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Vanderbilt's defense would be good enough to win the SEC East ... if it had an offense

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This is Bill C.'s 128-team preview of the college football season, now on a run through the SEC.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Time to move

Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgia are breaking in new head coaches. Kentucky has suddenly stagnated three years into Mark Stoops' tenure. Florida might not have a quarterback. Tennessee still has to prove it can close tight games.

I'm not going to say now is Vanderbilt's time to win the SEC East or anything. That's not going to happen. But now would be a really good time for Vanderbilt to turn experience into competence on offense and field a strong team. The division is in flux, and the Commodores, who showed genuine improvement (on one side of the ball) in 2015, would be incredibly well served by another step forward.

Of course, Derek Mason would be well-served by any improvement. The third-year head coach is 7-17, even after fielding a strong defense in 2015. His offense remains a question mark (to put it as politely as possible), and while he showed enough second-year progress to fend off any hot-seat demons, Vandy was just getting used to winning when he arrived, and the wins have mostly stopped since then.

Indeed, Mason engineered improvement last year. I predicted as much ... in the most lukewarm possible manner.

Between youth and the "it almost literally can't get worse" factor, expect improvement. The defense has promise, and the run game might be semi-efficient. But it's hard to give too much refutation to those writing the Commodores off. It's going to take a lot to come back.

Vanderbilt was a house stripped to its foundation. The Commodores were destined to be bad, and they were young enough that they should expect to improve.

Indeed, a defense that had shown promise in 2014 became legitimately strong, and that paved the way to low-scoring wins over MTSU (17-13), Missouri (10-3), and Kentucky (21-17). But the offense only "improved" from 118th to 117th in Off. S&P+ and now must replace last year's leading passer and two three-year starting linemen. The passing game featured occasional efficiency and almost no big plays; the run game featured neither, even with the well-regarded Ralph Webb taking on nearly 25 carries per game. There's no clear weapon to build a good offense around, and the new starting quarterback completed 43 percent of his passes last year.

Division rival Missouri bottomed out offensively last season but has at least fielded a competent attack in recent memory; Vanderbilt's defense might be as good as or better than Mizzou's in 2016, but depending on your definition of "solid," the next solid Vanderbilt offense will be VU's first since either 2013 (30 points per game), 2011 (the only time in the last decade that VU has ranked better than 60th in Off. S&P+), or ... about 1948.

This is a hard job. It always has been. Since the end of World War I, Vandy has won eight games in a season just nine times and has won more than eight just twice. However, those two times came in James Franklin's last two years in Nashville, the two before Mason arrived. That makes it incredibly difficult to set expectations in Nashville.

But whatever expectations are or should be, the spoils are there in 2016 in a vulnerable East if the Commodores can put points on the board. It's hard to trust that they will.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 83 | Final S&P+ Rk: 83
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep Western Kentucky 15 12-14 L 78% 61% +0.6 +1.0
12-Sep Georgia 30 14-31 L 28% 2% +5.5 +3.5
19-Sep Austin Peay N/A 47-7 W 85% 100% +2.1
26-Sep at Ole Miss 5 16-27 L 46% 9% +19.4 +14.0
3-Oct at Middle Tennessee 82 17-13 W 77% 84% +4.8 +5.0
17-Oct at South Carolina 88 10-19 L 22% 7% -9.0 -6.0
24-Oct Missouri 75 10-3 W 84% 98% +3.2 +9.5
31-Oct at Houston 26 0-34 L 12% 0% -20.8 -22.5
7-Nov at Florida 27 7-9 L 32% 7% +19.1 +19.0
14-Nov Kentucky 91 21-17 W 43% 39% -6.6 +1.0
21-Nov Texas A&M 34 0-25 L 5% 0% -21.9 -18.0
28-Nov at Tennessee 18 28-53 L 47% 17% -7.1 -7.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 18.1 117 20.4 20
Points Per Game 15.2 124 21.0 22

2. Up, down, up, down, down, down

Vandy showed quite a bit of promise over the first half or so of the season. The offense wasn't good, but the defense was fantastic, allowing just 4.6 yards per play to WKU, 4.3 to MTSU, and 3.6 to Missouri. Georgia's offense found a rhythm, but Ole Miss' never really did. There was little to no overall consistency thanks to the offense -- up and down every single week -- but the product wasn't too bad.

