Vanderbilt superlatives: MVPs, top rookie, best assistant
The 1-2 start and narrow escape in overtime at Western Kentucky led to an impressive turnaround season for Vanderbilt as it won four of its last six games, including a stunning defeat of Tennessee to clinch a bowl berth in Shreveport.
Ralph Webb ran for nearly 100 yards per game and became Vanderbilt’s career rushing leader, breaking Zac Stacy’s record with a 17-yard run against Tennessee. He also holds the school record for most rushing attempts. But what continues to be most impressive about Webb is his consecutive start streak, now 36 games.
Webb finished the regular season with 1,172 rushing yards, the second highest single-season total in team history.
His performances throughout the season often keyed Vanderbilt victories, including against Western Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tennessee. He topped 100 yards in those games and against Florida and Kentucky, performances highlighted by 123 yards and three touchdowns against Ole Miss and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime, at Western Kentucky.
Zach Cunningham, the linebacker NFL scouts love to watch, will be remembered for his performances in the win at Georgia and the loss against Auburn, in which he stopped a fourth-down play and blocked a field goal attempt. His 119 tackles led the SEC in the regular season. He’s the first Vanderbilt player to record 100 tackles in consecutive seasons since 2000.
While the NFL looks forward to his arrival, SEC offensive coordinators are glad to see his departure. Cunningham averaging 11.1 tackles in SEC games, including 19 tackles at Georgia.
In late November, Cunningham was named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker.
Rookie of the Year
While he didn’t play in the final two games, freshman receiver Kalija Lipscomb made an early splash in the Vanderbilt passing game. In his first three games, Lipscomb had eight catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He was also consistent, with at least one catch in each of the first 10 games, and was one of the few bright spots in the Georgia Tech loss.
Lipscomb was third on the team with 25 catches, and one of six true freshmen to see action during the regular season.
Assistant of the Year
Reportedly a candidate to be the head coach at Nevada, Andy Ludwig called an offense that rang up 38 and 45 points against Ole Miss and Tennessee, showing the growth of sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur. Vanderbilt was previously held to 17 points or less in 12 of 14 SEC games.
Not unlike Cunningham, Shurmur had a memorable game in the Auburn loss, going 24-for-36 for 221 yards with a touchdown and an interception. That game on Nov. 5 was another example of improvement in the passing game for Shurmur, who previously reached 200 yards twice in his first 13 games. But his best game came against the Volunteers when he was 21-for-34 for 416 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.