On a cloudy evening in Nashville, Vanderbilt brought light to Nashville in a gritty performance against Stanford. Vanderbilt was silenced by their opponents, but the way the Commodores competed was promising and exhilarating for Commodore fans. Vanderbilt’s first-ever meeting with Stanford was competitive for the majority of the game but ended with Stanford in command. Just two weeks ago Vanderbilt was upset by the Eastern Tennessee State Buccaneers of the FCS, and the Commodores continue to lack defensive stability, offensive consistency and discipline on special teams.
Vanderbilt started the night playing catch-up after giving up a 61-yard run on the third play of the game. Just one play later, quarterback Tanner Mckee scored a 7-yard running touchdown. The Commodores’ defense looked lethargic, but an upbeat Vanderbilt offense rejuvenated Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt’s first offensive drive was methodical, energetic and dominant. This 14-yard drive featured 57 rushing yards and a Re’Mahn Davis rushing touchdown. Davis ran with power all night and tallied 76 rushing yards. Sophomore tailback Rocko Griffin also excelled, ending the night with 107 rushing yards.
“Our running backs run hard,” head coach Clark Lea said. “We used tempo as a weapon. I was pleased with our running game in the first half.”
An uplifting drive from the Commodores did not deter Stanford’s offensive flow, as a 21-yard rushing touchdown for Nathanial Peat looked to quiet the Vanderbilt fans. Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals and his offense looked to rally right back as the team drove down to the Stanford 34-yard line. This promising drive concluded with a 52-yard missed field goal.
After two straight Stanford offensive touchdowns, it appeared that the Commodore defense was about to give up its third touchdown. Stanford was knocking on the door but failed to score in a goal-to-go situation. An incompletion and three key stops made by Vanderbilt’s Feleti Afemui, Brendon Harris and Alex Williams led to a turnover-on-downs.
Seals continued to impress as he marched his teammates into the Stanford end zone off of a 98-yard drive, which featured 14 plays and a 3-yard goal-line touchdown catch delivered from Seals to wide receiver Devin Boddie Jr. The touchdown was Boddie Jr.’s first in his career as a Commodore.
Although Seals had tremendous pocket awareness and poise for most of the first half, a devastating interception at the end of the second quarter led to Stanford pulling away. Seals—down three points with less than two minutes remaining in the half— gave up a demoralizing interception. Seals’ interception turned the tide, as a two-play touchdown drive followed for Stanford. A few moments later, Vanderbilt punted the ball to Stanford with five seconds remaining in the half and Stanford returned the punt 48 yards. This big play led to a Stanford field goal. Vanderbilt entered the locker room trailing by 13, with a score of 27-14.
“What a disappointing chain of events,” Lea said. “We had Stanford on the ropes. We had a chance to take all of the momentum and lost that chance.”
The Commodores began the second half on the wrong foot, going three and out in the first drive. Stanford had the ball on their 45-yard line and scored a touchdown a mere four plays later. A 24-yard catch from Stanford’s Brycen Tremayne and a 26-yard grab and 5-yard touchdown snag from Jay Symons put Stanford in the driver’s seat. Vanderbilt’s 20-point deficit would barely narrow as Stanford’s offensive momentum never subsided.
Vanderbilt’s performance was encouraging in the first half and spurts of the second half but the Commodores lacked consistency, especially on the defensive end. The Vanderbilt defense let up a multitude of big plays that changed the course of several drives. Stanford had 12 plays that resulted in a gain of 15 yards or more.
“We played our best when we settled into our defense,” Lea said. “It starts with our coaching and our awareness. We were not able to apply pressure on Stanford like we were able to last week against Colorado State. We are going to be disgusted with some of the defensive execution on the film.”
The Commodores will look to bounce back next week when they host the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs at 11 a.m. CDT on Saturday. The last time Vanderbilt defeated Georgia was on Oct. 15, 2016.