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Vanderbilt picks up first SEC win of the season, 45-31 over Arkansas

Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s return from injury could not have gone better.

Vanderbilt v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, with Vanderbilt leading Florida 21-3, starting RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn went to the locker room and didn’t return. He didn’t make the trip to Lexington last week, where Vanderbilt’s suddenly punchless offense was held to 7 points.

With Vaughn back in the lineup, though, and some more creative playcalling than we’d seen in recent weeks, Vanderbilt’s offense suddenly found life. Vaughn ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries to pace the Commodores in a 45-24 win.

As it often does, though, Vanderbilt’s day started inauspiciously. Arkansas took the opening kickoff and promptly went 75 yards in 9 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. But the Commodores answered right back with a 63-yard touchdown run by Vaughn to even the score at 7. And Vanderbilt’s defense found itself after the first drive, forcing a punt on Arkansas’s second drive, then giving the Vanderbilt offense the ball inside Arkansas territory after an interception by Joejuan Williams.

The offense capitalized on the great field position with a 6-play, 42-yard touchdown drive that ended with Kyle Shurmur finding Jared Pinkney for a one-yard touchdown pass to give the Commodores a 14-7 lead. But Arkansas would tie the game back up with an 8-play, 92-yard drive — helped along by a facemask penalty by the Commodores and a key third-down conversion.

But Vanderbilt needed just three plays to score again, with Kyle Shurmur connecting to Pinkney again for a 40-yard touchdown pass to make the score 21-14. The teams would remain that way going into halftime — in spite of, well, a silly sequence at the end of the first half (Arkansas would ultimately come up short on a 60-yard field goal to end the half.)

Arkansas’s Connor Limpert would make up for that with a 55-yard field goal early in the second half to cut it to 21-17; Vanderbilt then proceeded to run 7:24 off the clock on a 14-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal by Ryley Guay.

And then, a four-play sequence swung the game in the Commodores’ favor. Arkansas elected to try to pick on backup CB Randall Haynie (with starter Donovan Sheffield in the locker room with an apparent injury), but Ty Storey overthrew his receiver on a deep ball on the first play of the drive, and then, on third down, Haynie broke up a pass past the sticks. After a punt, Shurmur found Pinkney on a screen pass that went for 39 yards, which set up Vaughn’s second touchdown of the day on an 11-yard run to make it 31-17 with 11:31 to go in the game.

Arkansas scored quickly to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 31-24, but then Vanderbilt set to work to put the game away. A 9-play, 75-yard drive took 4:45 off the clock and ended with Vaughn’s third touchdown of the day, making the score 38-24 in favor of the Commodores. Arkansas’s final effort ended after two plays with Louis Vecchio intercepting Storey; Vecchio had a big day on defense, with a sack and a pass breakup in addition to the game-sealing interception. Khari Blasingame would tack on a touchdown with 1:20 left; Arkansas would score with 14 seconds left to make the final 45-31.

With the win, Vanderbilt improves to 4-5 on the season and 1-4 in the SEC. Now the Commodores have a week off to prepare for the closing stretch of Missouri, Ole Miss, and Tennessee.