on his own in 2017, ranking second in the SEC with six sacks. As a team, Vanderbilt now has 14 sacks and ranks fourth in FBS in passing yards allowed per game (140.3).
• Hot start: Vanderbilt began the season 3-0 for the first time since 2011, a run that included a 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State. That victory was the Dores’ first over a ranked nonconference foe since 1946.
• Spreading the wealth: Shurmur has connected with seven different receivers for touchdown passes this season, led by sophomore Kalija Lipscomb with four. Midway through 2016, only Lipscomb (two) and Nathan Marcus (one) had hauled in scoring catches.
• Opening drives: Following a touchdown by Georgia on its opening drive last week, the Commodores have allowed points on just one opening possession on defense all season.
• Running game: Vanderbilt ranks 13th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (76.7), a drop-off from the 164.2 yards per game it averaged in 2016. Ralph Webb, who averaged just shy of 100 yards per game a year ago, has managed just 40.8 this fall.
• Run defense: The Commodores allow 241 rushing yards per game from opponents and have given up an SEC-high 16 rushing touchdowns this season.
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.