Commodores stomp Ole Miss, earn fifth win of 2016


Vanderbilt wide receiver Darrius Sims as the Commodores defeated Ole Miss 38-17 at Vanderbilt Stadium November 19, 2016. (Claire Barnett)

Jordan Grapentine

27,763 attendees. 31 unanswered points. One potential bowl berth.

It was a record game for the boys in black. In its 38-17 win, Ralph Webb entered Vanderbilt’s 3,000-yard rusher club and also completed his second straight 1,000 yard rushing season, giving sole member Zac Stacy his first company in both categories. Kyle Shurmur completed a 67-yard pass, his longest ever. Vanderbilt got its first win over an SEC West opponent since 2012 (another victory against Ole Miss.)

On a chilly night in Nashville, freshman quarterback Shea Patterson came out firing, leading Ole Miss to a 10-0 lead halfway through the first quarter with his arm and legs. Vanderbilt looked on its heels, struggling to move the ball early — a start eerily reminiscent of the Mizzou debacle the week before.

Then the ‘Dores warmed up.

A 67-yard pass from Shurmur to Sherfield (career longs for both players) set up Vanderbilt for a seven-yard Ralph Webb touchdown run the following play. Shurmur would go on to complete 17 of his 30 attempts for 273 yards and two touchdowns, with zero interceptions.

“After that big play to Sherfield, we just hit our stride offensively,” coach Derek Mason said after the game. “We’ve been waiting for that big play in this offense for a while. Upon making that play, I just felt like our guys had great rhythm.”

Vandy took its first lead halfway through the second quarter with another touchdown drive fueled by a big play — this time a 39-yard catch and run by Darrius Sims — completed by another Sherfield catch.

Vanderbilt Stadium got a jolt of energy to start the second half when a potential (but not called on the field) scoop-and-score by Ole Miss went under review thanks to a Hugh Freeze sideline fit. The fumble, it was discovered, was forced via targeting by DeMarquis Gates. Gates was ejected, and the ‘Dores kept the ball.

The Vandy offense promptly marched down the field, covering 90 yards in nine plays and just over four minutes to take a 21-10 lead. Momentum never shifted back the Rebels’ way.

Vanderbilt would string along 31 unanswered points, instilling a palpable confidence the Commodore players likely haven’t felt all season. When asked if he was surprised by the performance, Mason shook his head:

“I wouldn’t say surprised, I’d say exhilarated. Excited. We’ve been wanting to see the floodgates open for these guys. We needed to have that happen for this team, so this team can understand how good they can be. You can tell them until you’re blue in the face, but they gotta experience it. Tonight they had a chance to experience it.”

On the following possession, Zach Cunningham left his mark, recovering a fumble in Ole Miss territory and scrambling into field goal range. Openshaw knocked in a short field goal to extend Vandy’s lead to 14 points.

“It really came up on me out of nowhere,” Cunningham said. “That was definitely a huge momentum boost for us.”

The defense overall had a fantastic game, holding the Ole Miss offense to just 90 yards rushing and 273 yards passing, a modest total considering its 51 pass attempts. Most importantly, the Vandy defense was able to get off the field on third down (Ole Miss converted 5 of 18 third downs), a task that’s troubled it all season. On three separate occasions, the defense stopped Ole Miss on fourth down in the red zone. It sometimes bent, but it rarely broke.

The Ole Miss fan contingency began to thin late in the third quarter, when Webb pounded home his second touchdown of the day, putting the Commodores up 31-10. The early deserters didn’t miss much. Another Webb touchdown answered an Ole Miss score, solidifying the final score at 38-17 and delivering Vanderbilt a chance at a bowl berth.

This capped off a fantastic day for Webb, who broke multiple career rushing records and gobbled up 123 yards and three hard-earned touchdowns. Webb needs just 27 more yards to overtake Stacy as Vanderbilt’s all-time rushing leader.

Vanderbilt’s bowl chances now take a turn for the better as it moves to 5-6 on the year. Thanks to the convincing win today, the Commodores are looking good.