Unfortunately, close losses to WKU and South Carolina would eventually finish off any hopes of a return to bowl eligibility because after beating Missouri, VU alternated between one-dimensional and just bad. Houston, Texas A&M, and Tennessee beat the 'Dores by a combined 112-28, and a Florida team dying offensively still pulled off a 9-7 win.

  • First 7 games:
    Record: 3-4 | Average percentile performance: 60% (~top 50) | Yards per play: VU 4.9, Opp 4.8 (+0.1)
  • Last 5 games:
    Record: 1-4 | Average percentile performance: 28% (~top 95) | Yards per play: Opp 5.6, VU 3.8 (-1.8)

The offense went from bad to awful, and the defense became increasingly mortal. There was probably a correlation there, as from a personnel standpoint, the defense was mostly the same throughout the year.

The offense, however, replaced Johnny McCrary with Kyle Shurmur at QB and tanked miserably. Mason was effusive in his praise of Shurmur after the loss to Tennessee -- a game in which he went 15-for-34 and produced a 119.0 passer rating -- and McCrary saw the writing on the wall and transferred. The Commodores couldn't control the ball as well, and certainly couldn't run as well, without McCrary, and a stressed defense began suffering lapses.

Vandy was clearly a lesser team with Shurmur in charge down the stretch, but Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig clearly saw something in him. We'll see if their intuition pays off.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 122 IsoPPP+ 83.1 115
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.8% 114 Succ. Rt. + 90.7 107
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.9 109 Def. FP+ 30.9 94
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.0 125 Redzone S&P+ 82.6 123
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.2 ACTUAL 25 +0.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 117 112 107 115
RUSHING 88 108 108 98
PASSING 112 108 89 113
Standard Downs 109 108 109
Passing Downs 113 100 117
Q1 Rk 112 1st Down Rk 101
Q2 Rk 107 2nd Down Rk 96
Q3 Rk 101 3rd Down Rk 116
Q4 Rk 79

3. A run-first offense that couldn't run

Vanderbilt leaned as hard as it could on the run in 2015 but couldn't actually do it very well. McCrary and slot receiver Darrius Sims were the only runners to produce even a modicum of efficiency running the ball, and they weren't running backs.

Ralph Webb proved himself a durable option, but his 23 carries per game didn't really go anywhere. He would basically run for five yards in two carries, then Vandy would attempt a short throw or another Webb run on third-and-5. This was neither imaginative nor successful.

Every running back on the roster is back, which is fine, I guess. Webb garnered decent praise for his yardage totals, but a lot of guys could have gained 1,152 yards if given 277 carries. He is an efficient weapon as a third-down receiver, but Ludwig could probably stand to vary things a bit on first down.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Johnny McCrary 146 267 1533 6 12 54.7% 19 6.6% 4.9
Kyle Shurmur 6'4, 223 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8974 44 103 503 5 3 42.7% 9 8.0% 4.0
Wade Freebeck 6'5, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8324 2 6 26 0 1 33.3% 0 0.0% 4.3
Shawn Stankavage 6'2, 201 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8406
Deuce Wallace 6'2, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640

4. Stuck in a new QB loop

Five different quarterbacks have started at least one game for Vanderbilt in Mason's two seasons. That is staggering. McCrary, Patton Robinette, Wade Freebeck, and Stephen Rivers all had their turn in 2014, and McCrary and Shurmur split time last fall. It appears the job is Shurmur's moving forward, but I guess that is far from certain. But of the five, Shurmur and Freebeck are the only two still in uniform for Vandy.

McCrary was more productive with both his arm and his feet, but Shurmur likely gained an advantage on him by simply not making mistakes: His interception rate was 2.9 percent (still a smidge higher than you'd like) to McCrary's 4.5 percent.

