Mason making it clear freshman QB must boost Vandy offense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Vanderbilt Commodores' offense has nearly withered away over the past month, and coach Derek Mason is making it clear freshman quarterback Kyle Shurmur must give them a big boost.

''Playing well, doing whatever it takes to keep this offense on the field,'' Mason said Tuesday. ''Can we manufacture points? That's what we have to do. We have to play well. The quarterback, the offensive line, running backs, everybody's got to play well.''

A team has to score points to win, and that's become a major issue for the Commodores (4-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) over the past month. Vanderbilt has been shut out in two of the past four games, including a 25-0 loss to Texas A&M last week. The Commodores also have scored 10 or fewer points in four of the past five games.

Vanderbilt ranks dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision scoring an average 14 points per game. They're 119th in total offense, 112th in passing offense.

The Commodores have something to play for Saturday against in-state rival Tennessee (7-4, 4-3) if they can just generate some offense. A win would be their third in four seasons over the Vols for serious bragging rights, but that also would get Vanderbilt to 5-7 and possible consideration for one of the last remaining bowl berths.

''That's the furthest thing from my mind,'' the Vandy coach said. ''We've got one more guaranteed game, and that's what we've got to do. We've got to play well. ... There's a lot on this. I believe this football team has made great strides this year.''

Shurmur has started all four games he's played in his first fall on campus. His best area has been protecting the ball with only two interceptions. But the freshman is completing only 42 percent of his passes throwing for an average of 73.5 yards per game.

Vandy is coming off its worst performance this season. The Commodores had a season-low 148 yards total offense against Texas A&M, and they threw for only 23 yards - the third time in four games they've failed to pass for even 45 yards. Mason just wants some kind of balance from his offense.

''The guys around him have to play well,'' Mason said. ''With that once you step under center, it is what it is. He's not a freshman playing his first game anymore. He's been in the SEC. It doesn't mean that it gets any easier, but you have to do what you have to to persevere through the tough times and make sure you stand tall.''

Ralph Webb has been Vanderbilt's best offensive weapon, and he just became the sixth running back in school history to run for 1,000 yards. That puts him fifth in the SEC, but Webb has had to work hard for those yards on a league-high 256 carries.

''It all starts with Ralph Webb,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said of Vandy's offense. ''I think he's one of the best running backs in our conference. Very explosive. Can hit the home run.''

Webb said the Commodores aren't happy at being shut out. He also thinks Shurmur is ready going into the 12th game this season.

''We expect him to do big things,'' Webb said. ''He has games under his belt, he knows what to expect out there.''

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