Vanderbilt bounces back, defeats MTSU behind big game from Webb

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Vanderbilt bounces back, defeats MTSU behind big game from Webb

Ralph Webb as Vanderbilt defeated the MTSU Blue Raiders 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 10, 2016.

Ralph Webb as Vanderbilt defeated the MTSU Blue Raiders 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 10, 2016.

Ralph Webb as Vanderbilt defeated the MTSU Blue Raiders 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 10, 2016.

Ralph Webb as Vanderbilt defeated the MTSU Blue Raiders 47-24 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 10, 2016.

Max Schneider, Associate Sports Editor

In a game characterized by torrential downpours, huge gusts of wind and the occasional lightning strike, Vanderbilt was able to power through to a decisive 47-24 victory over Middle Tennessee State.

That power came from the two-headed ground attack of Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame. Webb had a career day, rushing 29 times for 211 yards and two touchdowns, and Blasingame added two more scores for a surprising offensive explosion from the Commodores.

The biggest question mark coming into the week was the passing game. Kyle Shurmur struggled early, not completing his first pass until 4:57 left in the second quarter. However, the running game was relentless and Vanderbilt’s ballhawking defense from last week’s first half was back, forcing three turnovers.

Middle Tennessee looked promising on their opening drive until linebacker Zach Cunningham forced a fumble that was returned 55 yards by LaDarius Wiley. The Commodores looked prime for a quick touchdown, but the offense sputtered and had to settle for a Tommy Openshaw 32-yard field goal.

The Blue Raiders answered back, with quarterback Brent Stockstill moving the ball easily, and they tied it up with a field goal. Vanderbilt went three-and-out on its next drive, but the punt was fumbled by return man Richie James. James recovered his own fumble in the end zone and was pushed out for a safety.

Middle Tennessee continued to move the ball well in the first quarter, marching down the field with a 11-play, 79-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown pass from Stockstill to James, who would finish with 14 catches for 183 yards and a score, but would leave in the fourth with an injury. The drive also included a highlight grab on third and long by James that was originally ruled incomplete. The offense responded though, turning short field position into a Blasingame 3-yard touchdown run.

Vanderbilt kept things going in the second quarter, as Oren Burks picked off Stockstill at the line of scrimmage and returned it to the 7, where the Commodores were able to capitalize via a 1-yard Webb touchdown run. And then came the rain, delaying the game for nearly two hours and sending most of the student section home.

When the game finally resumed, the Blue Raiders had a lightning strike of their own, with a blocked punt on the first play, and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ty Lee just three plays later. The Commodores seemed unfazed, as they put together an impressive drive featuring a 49-yard run by Webb, resulting in a 3-yard Webb score. The offense then followed it up with a perfectly executed two-minute drill by Shurmur, as he drove the offense down the field and finished it off with a beautiful 16-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Kalija Lipscomb.

Shurmur came out confident in the second half, thriving off the play action, but couldn’t get any points out of it due to a Blasingame fumble and an abysmal fake punt attempt, which Middle Tennessee turned into points in the form of a 4-yard touchdown pass from Stockstill to Patrick Smith just before the start of the fourth quarter.

It seemed that every time the Blue Raiders would score, the Commodores would answer. This was no different in the fourth quarter, as the two-headed ground attack continued, with Webb leading the offense down the field, and Blasingame finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing possession, Middle Tennessee was able to move the ball, but the drive stalled and an incomplete pass on fourth down gave Vanderbilt the ball back. Vanderbilt tacked on another rushing touchdown, this time from Dallas Rivers, sealing the victory.

The game was marked by the honoring of Donny Everett, whose parents dropped the anchor before gametime.

Vanderbilt will look to build on this victory as they take on Georgia Tech next week in Atlanta.

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