If Shurmur can simply offer promise and hold onto the job, that will offer a level of stability the offense hasn't seen in a while. That would be a nice place to start. He's got a pedigree; he was a four-star prospect, and his dad is the former head coach of the Cleveland Browns and a five-year NFL offensive coordinator. He has a receiving corps loaded with juniors and seniors. The bar is low for VU quarterbacks, and Shurmur did nothing to raise it last November, but he could surprise, I guess.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Ralph Webb RB 5'10, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8256 277 1152 5 4.2 4.8 30.7% 2 2
Dallas Rivers RB 6'1, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8672 60 183 1 3.1 2.4 26.7% 0 0
Johnny McCrary QB 51 316 2 6.2 4.9 52.9% 5 1
Darrius Sims SLOT 5'9, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 43 250 1 5.8 6.2 44.2% 2 1
Josh Crawford RB 5'10, 202 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407 18 54 0 3.0 2.1 22.2% 1 1
Kyle Shurmur QB 6'4, 223 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8974 5 24 0 4.8 4.0 40.0% 2 1
Trent Sherfield WR 6'1, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8649 4 55 0 13.8 18.0 50.0% 0 0
Khari Blasingame FB 6'1, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8173
Jaire George RB 6'1, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826
Jamauri Wakefield RB 6'1, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8326







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Trent Sherfield WR 6'1, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8649 89 51 659 57.3% 25.4% 7.4 71.9% 51.7% 1.35
C.J. Duncan
(2014)
WR 5'11, 203 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8300 55 28 441 50.9% 16.5% 8.0 58.2% N/A N/A
Steven Scheu TE 51 26 231 51.0% 14.6% 4.5 49.0% 33.3% 1.20
Ralph Webb RB 5'10, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8256 42 24 188 57.1% 12.0% 4.5 59.5% 47.6% 0.86
Caleb Scott WR 6'2, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8422 40 24 339 60.0% 11.4% 8.5 62.5% 50.0% 1.48
Latevius Rayford WR 6'1, 201 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8418 38 19 151 50.0% 10.9% 4.0 63.2% 39.5% 0.84
Kris Kentera WR 18 7 92 38.9% 5.1% 5.1 50.0% 33.3% 1.46
Darrius Sims SLOT 5'9, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 17 10 110 58.8% 4.9% 6.5 47.1% 41.2% 1.36
Dallas Rivers RB 6'1, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8672 14 7 47 50.0% 4.0% 3.4 35.7% 28.6% 1.31
Ronald Monroe WR
13 5 17 38.5% 3.7% 1.3 30.8% 0.0% 0.00
DeAndre Woods TE 6'3, 238 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8786 9 7 129 77.8% 2.6% 14.3 66.7% 77.8% 1.75
Nathan Marcus TE 6'5, 244 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8464 7 4 34 57.1% 2.0% 4.9 42.9% 42.9% 0.92
Sam Dobbs TE 6'4, 220 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8538 3 2 30 66.7% 0.9% 10.0 33.3% 33.3% 2.17
Chandler Dorrell SLOT 5'11, 188 Jr. NR NR 3 3 20 100.0% 0.9% 6.7 33.3% 66.7% 1.09
Sean Dowling TE 6'5, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625
Trey Ellis WR 5'9, 170 Jr. NR NR
Jared Pinkney TE 6'4, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8287
Jackson Winrow WR 6'1, 182 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8466
Kalija Lipscomb WR 6'1, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8432
Donaven Tennyson WR 5'10, 164 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8403

5. Potential in the receiving corps

There will still be an emphasis on the running game, and that might or might not be a mistake -- the running backs are certainly experienced, and with Andrew Jelks returning from injury, the line features six players with starting experience. [Update: Jelks suffered a season-ending injury in camp for the second straight season.] But experience alone doesn't make you successful; talent and scheme take you there, and we don't know that VU has much of either.

