Vanderbilt's defense came to play. They shut down one of the FBS's most potent offenses from 2014.
The Commodore offense? They aren't there yet.
Vanderbilt took nine different drives into Western Kentucky territory but came away with only 12 points in a frustrating season opener for the 'Dores. Johnny McCrary came alive to drive the 'Dores to a last minute touchdown, but a potential game-tying two-point conversion was snuffed out at the one-yard line to drop Vandy to 0-1 on the season.
The two teams traded mistakes in an uneventful first quarter. 30 yards of penalties killed any momentum that Johnny McCrary and Ralph Webb could bring for the Commodores, but the Hilltoppers countered with dropped passes that negated huge gains. WKU got a huge break when a short punt took a sideways hop into Tre Herndon's back, but they failed to capitalize on a first-and-10 setup from the Vandy 18-yard line. Two drops and a botched pitch pushed the Hilltoppers out of field goal range and forced a punt.
Vandy responded with an 86-yard drive that peaked with a 19-yard Webb run that gave the team first-and-goal, but McCrary forced a bad pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Nick Holt to end the scoring threat. The Toppers punted, and Dallas Rivers powered a 52-yard drive down to the WKU 10 - but Tommy Openshaw's 28-yard field goal went wide left to keep this game knotted at 0-0 midway through the second quarter.
Openshaw redeemed himself four minutes later. His 49-yard field goal - a personal record - put the Commodores up 3-0 with 1:48 to go in the half. WKU drove to the Vandy 44 on the ensuing drive, but a smothering defense kept them from lighting up the scoreboard before the two teams left for their locker rooms.
The two teams exchanged punts to start the third quarter before a 20-yard pass from McCrary to Kris Kentera - and a targeting penalty at the end of the play - but the Commodores in a 1st-and-goal situation. McCrary scrambled the 'Dores to the 1 yard line, but a WKU stuff on third down turned into a red zone turnover on fourth down when Nick Newton picked off a pass intended for Steven Scheu.
Western Kentucky answered emphatically. Brandon Doughty's first pass of the ensuing drive found tight end Tyler Higbee, who rumbled 65 yards down to the Commodore four-yard line. One play later, Leon Allen barreled into the end zone to give the Hilltoppers their first lead of the game, 7-3.
McCrary got a taste of redemption when a spectacular Trent Sherfield run delivered a 31-reception to the WKU 10-yard line, but his best red zone pass of the night bounced off Nathan Marcus's hands on third-and-goal, forcing the Commodores to settle for a 26-yard field goal.
Doughty proved that Western Kentucky's offense was for real on the next drive. He led the Hilltoppers 70 yards to answer with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Higbee that made it 14-6 with 8:38 left in the game. The two teams exchanged punts, leading to one final stand for McCrary and the 'Dores.
McCrary pieced together his best drive of the night to score his team's only touchdown of the night. He led the Commodores 75 yards to the WKU 2 yard line before stalling out and forcing a fourth-and-goal conversion. Despite a heavy rush, Trent Sherfield stepped up to catch a slant two yards into the end zone to make it 14-12 and put the game on the line for a two-point conversion. McCrary's pass to Nathan Marcus was complete, but he was stopped one yard short of tying this game up at 14-apiece.
The 'Dores had one last chance. Vanderbilt recovered the onside kick, but they were flagged for illegal touching, turning the ball back to the Hilltoppers and ending their rally. The Commodores left their season opener with only 12 points in five red zone trips, and they earned a morale-crushing loss as a result.
Vanderbilt falls to 0-1 with the defeat. The Commodores will return to Dudley Field next Saturday when they host Georgia in a nationally televised game. Western Kentucky will host Louisiana Tech in another Thursday night game September 10th.