It started with UFOs and ended with a PBU.
As Fort Bragg’s Black Daggers parachuted on to the field at Vanderbilt Stadium with sparks flying from their feet to deliver the game ball, some around Nashville spotted them from afar, and immediately thought a UFO was inbound.
Mysterious flying objects spotted over Nashville pic.twitter.com/sXzzqDQzL9
— Breaking911 (@breaking9111) November 18, 2018
While there were no aliens landing on this night, that seemed to be the only thing missing from the Vanderbilt Commodores’, wacky, wild and downright ridiculous 36-29 victory over Ole Miss.
Celebrations became penalties. Touchdowns became incompletions, but could have become interceptions. Most importantly, zeroes became heroes for the Commodores, and now the team is one win away from bowl eligibility.
Here is your Commodore Brunch menu for this week:
Goal Line Greatness
Last week, Vanderbilt was notably terrible on the goal line. With a huge opportunity to take the lead at Mizzou, the Commodores ran the ball up the middle four different times to no avail.
This time, the strategy at the goal line seemed to be just to do the exact opposite of that. Vanderbilt scored four different times from inside the five yard line while utilizing four different looks. The first was a two-yard quick pass to wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, and the second was a Ke’Shawn Vaughn one-yard run to the outside at the start of the second half.
The third was a nifty pass over the middle to C.J. Bolar late in the third quarter, and the fourth was the slant pass to Lipscomb from five yards out to give Vanderbilt the win in overtime.
It was brilliant offensive play calling and a total rebuke of the criticisms lobbed at offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig after last week. It was diverse, it was creative and, most importantly, it worked.
Even in the buildup to these goal line plays, Vanderbilt made sure the playbook stayed spicy. Look at the way the team set up on a key fourth down and short near the goal line. Shurmur motioned tight end Jared Pinkney into the backfield and hit him on a short route that got the Commodores to the one yard line.
“I popped in on Wednesday and say ‘Hey Andy, what do you got?'” head coach Derek Mason said of his meeting with the offense this week. “He just took me through it and it was the right call at the right time. Listen, everybody in here would have criticized us if we didn’t get it, but we got it. It was a gutsy call, we made the call, we got the play. It took us where we needed to go.”
Couple that with a gritty defensive performance that held Ole Miss to five field goals inside 40 yards that could have been turned into touchdowns, and that becomes the difference between winning and losing.
“I thought our guys moved the line of scrimmage,” he said. “I thought we worked hard. I thought our defense played well and kept the ball out of the end zone vs. a team that puts up points. When you go back and look at those two field goals that we made them kick early in the ball game, that was huge. We needed to stand up in the red zone.”
The play calls across the board weren’t perfect, but for the most part they were leaps and bounds better than they have been all season. It also helps the Vaughn truly became the workhorse for the first time with 25 carries for 131 yards.
The offense worked tonight. It needs to work at least one more time next Saturday.
Shurmur’s Swan Song
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur has one more game left at Vanderbilt Stadium, and he’s going to leave Vanderbilt with his name etched in the record books.
His overtime touchdown pass to Lipscomb put him in first place on the Commodores’ all-time list for career touchdown passes with 60, passing Jay Cutler.
It’s a significant career accomplishment. But, you couldn’t tell in the postgame press conference. Shurmur was as stoic as he always is at the podium, but Lipscomb wouldn’t let him off the hook.
“He comes in here and y’all see him, he’s real cool. Y’all have no idea,” he said. “He’s screaming inside. He’s too cool. It’s great. I’m going to miss my guy when he’s gone.”
“He’s so excited that he threw the ball in the air,” Shurmur said sarcastically of Lipscomb in reference to his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his overtime celebration.
Of the 71 plays Vanderbilt ran on offense, 35 of them were passing plays. Shurmur played a massive role in keeping Vanderbilt’s bowl hopes alive. He delivered three touchdown passes and one ill-advised interception late in the first half.
His performance wasn’t perfect, but he made more significant plays than mistakes and vaulted Vanderbilt to this win. No matter what you think of his consistency or his NFL prospects, you have to respect the job he did this Saturday to keep Vanderbilt in this game and to make the plays when needed to get the victory.
Guay’s Got His Groove Back
An underrated aspect of this victory for the Commodores was kicker Ryley Guay’s excellent leg.
The walk-on kicker looked poised for a breakout season in training camp, but struggled with his consistency throughout the season. In this game, he hit a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter to put Vanderbilt on the board and nailed a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that put Vanderbilt in the lead with just over five minutes remaining.
In addition, he prevented Ole Miss from running with any kickoffs at all, putting all of them in the end zone for touchbacks. Ole Miss had exactly zero kickoff return yards in the game.
“You’ve got to believe in your guys,” Mason said of Guay. “It’s never been about how strong his leg is. It’s about the six inches of head space between those two ears. The mind is a crazy thing. For him, I thought he was confident tonight. I thought he was energized. I thought his teammates went after him and told him.”
Guay has a cannon for a leg and both of his field goals on Saturday could have been good from a lot deeper. With each point mattering more and more late in the season, having a confident and consistent kicker in Guay could be a huge difference-maker down the stretch.
Welcome to the Bowl Game Bowl
It’s time for Bowlmageddon.
The Birmingham Bowl Play-In Game.
The Hattie B’s Volunteer State Six-Win Showdown.
Whatever you want to call it, Vanderbilt plays Tennessee next weekend in Nashville and the winner will become bowl-eligible. The last time these two teams met in Nashville, Vanderbilt was playing for bowl eligibility and Tennessee was playing for a potential shot at a Sugar Bowl bid.
That one, notoriously, went Vanderbilt’s way and brought about the beginning of the end for Butch Jones’ tenure in Knoxville.
This time around, the stakes are slightly different, but Vanderbilt’s path to this game was similar. A solid start to the season coupled with some close SEC losses, capped off with an unexpected win over Ole Miss to set up the rivalry game.
Vanderbilt took care of business against Ole Miss, but the job is not done yet.
“We get the chance to play one more time,” Mason said. “The Vols are coming to town and we both understand what’s at stake, so let’s play ball.”
This should be fun.