AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn squares off with Vanderbilt on Saturday, Kamryn Pettway won’t be the only offensive league leader in action.
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb leads the SEC with 1,027 all-purpose yards this season. He is the centerpiece to a Vanderbilt offense that weighs a lot more toward the run than the pass.
“I mean, he’s relentless in what he does. Just relentless,” Steele said Wednesday night. “And you know he’s done it for a long time, it’s not like he just all of a sudden started doing it. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s got good vision. I mean, he is a complete player, there’s no doubt.”
While defensive-minded Vanderbilt is one of the lowest-scoring teams in college football this season, Auburn respects what the Commodores can do with the ball in their hands.
Vanderbilt prides itself on playing ball-control football that makes few mistakes and sets things up for its highly rated defense in SEC play.
The Commodores have only lost more than one turnover in one game this season — a 13-6 loss to Florida. They rank third in fewest penalty yards in the SEC behind Auburn and Kentucky.
“(Vanderbilt is) a very good, disciplined team,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “They lead the league in turnover margin, they protect the football and they are one of the best in penalties. They don’t beat themselves, and they really make you earn it.”
Under head coach Derek Mason, Vanderbilt focuses on working the ball on the ground with Webb, who averages 20 carries per game this season. Despite their low amount of scoring, the Commodores rank in the top 50 nationally in average time of possession.
“They’ve got good players in key positions, and they do what they do,” Steele said. “That’s run the ball as effectively and, in turn, schematically as you can do it. They get a lot of hats in the extra gap. We’re really going to have to fit the run really well and give great effort and tackle well.”
The Tigers’ defense, fresh off a fast-paced challenge against Ole Miss, is looking forward to the power-minded Vanderbilt offense that will head to the Plains this weekend.
“We’re going to have to come out and stop the run, of course,” Auburn senior cornerback Josh Holsey said. “It’s going to be one of those hard-nosed games. That’s the kind of football we like though, you know? Downhill in the trenches.”
Vanderbilt hasn’t been nearly as effective going to the air this season. Starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur has thrown for more than 150 yards in just one game in 2016 — a 31-30 win against Western Kentucky.
Shurmur doesn’t make many mistakes with the ball in his hands, though. He is the son of current interim Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and Steele sees that lineage in him.
“I know his dad,” Steele said. “He’s a smart guy and they’ve got, conceptually they’re very good at what they do. They give you a lot of problems, give you a lot of looks.”
Even though Arkansas and Ole Miss presented a lot more offensive problems for Auburn’s defense in the last two weeks, the Tigers aren’t overlooking the challenges posed by the Commodores.
“They’re a really good offense,” Holsey said. “They want to kind of beat you up a little bit on the inside, try to wear you down a little bit. Really good coaching staff though. They’re got really good players on that side of the ball. It’s going to be another task.”