NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt’s ground game has shown flashes through six games this season. Now it needs to create some consistency.
Just once this season have the Commodores eclipsed the 200-yard mark on the ground and only thrice have they pushed past the 100-yard mark as a team. Some of that has to do with a thin and inexperienced backfield and a little more of that has to do with starter Re’Mahn Davis being lost for the season due to injury.
Still, Vanderbilt may have to show more out of its run game over the second half of the season if it has any hopes of becoming a more balanced offense.
“We talk about the efficiency of it. Throughout the year there’s been some good runs, some 10, 12-yard runs. But there’s not been enough 4-yard runs,” Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Joey Lynch said Tuesday. “We probably ran the best versus Stanford, but overall when you talk about efficiency running the football we always want four yards or more. That’s an efficient play and that’s something we’re talking about to be able to run the ball efficiently.
“It goes back to first and second down efficiency that keep you on track for third-and-manageable and third-and-short than third-and-longs.”
Vanderbilt did get a bit of a spark Saturday at No. 20 Florida where true freshman Patrick Smith broke out for a career-high 77 yards on 17 attempts. The diminutive speedster showcased his quickness and elusiveness numerous times and also caught three balls out of the backfield to gain 14 yards.
After starter Rocko Griffin briefly left the affair with a minor injury, Smith took over as the Commodores’ featured back. Some highlights of Smith’s day included the 5-foot-10, 180-pound back escaping on fourth down for a first down after being caught behind the line of scrimmage as well as picking up a fumbled snap and scampering for a 9-yard gain.
Smith averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Gators.
“After that game I got a boost of confidence, getting that feeling that I can play with any school in the SEC – Florida being one of the best schools in the SEC and in the country,” Smith said Tuesday. “So just having that confidence coming out of Gainesville and leading up to this week going up against another SEC opponent, that definitely helps a lot.”
At Holy Spirit High School in New Jersey last year, Smith rushed for more than 1,700 yards and averaged 7.8 yards per carry. In one game against Cedar Creek he totaled 362 yards on the ground.
Smith could see an increased workload this week at South Carolina (3 p.m. CT Saturday). While Vandy head coach Clark Lea said Griffin should be able to play against the Gamecocks, Smith proved against Florida he’s ready to answer the call if needed once again.
“Throughout practice (this week) we’re doing a lot of adjustments just in case Rocko can’t play. We’re practicing both ends of the circumstances,” Smith said. “If he can’t play as much obviously I’ll have to step up just like I did at Florida, if not we’ll be sharing the carries just as well. We’re excited for that and prepared for that as well.”
Vanderbilt, through six games, has 207 rush attempts and 229 pass attempts. But that split doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story.
Lynch explained how not every play called in from the sidelined develops into its original intention and that some pass plays – like wide receiver screens and swings into the flat – act as extensions of the run game. But he also recognized that the Commodores have had just three runs for more than 20 yards and just two of more than 30 this season.
“There’s no question we want to keep developing the run game,” he said. “If you can run the football than everything can come off that – the play-action pass, the explosive plays – which is something we were lacking last week. We ran 81 plays and had three explosive plays. To score points you got to get explosive plays and that’s something we’re still trying to find.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.