HOUSTON, Texas — The State Farm commercial with the fisherman baiting the customer with a dollar on a fishing line sums it up best.
“You almost had it. You’ve gotta be quicker than that.”
Vanderbilt had an excellent shot at winning its first bowl game since 2014 when it beat Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Coming off of an emotional win against rival Tennessee to earn bowl eligibility, it seemed as though Vanderbilt was destined to win the Texas Bowl and complete a turnaround that seemed improbable when the team sat at 4-6 months earlier.
Baylor defeated Vanderbilt 45-38 in the Academy Sports and Outdoors Texas Bowl. The offensive shootout broke many Texas Bowl records including total combined yardage (1,241 yards), lead changes (nine), and combined rushing yards (571 yards).
Missed tackles and ill-timed mistakes cost the Commodores a chance to give head coach Derek Mason his first winning season and send off record-setting senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur with a bowl victory.
The game wasn’t all bad, though. Ke’Shawn Vaughn was a notable bright spot, as he carried the ball 13 times for a Texas Bowl-record 243 yards. Two touchdown runs of 68 and 69 yards each showcased Vaughn’s speed and ability to burst through Baylor’s front seven.
Center Bruno Reagan said of blocking for Vaughn, “It’s unbelievable. It’s an amazing experience. There’s no one in the world that can run like that.”
Mason said, “I think he’s an elite back. I think he’s capable of, when the time is right, of maybe being a first-round back.”
Vaughn, who is eligible to declare for the NFL draft, will make his decision on whether or not to enter the draft over the next few months.
Fellow running back Khari Blasingame took a slip screen 65 yards to the end zone on Vanderbilt’s first drive of the game. He also ran for a two-yard touchdown on a crucial drive at the end of the third quarter to cut Baylor’s lead to three points. He later rushed for a one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to help the Commodores retake the lead. Blasingame finished with 85 yards receiving and 16 yards rushing on the night.
C.J. Bolar gets the third gold star of the game. He was a reliable target for Kyle Shurmur, even though Shurmur did not see him on multiple occasions when he was wide open. Bolar’s incredible catch on 3rd-and-six on Vanderbilt’s third drive helped extend the drive for Vaughn to score a touchdown.
The senior quarterback had trouble finding open receivers as Baylor played stingy defense in their secondary. Shurmur, who usually stays in the pocket, was forced to run the ball four times because no one was open.
Shurmur said, “They drop eight in coverage a lot and play conservative with their coverage sometimes. It’s hard to find throwing lanes at times, so I had to take off a few times and try to make a play with my feet.”
The last gold star goes to cornerback Randall Haynie. Haynie, who played sparingly in the first 12 games of the season, grabbed a momentum-shifting interception in the fourth quarter. As the ball bounced off a Baylor wide receiver’s legs in the end zone, Haynie caught the ball as it bounced up and got both of his feet down in the back of the end zone. Vanderbilt would score on the ensuing drive to take the lead 35-31.
The mistakes added up throughout the game, especially with missed tackles by a tired defense. Baylor sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer welcomed the Commodores to his home state by torching the defense for 109 yards on the ground and 384 yards passing. Brewer was effective in finding open receivers and when he couldn’t, he used his speed to run for first downs and large chunks of yardage.
Senior defensive lineman Dare Odeyingbo said, “We saw on film that [Brewer] has pocket presence and has escapability. Those big plays that he broke off escaping the pocket was us losing containment most of the time.”
Vanderbilt did not have an answer for Brewer’s mobility. He often dropped back and ran the ball himself, and he was able to extend multiple drives with his legs.
Mason said of Brewer, “I thought he ran as well as their running backs did. The reality was, he was the difference in this ballgame when you look at it. I know they had some explosive plays, but he was able to keep drives alive with his legs.”
With the offense scoring on long plays or getting off the field in short, unsuccessful drives, Vanderbilt’s defense was on the field for most of the game. Baylor held the ball on offense for over 35 minutes.
Even with all the extra rest that comes from a month off of competition, the defense became exhausted and missed countless tackles. Players who are usually excellent tacklers such as defensive backs LaDarius Wiley and Joejuan Williams came up empty-handed as they watched Baylor’s running backs scamper past them.
Baylor’s Trestan Ebner ran for 90 yards and JaMycal Hasty added 58 yards on the ground. Ebner also caught three passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Baylor took a 45-38 lead with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter when wide receiver Marques Jones slipped past the Vanderbilt defense for a 52-yard catch-and-run. Linebacker Dimitri Moore and defensive back Allan George both failed to bring down Jones as he ran to the end zone.
Penalties also killed whatever momentum the Commodores had.
The most costly penalty was a holding call on Dayo Odeyingbo that negated a made field goal by Ryley Guay. On his second attempt, this time a 45-yarder with the extra 10 yards from the holding penalty, Guay pushed the kick wide left.
As Baylor was set to kick an extra point late in the third quarter, Joejuan Williams jumped offsides before blocking the kick. But, because he jumped offsides before the snap, the block did not count, and Baylor converted the resulting try of the extra point.
On the touchdown before that extra point attempt, Vanderbilt jumped offsides before stopping Baylor on 2nd-and-goal at the two. With the penalty yards and a re-do of the down, Baylor scored.
The most costly mistake of the night was tight end Jared Pinkney’s fumble in the third quarter. After catching a 32-yard pass from Shurmur, Pinkney lost control of the ball at Baylor’s five-yard line, as Henry Black stripped the ball out of his hands. Baylor’s Blake Lynch would recover the fumble at the Bears’ two-yard line. Vanderbilt would force a three-and-out on Baylor’s ensuing possession, but the missed opportunity would come back to haunt the Commodores in a tight matchup.
No one felt worse about the play and the rest of the night than Pinkney.
“I can’t fumble the ball going into the end zone,” said Pinkney. “I had the worst game of the season. Just for this to be my class’ last season, it’s just not right for me.”
Vanderbilt ends the season with a 6-7 record, and coaches will shift their focus to recruiting a talented incoming freshman class to fill the void of the graduating seniors.