The Commodores do have an intriguing receiving corps, though. Trent Sherfield came out of nowhere to lead Vanderbilt in receiving last year, and while that was due mostly to a ridiculous performance against Austin Peay -- 16 catches, 240 yards (which means he had just 35 catches for 419 yards in the other 11 games) -- he still provided decent efficiency. Meanwhile, C.J. Duncan, who missed 2015 with injury, averaged a robust 15.8 yards per catch in 2014. Webb is a lovely third-down weapon, and Caleb Scott averaged 8.5 yards per target in limited opportunities.

If Shurmur breaks through and begins to live up to his recruiting ranking and bloodlines this fall, he'll have the receivers to do some damage. But that's a pretty significant if, and we don't know how many passing opportunities Shurmur will get before second-and-8 or third-and-6. The run-first approach eats clock for the defense, but actually moving the ball would help the defense, too.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 94.5 2.64 2.94 34.1% 60.4% 22.5% 83.1 3.3% 10.4%
Rank 99 106 97 111 105 105 93 30 109
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Spencer Pulley C 12 41
Jake Bernstein LG 12 34
Will Holden RT 6'7, 312 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8465 12 23
Andrew Jelks LT 6'6, 305 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8849 0 21
Barrett Gouger RG 6'4, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8586 11 11
Blake Fromang RT
6 6
Bailey Granier LT 6'6, 320 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8445 4 4
Justin Skule RT 6'6, 305 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457 2 2
Bruno Reagan LG 6'3, 310 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8275 1 1
Delando Crooks LG 6'5, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8661 0 0
Cole Hardin C 6'4, 305 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8585 0 0
Egidio DellaRipa LG 6'4, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 0 0
Ean Pfeifer C 6'4, 290 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8392

Jared Southers RG 6'4, 308 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8290

Sean Auwae-McMoore OL 6'4, 308 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8675

Devin Cochran OL 6'7, 305 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8590


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 62 IsoPPP+ 115.1 26
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.1% 22 Succ. Rt. + 109.6 36
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.8 94 Off. FP+ 29.8 68
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.3 6 Redzone S&P+ 123.7 11
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.2 ACTUAL 17.0 -6.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 28 26 36 26
RUSHING 33 43 49 46
PASSING 41 19 20 22
Standard Downs 22 30 22
Passing Downs 35 49 34
Q1 Rk 27 1st Down Rk 43
Q2 Rk 20 2nd Down Rk 64
Q3 Rk 61 3rd Down Rk 13
Q4 Rk 38

6. A bend-don't-break with attitude

Vanderbilt lost a key interior piece in linebacker Nigel Bowden early in the season, and it didn't even matter. The Commodores, loaded mostly with sophomores and juniors, improved from 76th to 20th in Def. S&P+ in 2015. They combined bend-don't-break peripherals and tremendous redzone defense with sticky, aggressive coverage on the perimeter. The result was an impressive mish-mash of big-play prevention and high havoc rates,, at least until the offense went from bad to hopeless.

The thing about sophomores and juniors is that most of them return the next year. Vandy returns five of its top six linemen, seven of nine linebackers, and six of eight defensive backs. Aside from Bowden, they were relatively lucky in terms of injuries (almost no regular missed more than a game or two), but they played a pretty big rotation regardless.

The key pieces are probably linebacker Zach Cunningham, safety/nickel Oren Burks, and corner Torren McGaster. Cunningham is both your requisite ILB tackling machine and a play-maker. He led the team in both tackles and sacks, which is rare (even if leading a team with 4.5 sacks says something iffy about your pass rush). Burks, meanwhile, offers extreme flexibility in where and how Vanderbilt chooses to attack, and McGaster is one of the SEC's best cornerbacks. The line could stand to make a few more plays, but with this trio on the field, VU has almost no choice but to play pretty well defensively.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 112.5 2.45 2.72 37.2% 35.0% 25.7% 100.8 5.4% 7.3%
Rank 23 12 22 53 1 7 63 54 66
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Caleb Azubike DE 9 21.0 3.3% 6.0 3.0 0 0 2 0
Jay Woods DT 6'3, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8996 12 18.0 2.8% 2.0 1.0 0 1 2 0
Adam Butler DT 6'5, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8685 12 15.0 2.3% 7.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Wynn DE 6'4, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 12 14.5 2.3% 3.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Torey Agee DT 6'4, 285 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8339 12 14.5 2.3% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Nifae Lealao NT 6'5, 312 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9501 12 13.5 2.1% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dare Odeyingbo DE 6'2, 262 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544
Riley Tindol DE 6'5, 267 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844
Darion DeBrossard NT 6'4, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8376
Josiah Sa'o DL 6'2, 288 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8299
Drew Birchmeier DL 6'4, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8249
Cameron Tidd DL 6'3, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8137








