The Blue Raiders took a short road trip Saturday, Sept. 10, as they were hosted by the Vanderbilt Commodores, and a large contingent of the True Blue faithful came to try and crash the party.
Brent Stockstill and company looked to be in a groove early as they found themselves in Vanderbilt territory after just three snaps. However, after working their way down to the Vandy 28, the Commodores’ star linebacker Zach Cunningham forced a fumble on a Ruben Garnett run. Vandy free safety LaDarius Wiley recovered and ran the ball for 55 yards before Stockstill made the touchdown-saving tackle.
In the shadow of their own goal post, the MT defense stood strong and forced a three-and-out capped off with a Shaq Huff sack. The Commodores were limited to a field goal to go ahead 3–0.
On the ensuing possession, the MT offense again was in a rhythm early. However, they stalled just shy of the red zone and were forced to kick a game-tying field goal.
After another three-and-out effort by the Blue Raiders defense, Vanderbilt punted the ball. Yet, Richie James, who rarely is off cue, muffed the punt. James recovered the ball, but not before the defense could force him out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
“I wasn’t really smart with the decision I made; to misjudge the ball and go touch it. That’s all on me,” said James.
Vandy would get excellent field position to start after the following free kick was returned to the Vanderbilt 44-yard line. Yet, the MT defense once again had a strong showing as they forced their third straight three-and-out.
The Blue Raider offense again came out clicking, but appeared to stall as they got into Commodore territory. On a crucial 3rd and 10 play, Stockstill tossed up a pass to Richie James as he was being hurried. What appeared at first to be an incompletion turned out to be an amazing 19-yard reception by James. James just got a toe in-bounds as he leaned over the sideline to reel in the pass. The catch proved to be paramount, as Stockstill and James connected for a touchdown pass just three plays later.
The game would reach a turning point on the ensuing kickoff, however. After Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims returned the kick for 47 yards, a facemask penalty gave the Commodores an extra 15 yards, allowing them to take over at the MT 30-yard line. Ralph Webb got his first big gain of the day on a highlight reel 16-yard carry in which he hurdled MT safety Jovante Moffatt. Vandy reclaimed the lead shortly after on a Khari Blasingame goal-line run.
On the next possession, the Blue Raiders offense once again looked to be firing on all cylinders as they got down to the Vandy 30-yard line. However, Vanderbilt’s Owen Burks, a former-safety-turned-linebacker, broke into the backfield as Stockstill was attempting a pass toward the sideline and intercepted it. Stockstill once again made the touchdown saving tackle, but not before Burks took it 59 yards to the MT 7-yard line. A Ralph Webb touchdown run extended Vandy’s lead 19–10.
The Blue Raider offense again stalled in enemy territory on the next possession, ending in a Brent Stockstill pooch punt. The defense came out with another strong showing to force a punt, however an incoming thunderstorm resulted in a near two-hour game delay.
Coming out of the delay, it looked as though MT would regain some momentum. The defense immediately blocked the punt which set up a five-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Ty Lee. However, the defense that had played so well up to the delay looked entirely different after play resumed.
Kyle Shurmur, who hadn’t completed a pass in seven attempts before the delay, completed his first attempt afterward. That was followed up by a 49-yard run by Ralph Webb. Vanderbilt finished the half with two unanswered touchdowns to give them a 33–17 lead.
The same defense that had held Vandy to just 57 yards before the delay allowed 136 yards in the five minutes after it. Shurmur also completed nine of his ten pass attempts in the final five minutes of the half. This set the tone for the rest of the game, but coach Rick Stockstill feels the delay had little to do with the defense’s downfall.
“Not a bit,” coach Stock said when asked if the rain delay had an impact on the defense. “You look at it and we came out and blocked a punt. It’s not an excuse, you know? We didn’t play well enough defensively in those five or six minutes after the rain (delay). The rain is no excuse. We have to play better than we did coming out.”
Middle scored the lone touchdown of the 3rd quarter with a late-quarter touchdown pass to Patrick Smith to get back within striking distance. However, a penalty-laden fourth quarter for MT aided the Commodores in scoring two more unanswered touchdowns. Vanderbilt came away with the win 47-24.
Several milestones were reached in this game. Richie James caught 14 passes to top the single-game receptions record broken last season by Ed Batties. Stockstill broke his own record for both completions (38) and attempts (65). Those records formerly stood at 36 and 56 respectively. He also set a new personal best for passing yards throwing for 399 yards to eclipse his former best of 381.
Vandy running back Ralph Webb also hit a couple milestones. His 211 rushing yards set a personal best for him, and also made him just the third Vanderbilt player to rush for over 200 yards in a game. It is the first time a Vandy back has accomplished the feat since Frank Mordica rushed for 321 yards in a game in 1978.
The Blue Raiders will hope to recover from this loss when they play at Bowling Green State on Saturday, Sept. 17.