Not many 14-7 games can hold the fans’ interest as long as Vanderbilt’s win over #18 Kansas State.
The stadium appeared to be an even split between the Kansas State and Vanderbilt faithful, and the stands were nearly full until the game clock struck zero.
The game was expected to be an offensive showdown after both squads ran up the score against mid-major opponents. The Commodores headed into Saturday night’s game averaging an even 35 points a game, and the Wildcats scored 55 in both contests.
After Kansas State and Vanderbilt traded three-and-outs to start the game, quarterback Kyle Shurmur led the Commodores on a 13-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Duncan. Earlier in the drive, Jared Pinkney got wide open for a 38-yard catch.
Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz responded with a 15-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-one attempt to start the second quarter. After the score evened up at seven, both offenses stalled and combined for 68 yards for the remainder of the first half.
Ertz continued to attack the Vanderbilt linebackers with plenty of delayed running plays. Ertz finished the night with 126 rushing yards after rushing for a total of 111 in the first two games.
“He’s a good running quarterback,” said Vanderbilt linebacker Emmanuel Smith of Ertz.
The Wildcats recovered a Shurmur fumble and returned it for a touchdown with 6:04 left in the second quarter, but upon video review, Shurmur’s knee was ruled down before he lost control of the ball. A welcome relief for Commodore fans, the overturned call brought life back into the sellout crowd and took a Kansas State touchdown off the scoreboard.
Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb had trouble finding gaps to run through, and averaged 2.8 yards a carry in a disappointing first half. The second half did not fare much better for Webb who ended up rushing for 46 yards on 21 attempts.
Kansas State’s defense came into Saturday’s contest allowing an average of 166.5 rushing yards per game, and allowed just 65 yards on the ground to a powerful Commodore rushing attack.
Kansas State received the second half kickoff, but failed to gain any momentum through the air and punted. On the ensuing drive, Shurmur found Trent Sherfield for 36 yards in the middle of the field. Sam Dobbs added a ten yard rush before a holding penalty by Ean Pfeifer effectively ended the drive.
Three of Vanderbilt’s four penalties were holding calls, all of which hampered the offense. These drive-stalling penalties frustrated the team and were a reason for the poor offensive showing compared to Vanderbilt’s first two games. Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason noted that his team needed to be better when it came to penalties.
Sam Loy’s 19-yard punt gave the Wildcats better-than-expected field position. Kansas State moved the chains with the entrance of running back Justin Silmon into the game. Silmon ran for 41 yards on three attempts to set up a 42-yard missed field goal by Matthew McCrane.
Ladarius Wiley intercepted a Jesse Ertz pass at midfield near the start of the fourth quarter. It was the first career interception for Wiley, who added 11 yards on the return.
Vanderbilt failed to take advantage of the short field created by the interception. Ralph Webb fumbled the ball in the red zone, and Kansas State’s Elijah Sullivan recovered the fumble.
The turnovers continued to pile on as Ryan White intercepted Ertz with about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“We knew they were going to throw the ball deep” White said of the Wildcats. “It’s just about making the most of the opportunity.”
Shurmur and Vanderbilt’s offense struck quickly with a 32-yard strike to Trent Sherfield to give the Commodores the ball at Kansas State’s one-yard line. Two consecutive running plays pushed the offense back another yard before Shurmur ran for a touchdown on third-and-goal.
With a 14-7 lead supporting them, the Vanderbilt defense forced a three-and-out that emphatically began with a sack by Charles Wright and Jonathan Wynn.
“I thought our defense played amazing, and those turnovers were huge,” said Shurmur.
Vanderbilt tried to run out the clock after gaining possession at the 6:31 mark in the fourth, but Webb ran for a combined one yard on two carries. Shurmur’s pass to Sherfield fell incomplete due to what the crowd felt was a missed pass interference call on Kansas State.
The Wildcats began the next drive on the Vanderbilt 46-yard line. Kansas was driving in the final minutes until Oren Burks and Wiley stopped Ertz short on fourth down.
With the victory, Vanderbilt starts the season 3-0 for the first time since 2011. The win also doubles Vanderbilt’s win total versus ranked non-conference opponents and moves their record to 2-18 all-time.
Next weekend, Vanderbilt hosts top-ranked Alabama to begin SEC play. If the Commodores want to stay competitive, they need to revive an offense that only earned 11 first downs in this contest.
But first, Ryan White said, “we’re going to celebrate this win.”
Photos by Claire Barnett, Bruce Brookshire, Emily Goncalves, & Ray Li // The Vanderbilt Hustler