Jamauri Wakefield MTSU
Joe Howell

Vanderbilt finds run game in season opener

Committee approach pays off in backfield for Commodores

9/5/2018 7:30:00 AM

By: Zac Ellis

NASHVILLE – It took five plays into Vanderbilt's matchup with Middle Tennessee for Khari Blasingame to lay the hammer down.
 
On Saturday night, the Commodores faced a fourth-and-3 from the MTSU 30-yard line in the first quarter when Blasingame took a handoff, blasted through the offensive line and scampered 30 yards to the end zone. The score gave Vanderbilt a 7-0 lead and set an early tone on offense for the Dores.
 
"That was pretty important," Blasingame said. "We just wanted to start fast. Coach talked to us about being energized. It felt good to do that and top the first drive off like that."
 
Blasingame's run was indicative of a theme that resonated throughout Vanderbilt's 35-7 win over Middle Tennessee: the Commodores, who entered 2018 looking to replace all-time rushing leader Ralph Webb, look like they can run the football.
 
The three-headed monster of Blasingame, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Jamauri Wakefield combined to rush for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, or 5.2 yards per carry, against the Blue Raiders. Last season, Vanderbilt managed just 71 yards on 35 carries in a 28-6 win over MTSU. Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said he was pleased with how his team ran in this season's opener.
 
"We got a chance to see all those running backs tonight and what they can do," Mason said on Saturday night. "We're versatile at the running position. Tonight, I thought those guys ran hard."
 
Vanderbilt amassed 346 yards of offense (6.3 yards per play) vs. MTSU thanks to a strong run game and a mistake-free night from quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who completed 10-of-17 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. The Dores' committee approach to running back deviated from previous years, in which Webb routinely starred as the bell-cow back. But the results were positive on Saturday; all three running backs recorded either nine or 10 carries. Wakefield led the team with 57 yards on 10 rushes and scored the final touchdown of the game with 1:28 to play.
 
The Commodores' shared the rock by design, Mason said.
 
"The goal is always to make sure you can keep fresh backs in there," Mason said. "I thought for the most part that's what we tried to do. We tried to utilize their strengths. Granted, the number worked out. One got nine [carries], another one got nine, another got eight or 10. These guys know they've got to make their touches count."
 
Whether it's one back or three, Vanderbilt hopes its performance against MTSU is a sign of things to come. In 2017, the Commodores struggled to run the ball in Webb's final season. An improved ground game could make for a more dangerous offense against SEC opponents this season.
 
But Vanderbilt's running backs don't appear concerned with the spotlight. After the win over Middle Tennessee, Blasingame was asked about Wakefield leading the team in rushing.
 
"He earned every yard he got. That's all his," Blasingame said. "That's just how we operate in our room. Everybody's going to get what they get."

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.
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