Vanderbilt defeats Middle Tennessee State 35-7

Khari+Blasingame+scores+a+touchdown+in+the+first+quarter+vs.+MTSU.+Photo+by+Emily+Goncalves
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Vanderbilt defeats Middle Tennessee State 35-7

Khari Blasingame scores a touchdown in the first quarter vs. MTSU. Photo by Emily Goncalves

Khari Blasingame scores a touchdown in the first quarter vs. MTSU. Photo by Emily Goncalves

Khari Blasingame scores a touchdown in the first quarter vs. MTSU. Photo by Emily Goncalves

Khari Blasingame scores a touchdown in the first quarter vs. MTSU. Photo by Emily Goncalves

Betsy Goodfriend, Senior Writer

Vanderbilt opened the 2018 season with a 35-7 victory over the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

After Vanderbilt scored on its opening drive, the Commodore offense disappeared for the rest of the first half.

Vanderbilt chose to receive the kickoff, and Khari Blasingame ran for 43 yards on five carries, including a 30-yard touchdown run up the middle on the first drive. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur didn’t even need to throw a pass.

MTSU tied the game with a 93-yard touchdown drive in the latter half of the first quarter. Earlier on the drive, Vanderbilt starting safety LaDarius Wiley was ejected for targeting. Wiley watched the rest of the game from the stands.

Linebacker Jordan Griffin said, “when LaDarius went down, we lost one of our leaders.We just had to step up and make plays.”

Brent Stockstill threw a four-yard touchdown to receiver CJ Windham to even the score with two minutes left in the first quarter.

Stockstill completed 24 passes for 178 yards and the touchdown to Windham.

After facing Stockstill for the third straight year, Derek Mason said, “I’m tired of seeing Brent Stockstill. Coaches’ kids are special, especially when they quarterback. They have a will to win that’s different from others.”

On the next Blue Raider possession, Dayo Odeyingbo picked up a fumble off a failed lateral pass and returned it three yards for a touchdown. The score was the first defensive touchdown by Vanderbilt since they played Kentucky in 2016.

The remainder of the first half was a series of missed opportunities on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb let a pass go through his hands that would have been a big gain for the Commodores, if not a touchdown.

Lipscomb said, “That [missed opportunity] hurt, but Kyle [Shurmur] told me to stay with it.”

The defense missed countless tackles as a result of their all-out blitz packages. Middle Tennessee threw screen passes to find holes in the Vanderbilt defense. Defensive penalties also gave Middle Tennessee critical extra downs on drives, especially those by experienced starters like Charles Wright and Joejuan Williams.

Vanderbilt committed seven penalties for 49 yards on the game.

Middle Tennessee missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with seconds left in the half, and Vanderbilt went into the locker room with a 14-7 lead.

In the first half, Kyle Shurmur went 3-for-7 for 28 passing yards, as Vanderbilt relied on its trio of running backs. Khari Blasingame rushed for 53 yards, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Jamauri Wakefield only combined for 10 yards rushing.

Shurmur said, “We started slow. We weren’t on the field much in the first half.”

The offensive line did a great job of giving Shurmur time to throw, but the wide receivers had trouble getting open against the Blue Raiders’ secondary.

On a crucial third down in the third quarter, Kyle Shurmur found tight end Jared Pinkney up the middle for 12 yards and a first down. The Commodore offense went 7-for-13 on third down.

The next play, Shurmur threw a beautiful pass to Donaven Tennyson for 49 yards. A few plays later, Shurmur scrambled and threw a bullet to Chris Pierce for a 17-yard touchdown. The touchdown was the first of Pierce’s college career.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 31 yards on an 80-yard drive that culminated in an incredible 28-yard touchdown grab by Kalija Lipscomb. The catch put Vanderbilt up 28-7 with over 12 minutes left in the game.

Sophomore safety Frank Coppet intercepted a 4th-down pass from Stockstill in the end zone. Coppet also added four tackles on the night Vanderbilt’s defense collected six sacks in the game, including two by Kenny Hebert. Jordan Griffin led the defense with eight tackles.

With 90 seconds left in the game, running back Jamauri Wakefield ran for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Commodores up 35-7. Wakefield ran for 57 yards on 10 rushes in the game.

Head coach Derek Mason balanced the workload between his three co-starting running backs. Blasingame ran nine times for 53 yards, and Vaughn rushed for 37 yards on nine carries.

Mason said, “I think we had a chance to see all those running backs tonight and what they can do.”

He emphasized the importance of building on this victory, especially after a strong second half.

Mason said, “It’s only the beginning, so let’s ride.”

Vanderbilt hosts Nevada on Saturday at 11 AM.

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