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zach Cunningham ILB 6'4, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9015 12 86.0 13.4% 16.5 4.5 0 3 4 0
Nigel Bowden
(2014)
ILB 6'1, 240 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8755 11 57.5 8.3% 2.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Darreon Herring ILB 12 49.0 7.7% 3.5 1.5 0 3 0 0
Stephen Weatherly OLB
12 37.5 5.9% 9.5 3.5 0 3 2 0
Landon Stokes OLB 6'4, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8524 12 18.0 2.8% 3.0 1.0 0 3 1 0
Nehemiah Mitchell OLB 6'4, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8565 12 16.5 2.6% 1.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Khari Blasingame ILB 6'1, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8173 11 10.5 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ja'karri Thomas ILB 6'1, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8302 10 10.5 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Griffin ILB 6'0, 224 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8538 11 7.5 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Smith OLB 6'4, 236 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9343 12 4.0 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Charles Wright OLB 6'3, 237 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 11 2.0 0.3% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jay Hockaday ILB 6'4, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093
Caleb Peart OLB 6'1, 234 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8625








7. Depth and one star

What Vandy's line lacked in play-making, it made up for in blocker occupation. Only one lineman finished with more than six tackles for loss, but Vanderbilt had the best short-yardage defense in the country and ranked in the top 10 in stuff rate. Cunningham and since-departed Stephen Weatherly combined for 18 non-sack tackles for loss, and tackle Adam Butler added another four.

This line does its job, in other words. It keeps blockers off of Cunningham, and Cunningham's unique ability to invade the line of scrimmage from an inside position means the OLBs don't have to take too many risks. This all works because of Cunningham, and not only is he himself experienced, the front seven around him is both deep and experienced. There's really no reason to assume last year's stellar numbers change much. The pass rush wasn't amazing and probably won't be again, but that only matters if the secondary starts suffering injuries.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Oren Burks FS 6'3, 222 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8600 12 47.0 7.3% 2 0 3 6 1 0
Torren McGaster CB 6'0, 198 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463 12 46.0 7.2% 4.5 0 0 13 0 0
Tre Herndon CB 6'1, 188 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8386 12 41.0 6.4% 1 1 0 4 0 0
Andrew Williamson SS 10 34.5 5.4% 1 1 0 4 1 0
Arnold Tarpley NB 6'1, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8306 12 30.0 4.7% 5 2 0 3 0 0
Ryan White SS 5'9, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8918 12 22.0 3.4% 3 0 1 1 1 0
Jahmel McIntosh FS 12 13.0 2.0% 0.5 0 2 1 0 0
Taurean Ferguson CB 5'9, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8497 11 12.0 1.9% 0.5 0 0 4 0 0
Tre Bell CB
11 10.5 1.6% 1 0 0 0 0 0
LaDarius Wiley CB 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8320 12 6.5 1.0% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Emmanuel Smith NB 6'2, 219 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8922 11 5.5 0.9% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Donovan Sheffield NB 5'11, 190 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8982 6 4.5 0.7% 2 0 0 2 0 0
Jalen Banks SS 5'11, 204 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625 6 3.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bryce Lewis CB 6'0, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535
Joejuan Williams CB 6'3, 203 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9163
Zaire Jones DB 5'11, 193 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8671
Austin Quillen DB 5'11, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8281
Frank Coppet DB 5'11, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8334

8. Active in the back

Returning Vandy defensive backs combined for 19 tackles for loss, four interceptions, and 34 breakups last year, and while a lot of that came from McGaster, Burks, and nickel back Arnold Tarpley, the love was spready around among nine different players.

