Vandy's ground game struggling as Georgia looms

Vandy's ground game struggling as Georgia looms

Bulldogs not taking Vanderbilt's ground game lightly

October 5th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb rushed for 1,283 yards last season and was carried off the field after the November victory over Tennessee, but his senior year has consisted of just 198 yards and 2.6 yards per carry.

Photo by John Russell

Considering Vanderbilt senior running back Ralph Webb averaged 1,116 rushing yards per season through his first three years with the Commodores, another 1,000-yard performance seemed like a mere formality.

It's not happening.

Five games into his senior year, the 5-foot-10, 202-pounder has amassed just 198 yards on 75 carries, with his 2.6 yards per carry ranking last among the top 40 rushers in the Southeastern Conference. Webb could be in for another tough outing Saturday afternoon, when his Commodores (3-2, 0-2) face No. 5 Georgia (5-0, 2-0) at Vanderbilt Stadium.

As a team, Vanderbilt has averaged just 79.2 rushing yards a game to rank 13th in the SEC.

"Part of it is the inexperience of the front and the lack of continuity," fourth-year Commodores coach Derek Mason said. "They all have to anchor down and take some ownership of it. Running backs and linemen go hand in hand, and it's about accountability all the way around. I think our backs are running decent, but not necessarily hard all the time.

"We need more all across the board, and it starts with those two groups if we want the run game to be what it needs to be."

Webb was held to 29 yards on 11 carries in last Saturday's 38-24 loss at Florida. Last season, he rushed for 1,283 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry as part of a Vanderbilt offense that caught fire with November victories over Ole Miss, 38-17, and Tennessee, 45-34.

This year's team upset No. 18 Kansas State last month, but it hasn't been the swan song for Webb that many envisioned.

"There's nothing that I can say as far as seeing him struggling," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "I know this — he runs with a lot of power for a smaller back. I saw him run over a safety from Florida, and he did the same to Ronnie Harrison from Alabama. He plays with more power than people give him credit for. He is extremely elusive. He is dangerous out of the backfield, and they do a good job of getting him the ball in the passing game.

"He's one of the most electric players in our conference, and that's evidenced by his statistics. He's the leading rusher in their history."

Vanderbilt backup running back Khari Blasingame hasn't fared much better, rushing 30 times for 107 yards and a 3.6-yard average. Mason already has challenged his offensive line on multiple occasions and last week changed his starting guards, with Saige Young replacing Ean Pfeifer on the left side and Egidio DellaRipa supplanting Jared Southers on the right side.

Although quarterback Kyle Shurmur has impressed to this point, especially his 11 touchdowns to just one interception, the lack of a running game has resulted in Vanderbilt's per-game averages for total yards (285.2), first downs (12.8) and points (21.6) ranking last in the league.

"Ralph Webb is still Ralph Webb," Mason said. "We've 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 who don't move very easily."

Webb hasn't come close to a 100-yard game this season, with his 54 in the 42-0 rout of Alabama A&M on Sept. 9 marking his season high. Georgia hasn't come close to allowing one, with Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb's 66 in the opener representing the most the Bulldogs have yielded to a single player.

Georgia held Tennessee's John Kelly, the league's leading rusher, to 44 yards last Saturday, so might Bulldogs defenders be eager for more feasting this weekend?

"Each week we come in with the same game plan and the same approach," senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. "We're going to play our brand of football for 60 minutes, and whatever happens, happens."

Said safety J.R. Reed: "We've got to get to the ball and get after him like we did in this last game."

Odds and ends

Jake Fromm continued to take first-team snaps in the portion of Wednesday's practice that was open to the media, with Jacob Eason still wearing a knee brace. ... Backup inside linebacker Reggie Carter has not practiced this week after suffering an injury early in last Saturday's win at Tennessee.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.