Despite a slow start, Derek Mason stuck with Kyle Shurmur. Vanderbilt’s sophomore quarterback rewarded that faith with a promising performance in a 47-24 win over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday evening.
The young passer shook off an 0-7 start to complete 15 of his final 21 pass attempts for 113 yards and a touchdown. His ability to keep the Blue Raider defense honest jump started the Commodore offense and created the space needed for the biggest offensive outburst against an FBS program in Mason’s three seasons with the team.
Ralph Webb had the best game of his career in the win. The junior ran for a career-high 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns to buoy Vandy’s big day. Khari Blasingame added two more touchdowns, while Dallas Rivers added a late-game score to finish off the ‘Dores dominant performance on the ground. True freshman Kalija Lipscomb was the beneficiary of the team’s first passing touchdown of the season.
Middle Tennessee took their game-opening drive 43 yards into Vandy territory, but Zach Cunningham’s strip of I’Tavius Mathers led to a 55-yard Ladarius Wiley return to set the Commodores up for points. Kyle Shurmur’s ensuing drive went one yard in reverse, but Tommy Openshaw was able to boot a 32-yard field goal to give the home team a 3-0 lead.
Brent Stockstill rallied the Blue Raiders back into VU territory for a 39-yard Cannon Rooker kick to tie the game at 3-all. MTSU looked to have Vandy on the ropes when it forced a three-and-out on the next drive, but Ralph Webb punched the ball out of punt returner RIchie James’ hands to force a safety and give the ‘Dores a baseball-esque 5-3 advantage.
Middle Tennessee responded. Stockstill drove his team 79 yards in just 3:22 to bring the lead back to the visitors’ side. He found James in the end zone for a one yard touchdown to put the pressure back on the Commodores. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, they had return ace Darrius Sims back in the lineup.
Sims took the ensuing kickoff 47 yards into MTSU territory, and a facemask penalty on the play gave the ‘Dores strong field position. Webb helped carry the team into the red zone, where Khari Blasingame battered his way into the end zone for his second touchdown in as many games.
Stockstill pushed the ball to the Vandy 30 yard line on the next drive, but Oren Burks’ quick reflexes snuffed out another MTSU possession and set the Commodores up for their next touchdown.
Webb capped off that short drive with a one-yard touchdown drive to make it 19-10 Vanderbilt in the second quarter.
Lightning in the area pushed the game to a halt with 5:19 remaining in the first half. Soon after, a deluge chased fans from the stands and left both teams in the lurch for more than 100 minutes.
The break stopped Vandy’s momentum cold. MTSU responded by blocking Sam Loy’s punt — the first play after the delay — and then scoring on an eight-yard Stockstill touchdown pass less than a minute later.
The Blue Raiders weren’t the only ones recharged by the hour and 44 minutes in the locker room. Shurmur came back with fire in his eyes, showing off newfound poise and accuracy to lead the ‘Dores on a 75-yard scoring drive capped off by a three-yard Webb dive. One MTSU three-and-out later, he brought Vandy back for 51 yards — all through the air — and made the score 33-17 by hitting true freshman Kalija Lipscomb for a 16-yard touchdown on third-and-long.
The Commodores came out of the halftime moving well, but a Blasingame fumble gave the visitors the ball in VU territory. A key stop forced a 44-yard field goal attempt, which clanked off the left upright to keep the second half scoreless early on. Vandy moved the ball across midfield on the ensuing drive, but a tremendously ineffective fake punt served only to get Tommy Openshaw driven into the turf. Middle Tennessee used the solid field position to drive 62 yards and cut the Commodore lead to 33-24 after a four-yard touchdown pass from Stockstill to Patrick Smith.
The two teams exchanged fruitless possessions before Ralph Webb broke away for a 49-yard run to put Vandy in the MTSU red zone and push his yardage past the 200 mark. Three plays later, Blasingame burst across the line of scrimmage for a one-yard touchdown run that put the ‘Dores ahead 40-24.
The deluge of Vanderbilt points made the Blue Raiders a bit salty. Two personal fouls -- including a blatant targeting penalty on a punt return — set up a three-yard Dallas Rivers touchdown plunge to cap Vandy’s score at 47 and seal the Commodores’ first win of 2016.