This is one of the best secondaries in the SEC. The front seven can play things conservatively in pass-rush situations because the secondary doesn't need too much help.

Vandy lost its edge late in the season against Texas A&M and Tennessee, but in the first six games of SEC play, the Commodores allowed just a 50.5 percent completion rate and a 99.6 passer rating, and that includes a game against the dynamic Ole Miss passing attack.

With four of the top five corners and six of the top eight safeties back, it's hard to think any of this will change. The offense could be just as staid and frustrating as it was last year, and the defense could be just as good or, conceivably, quite a bit better.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tommy Openshaw 6'2, 195 Jr. 79 40.9 3 30 24 68.4%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Hayden Lekacz 6'0, 193 Jr. 45 58.0 10 2 22.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Tommy Openshaw 6'2, 195 Jr. 14-14 5-8 62.5% 7-11 63.6%
Hayden Lekacz 6'0, 193 Jr. 4-4 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Darrius Sims KR 5'9, 191 Sr. 25 19.9 0
Dallas Rivers KR 6'1, 225 Jr. 11 20.7 0
Ryan White PR 5'9, 190 Jr. 20 7.5 0
Torren McGaster PR 6'0, 198 Sr. 4 7.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 110
Field Goal Efficiency 95
Punt Return Success Rate 101
Kick Return Success Rate 104
Punt Success Rate 53
Kickoff Success Rate 107

9. Openshaw is a weapon (for better and worse)

Vandy's special teams unit wasn't much help in 2015: Tommy Openshaw was scattershot on shorter field goals, only 22 percent of Hayden Lekacz's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, and neither punt nor kick returns had much to offer in the way of consistency. That all of these guys return isn't automatically a good thing.

But Openshaw was at least pretty good at booting high punts. Granted, if an opposing return man got a return opportunity, bad things were probably about to happen (Vandy allowed 15.1 yards per return, fifth-worst in FBS), but that was rare. And if you're going to be efficient in one single category with this offense, punting's a pretty good choice.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
1-Sep South Carolina 63 2.5 56%
10-Sep Middle Tennessee 90 9.5 71%
17-Sep at Georgia Tech 54 -6.1 36%
24-Sep at Western Kentucky 45 -7.3 34%
1-Oct Florida 19 -9.2 30%
8-Oct at Kentucky 83 0.7 52%
15-Oct at Georgia 15 -17.9 15%
22-Oct Tennessee State NR 35.1 98%
5-Nov at Auburn 24 -14.2 21%
12-Nov at Missouri 47 -6.8 35%
19-Nov Ole Miss 7 -13.6 22%
26-Nov Tennessee 9 -11.7 25%
Projected wins: 4.9
Five-Year F/+ Rk -3.6% (69)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 51 / 40
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -8 / -1.0
2015 TO Luck/Game -2.9
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 71% (59%, 83%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 4.2 (-0.2)

10. This probably isn't going to go much differently

Vanderbilt is likely going to boast a conservative, frustrating offense and a dynamic, dominant defense. Again. The dynamics don't seem to have changed much here, and the only hope for a big breakthrough is if Shurmur explodes in his sophomore year. I don't see it happening.

The Commodores are projected 69th in S&P+, better than only Kentucky in the SEC. With that projection, they are looking at two likely wins, four likely losses, two tossups (South Carolina, at Kentucky), and four longshots.

If Vandy follows the S&P+ projection, in other words, any sense of opportunity that 2016 presents will have fallen by the wayside, and we'll be left wondering where the Mason administration is headed. He kept the vultures away with 2015 improvement, and maybe he'll generate more this fall. But it's still pretty hard to see this working out well for Mason.