The Vanderbilt Commodores started this season on fire. They dominated Middle Tennessee State, beat up on Alabama A&M and outlasted then-ranked Kansas State on their way to starting the season 3-0. The Commodores were feeling confident as they headed into their next showdown at that point, which was the Alabama Crimson Tide. Ever since that game though, it's been tough sledding for Vanderbilt. They lost big to Alabama, the second half got away from them against Florida and against Georgia this past Saturday, the Commodores were overpowered. Three weeks after being 3-0 the Commodores now sit at 3-3. The feeling around the team has gone from excitement to wonder in that short length of time, with some fans even wondering what is going on with the coaching. The Commodores have an issue but the main thing is people are trying to figure out what it is and how to solve it. While people want to point to the skill players not catching the football or the lacks of playmakers defensively, the game eventually comes down to one place and one place alone: the trenches.
Last season the Commodores were physical in the trenches offensively. They were clearing out space to make room for running back Ralph Webb to run. So coming into this season, the thinking was Vanderbilt would lean on Webb and their offensive line to carry them while the passing game got stronger. We are six games into the season and there is still no signs of the running game ever getting any traction. Just to give you an example of the team's lack of success, lets check into Ralph Webb's numbers. The senior tailback had over 1200 yards rushing last season along with 13 touchdowns last season. At this point in the season, Webb is nowhere near even reaching those numbers. In fact, he is averaging his worst yards per carry in his entire career at Vandy this sseason (2.8 yards per carry). Running backs can hit the wrong hole and it is entirely possible Webb could do that sometimes, but he has nowhere to run a lot of the time. All Webb has done for the most part is duck his head and try to get as many yards as he can. The offensive line does not have that nastiness they had last season nor do they have the ability to get to the next level and block linebackers consistently. Unfortunately for Vandy, the trademark of their offense may not get better this season and the Commodores may struggle even more running the football. The only way to fix it is the Commodores have to change their mentality and be more physical against their opponents.
The offensive line has struggled and that is well-known with how they have done the last three games, but there is also a defensive line that has had some issues. The Commodores defense was like going up against a brick wall in the first three games. They were playing with the physical aggression and swagger of Vandy defenses of old. All those comparisons came crashing down after Week 4 versus Alabama. The Commodores got ripped that game for 59 points and gave up 496 yards rushing. It was thought that the game against Alabama could have been a blip on the radar, but it apparently was not with the way Vandy has played the run against Florida and Georgia. The Gators had over 218 yards rushing and the Georgia Bulldogs had two guys rushing for over 130 yards on them. While it can be said that the linebackers could fill holes better, the defensive line is getting pushed around these days and that is not a good sign. Things don't get any easier for the Commodores and they need to find a way to solve this issue and fast. The defensive line has to be better if Vanderbilt is to turn it around and get back on the winning side of things.
The Vanderbilt Commodores have some issues but like all things, the big guys up front set the tempo. As of the last three weeks, they have been getting handled up front over and over again. At this point in the season, it is time for them to look in the mirror and coaches have to challenge them. Are they going to stand there and take this from other teams or are they going to step up and meet the challenge teams are bringing to them? Only time will tell but next game against the Ole Miss Rebels should tell us whether their mindset has changed.