It took three years, but Derek Mason finally matched his predecessor. Not James Franklin. Robbie Caldwell.
Mason matched Caldwell by beating Ole Miss, coaching Vanderbilt to a 38-17 home victory over the Rebels. The win set a new high mark for Vanderbilt under its third-year head coach. Mason won three games in 2014 and four in 2015 before earning win No. 5 on Saturday.
The victory doesn’t just give Mason a tangible improvement over his first two seasons on the sideline; it will also likely send the Commodores to the postseason. Thanks to one of the nation’s highest APR scores, Vanderbilt is in good shape to fill a vacant bowl position even with a 5-7 record.
With a high-octane defense flying around the field and a long-dormant offense finally coming to life, the ‘Dores could be a threat to any postseason opponent this December.
Kyle Shurmur continued his late-season revival with a 273-yard, two touchdown, zero interception showcase at Dudley Field. Ralph Webb continued his inevitable trek towards Zac Stacy’s all-time rushing record with a 123-yard, three-touchdown performance. Vanderbilt held true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson to a 20-42, 222-yard showing in his second NCAA game.
The Commodores shook off a rough start to take a 14-10 lead at the half. Shea Patterson looked every bit the kind of mobile quarterback who could give Vanderbilt fits after gaining 71 yards over the game’s first five plays to push the Rebels deep into the VU red zone. The ‘Dores bent, but didn’t break, holding Ole Miss to a 24-yard Gary Wunderlich field goal.
A three-and-out stop the following drive appeared to have the Vandy defense calibrated, but the ensuing punt drained through Darrius Sims’ hands to set up the Rebels at the VU 21. Patterson shook off a would-be sack and reverse field to find Akeem Judd for a touchdown the following play.
The Commodores struck back, thanks in part to the play-action deep ball offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig spent the past 10 weeks developing.
Kyle Shurmur hit a wide open Trent Sherfield for 67 yards. One play later, Ralph Webb dove into the end zone to cut the Mississippi lead to 10-7.
The Rebels battled back and drove into VU territory, but eschewed a potential 46-yard field goal to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Vandy 28. Patterson’s slant to Damore'ea Stringfellow was ruled incomplete upon review, and the ‘Dores rode that momentum back into Ole Miss territory.
The Shurmur-Sherfield connection paid dividends once more when the sophomore quarterback hit his rangy wideout for a five-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal to take the lead.
Vanderbilt came out firing to start the second half. The Commodores’ receivers turned up for one of the best drives of the season, making diving catches across the field like Caleb Scott’s big catch in VU territory:
Shurmur drove his offense 90 yards before Ralph Webb took over from the Ole Miss 11 to score his second touchdown of the night.
He’d make it a third after Derek Mason got bold on fourth-and-goal. His one yard scoring plunge pushed the Vanderbilt lead to 31-10 at the end of the third quarter.
Ole Miss snapped back once the clock flipped over to its final 15 minutes. Shea Patterson escaped an apparent sack — replays would show the refs missed the tackle here -- to keep the Rebels moving in the fourth quarter. One play later, he unleashed a 39-yard pass the Evan Engram tipped to himself in a beautiful play to cut the Vandy lead to 31-17.
A Commodore three-and-out seemed to toss the momentum back to the visitors, but the Vanderbilt defense didn’t allow that to happen. A key Adam Butler sack kept the Rebels stuck in neutral, and Shurmur drove his team back with a three-yard dagger of a touchdown pass to Bailey McElwain that all but sealed up another massive victory for Derek Mason’s team.
Vanderbilt improved to 5-6 (2-5 SEC) with the upset win. Ole Miss fell to 5-6 (2-5). The Commodores will return to the field for the final regular season game of their 2016 season next week when they host arch rival Tennessee.