The Vanderbilt defense was ready to face a top five offense on Saturday night. Their offense couldn't say the same.
#18 Houston scored 21 points off turnovers and took advantage of multiple short-field situations to overcome a stingy Commodore defense on Saturday night. Vanderbilt gained only 80 yards in the first half while allowing 38 yards in interception returns as they fell behind 20-0 at the break and eventually lost 34-0.
Ralph Webb gained 99 yards on 26 carries, but the Commodores' quarterbacks failed to capitalize on the momentum they took out of last week's win over Missouri. Kyle Shurmur started the game, but finished it with only three completions and an interception in 11 attempts before leaving the game with a possible head injury. Johnny McCrary wasn't much better. He completed only two passes to his own teammates (and threw two more to Houston defenders) and gained just 24 yards through the air.
McCrary's first possession did not instill any confidence in the quarterback who started the first six games of the season. His first pass of the night was tipped, intercepted, and returned to the Commodore five-yard line. Three plays later, Greg Ward Jr. took a designed run up the middle to put his Cougars ahead 7-0 in the first quarter.
Ward struck again after a Commodore punt when he hit Chance Allen with a 52-yard bomb on third-and-eight to start the second quarter. Vanderbilt held tough in their own red zone to limit the Cougars to a 22-yard field goal that pushed the score to 10-0.
The 'Dores turned back to Kyle Shurmur, but the outcome wasn't much better than what they had with McCrary. The freshman completed a short check-down pass before forcing the ball into double coverage on third-and-five. That ball was batted into the air and intercepted by Steven Taylor. The Cougar defender ran the pick 25 yards back to the Vandy 12-yard line. That set up another Houston touchdown when Ward found Demarcus Ayers on third-and-nine for an 11-yard score that made it 17-0 Cougars early in the contest.
A tired Vanderbilt defense allowed UH to drive 42 yards in 5:27 as the clock wound down on the second quarter, but they found their legs in time to hold the Cougars to a red zone field goal attempt. Ty Cummings's 37-yard kick was good, and Houston made it 20-0 against a team that didn't look like they could score 21 points against a Division III team through their first six possessions.
The Commodores got the ball to start the second half, and for a brief moment it looked like McCrary would be able to lead his team to the promised land, but a 50-yard drive was erased when true freshman Josh Crawford fumbled at the Houston 30. Ward couldn't capitalize, however; he gave the ball right back with a fumble of his own that Stephen Weatherly fell on at the UH 37-yard line. Vandy rode Ralph Webb to the 22, but an Elandon Roberts third-down sack dropped the 'Dores back to a 50-yard field goal attempt. Tommy Openshaw lined up to kick the ball, then punted to the Houston 3.5 yard line to pin the Cougars deep in their own territory.
Vanderbilt got the ball back on another Ward fumble and got all the way to their own 45 yard line, but McCrary's second interception of the night was taken all the way back to the end zone to make it 27-0 Houston and effectively crush the Commodores' upset hopes. One three-and-out later (total yardage: -4), the Cougars used a short field to drive 36 yards to score another touchdown when Kenneth Farrow rumbled 15 yards to the end zone.
Both teams saw the writing on the wall and let off the gas in the fourth quarter. Conservative running plays dominated a scoreless fourth quarter.
Vanderbilt fell to 3-5 on the season with the loss. Houston pushed their undefeated record to 8-0. The Commodore offense will trundle back onto the field next weekend when they travel to #11 Florida.