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Vanderbilt narrowly avoids disaster in 31-27 win over Tennessee State

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Vanderbilt narrowly avoids disaster in 31-27 win over Tennessee State

Photo by Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

In a phrase, that was too close for comfort.

The Vanderbilt Commodores escaped an upset of epic proportions and beat the Tennessee State Tigers 31-27 on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Kalija Lipscomb hauled in a 68-yard touchdown pass down the Tennessee State sideline to give Vanderbilt the win after going down by three points with eight minutes remaining. He was the leading offensive player on the day with 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Tennessee State quarterback Demry Croft passed for 269 yards and three touchdowns.

Despite the win on the score sheet, no one on Vanderbilt’s side seemed satisfied with the outing.

“They’re alarmed,” head coach Derek Mason said of his players. “I rang the alarm when I walked into the locker room. They were put on notice. They understand that the win, we’ll take. We’re not going to give that back. But what’s not acceptable is some of the errors that occurred today. That’s on us as coaches, them as players, everybody’s got a hand in it. We’ve got to be better.”

Once again, the first quarter was not kind to Vanderbilt. After quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw a fourth-down interception, Tennessee State marched down the field and got within field goal range, but couldn’t cash in on the opportunity. Vanderbilt’s next drive looked promising until Shurmur threw his second pick of the quarter. TSU returned the interception all the way into Vanderbilt territory, and the Tigers took the lead a few plays later with a five-yard touchdown pass from Croft to Steven Newbold.

The Commodores responded in kind with a blitzing rush attack using a rotation of freshman Ja’Veon Marlow, Khari Blasingame and Ke’Shawn Vaughn to get back into the red zone. On third down and goal from the four yard line, Shurmur found tight end Jared Pinkney in the end zone to knot the game up at 7.

Tennessee State took advantage of multiple third-down conversions on the ensuing drive and scored on a 31-yard pass over the middle from Croft to Treon Harris to make it 13-7.

Mason was unhappy with his defense’s performance and the inability to get off the field on third down.

“I think at the end of the day, we struggled through the mental piece to get off the field,” he said. “We had plenty of opportunities. Their quarterback’s a good athlete and a great runner, but we see good athletes all the time. For us, we let one become two, two become three, three become four, plenty of opportunities to get this guy off the field, but too many guys not getting off blocks, not straining to finish. Really, it led to us shooting ourselves. There were plenty of opportunities to get off the field. That’s disappointing.”

Vanderbilt looked to be responding with more rotating running backs, but penalties and miscues in the red zone kept them out of the end zone and a missed field goal by Ryley Guay kept the deficit at six points.

Guay missed multiple field goals on the evening, and Mason said that he should not feel complacent in his starting role.

“There’ll be a kicking competition this week, because this is flat-out ridiculous,” Mason said. “I trust Ryley. I know his leg is strong enough. It’s got nothing to do with that. You’ve got to come out here and you have to consistently understand what we’re doing, what the adjustments are. We’re making practice big. We emphasize it. We put things around him, distraction. We have to be better. We can’t just ask it of everybody else except him. He’s got to be better.”

Mason was smart in using timeouts on Tennessee State’s ensuing drive, giving the Commodores one more chance to get points with about a minute remaining in the half. Guay added a field goal as time expired to make the score 13-10 at halftime.

Lipscomb provided the fireworks at the start of the second half with an electrifying lunging touchdown grab over the middle to put Vanderbilt in the lead for the first time. On the next Vanderbilt drive, Ke’Shawn Vaughn snaked his way from sideline to sideline for a 75-yard touchdown run to pad the lead.

The Vanderbilt defense came out flat-footed again on the ensuing drive and allowed TSU to march 73 yards on seven plays for a touchdown to bring the Commodore lead down to four points, where it stayed at the end of the third quarter.

Mason felt those long drives could have been avoided in the end.

“Overall, we’ve got to continue to put our guys in position to make plays,” Mason said. “Those guys were in position. I saw balls floating all over the place. I just thought we didn’t make any plays. That’s unfortunate. Coaches coach, players play, guys have to make plays. We need more guys that can make plays.”

Another Guay missed field goal at the start of the fourth quarter gave the Tigers a huge chance to take the lead. Early in the drive, Vanderbilt could not get off the field on third down again, and Croft’s shifty abilities kept Tennessee State’s drive going. Croft picked apart Vanderbilt’s secondary and eventually found Andrew Knox in the end zone to give the Tigers the lead with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Just when it looked like Vanderbilt was headed for disaster, Lipscomb came to the rescue again with a 68-yard touchdown catch to put Vanderbilt back on top.

TSU  drove downfield on the ensuing drive to try and revive the upset, but the drive stalled out in the red zone with less than two minutes remaining.

After the game, Mason was animated about his team’s performance and talked as if it were a loss on the score sheet.

“This football team’s got a lot to clean up,” Mason said of his team’s overall performance. “But we won.”

Vanderbilt moves to 3-2 and moves on to play Georgia in Athens next weekend.

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About the Writer
Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Cutler Klein ('19) is the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He is majoring in Communication Studies...

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