It took 14 months, but Derek Mason can finally say that he's beaten an SEC opponent.
Mason's Commodores shut down an inept Missouri offense en route to a 10-3 win over Missouri on Saturday. It was the team's first conference win since defeating Tennessee in the final regular season game of the 2013 season. Vanderbilt went 0-8 against league foes in their head coach's first year at the helm.
Ralph Webb helped buoy a Commodore offense that struggled behind first-time starter and true freshman Kyle Shurmur. Webb was his quarterbacks' best friend early in this game, moving the chains en route to 99 rushing yards and the game's only touchdown. Shurmur had his moments, but he eventually ceded time to an on-point Johnny McCrary in the fourth quarter. Shurmur completed 10 of his 20 passes for 89 yards, while McCrary finished 6-7 for 47 yards in the win.
This game started out with a throwback to the Commodore alumni who had made it back to Nashville for Homecoming when the referees honored a timeless tradition: screwing Vanderbilt football. Missouri returner John Gibson fumbled the opening kickoff at his own 11-yard line, but the SEC refereeing crew ruled him down due to a lack of forward progress despite this compelling visual evidence:
The original call was upheld after review, and Vanderbilt's first scoring opportunity of the game was erased before it could even begin.
Fortunately for the Commodores, the first quarter of this game was every bit the offensive quagmire the statistics predicted it would be. The two teams exchanged seven straight punts - with only two first downs between them - as Shurmur struggled to match the pace set by the Missouri defense. He was replaced briefly by Johnny McCrary for a Vanderbilt three-and-out (net yards: -9), but returned to the game to lead the 'Dores to a 72-yard touchdown drive that broke that early 0-0 tie.
Shurmur only completed two of his four passes on that drive as Ralph Webb and Darrius Sims moved the ball with long, slashing runs that kept Mizzou off balance. Webb appeared to breach the goal line on an eight-yard run to the left pylon, but he was ruled just short of the end zone. He left no doubt on the next play, flipping into the paint to give his team the lead.
Vanderbilt forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession to keep their momentum rolling, but a promising drive was cut down in Missouri territory when Shurmur's fourth-and-1 play-action pass ended with a Kentrell Brothers sack. The Tigers would punt again, but another sack - this time from Charles Harris - derailed the 'Dores offense. Shurmur fumbled after absorbing the hit from his blindside, giving the ball to Mizzou at the VU 21-yard line. Missouri failed to capitalize with even a first down, but still got on the board thanks to Andrew Baggett's 35-yard field goal.
The Commodores had one final scoring opportunity in the half when Ralph Webb rumbled for 46 yards to the Missouri 26-yard line with one second left, but Tommy Openshaw's 44-yard field goal fell far short of the goalposts.
The two teams traded punts in an uneventful third quarter before Mizzou punter Corey Fatony took a 4th-and-seven snap 26 yards down the middle of the field to give the Tigers their biggest play of the game. Missouri drove all the way to the VU 24-yard line, but a swarming defense and some costly penalties forced a 47-yard field goal attempt that smacked the left upright before falling into the end zone. The Commodores capitalized on this mistake behind the newly re-inserted McCrary. McCrary went 5-5 for 30 yards and added a huge 14-yard bootleg on third-and-one to march his team into field goal position. Openshaw kicked a 40-yard field goal to extend the Vandy lead to 10-3 with 9:12 left in the game.
Missouri couldn't get anything going on their ensuing drive, but neither could Vanderbilt. Openshaw punted away to Cam Hilton, but the Tiger couldn't handle his fair catch and fumbled the punt away to LaDarius Wiley. The 'Dores burned some clock before lining up a 32-yard field goal with 2:02 left, but Openshaw missed his second field goal of the day to give Mizzou one final shot.
The Tigers were prepared to take advantage of it. A 16-yard completion presaged a 33-yard Drew Lock scramble that moved the ball into Commodore territory. The 'Dores responded. A big Darreon Herring stop set the pace for a third-and-14 sack that handed Missouri an unenviable fourth-and-24, but a Donovan Sheffield pass interference call extended this game. Missouri got all the way to the VU 13-yard line, but a final stand from the Vandy defense forced a turnover on downs that secured Mason's first conference win.
Vanderbilt improved to 3-4 overall and 1-3 against SEC opponents with the victory. Missouri fell to 4-4 and 1-4 in league play. The Commodores will return to action on Halloween when they travel to Texas to face undefeated Houston in a non-conference showdown.