Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
Story by Nathan Vaughan / Staff Writer
It was a case of deja vu for the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders football team as the team got swept aside by cross-town foe Vanderbilt 35-7 on Saturday night inside Vanderbilt Stadium. The setback for MTSU felt reminiscent of the 2017 loss to the Commodores at Red Floyd Stadium where Ralph Webb and company rushed out to a quick 21-0 advantage to take the Blue Raiders out early. A defensive battle kept the game close in the first half, but the Blue Raiders fell behind to an insurmountable deficit in the second half.
Both teams come firing out the gates
An electric first quarter included Vanderbilt’s Khari Blasingame taking five consecutive touches for 43 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive.
After the departure of record-breaking Ralph Webb, Blasingame took the reins as the Commodores top back with nine carries for 52 yards and a touchdown in total. Although, he did not have another touch after the beginning of the second quarter.
Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn also saw touches at halfback. The Pearl-Cohn alum tallied 37 yards on nine carries in his homecoming game.
MTSU marched down the field on the next drive following a targeting call on Vanderbilt’s top tackler LaDarius Wiley that extended the drive. Brent Stockstill threw a wheel route to the converted linebacker into running back Tavares Thomas, which set up a four-yard fade pass to CJ Windham in the end zone to knot the game at seven apiece.
Thomas was among five MTSU running backs that saw time in the backfield including redshirt junior Maurice Gordon and redshirt freshman Chaton Mobley.
“We have a lot of weapons,” said Brad Anderson, an MTSU running back. “It keeps people fresh. The depth we have at running back is going to help when someone gets dinged up or is tired”
But MTSU would shoot itself in the foot with a lateral throw to Anderson, which sailed over the receiver and was scooped and scored by Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo to put the Commodores up 14-7.
“That’s a play I take responsibility for,” Anderson said. “It shouldn’t have been a lateral ball. I should’ve pushed up on the snap and made it a full pass.”
A tale of two halves makes the difference for Vanderbilt
Kyle Shurmur finally connected on a downfield dart in the second half to Donaven Tennyson for 49 yards and finished the drive with a roll-out sling to sophomore receiver Chris Pierce. Pierce snagged the ball in the corner of the end zone before it hit the ground in the third quarter and extended Vanderbilt’s lead to 14.
It was Vanderbilt’s prolific Kalija Lipscomb that sealed the fate of MTSU with a leaping grab to make it 28-7. Jamauri Wakefield had the most touches of all Commodore backs in the game. The majority came at the end of the game, as he tallied 10 carries for 56 yards and a cherry-on-top touchdown in the final minutes to finish the scoring at 35-7.
Protection problems force Blue Raiders to adjust offense
Stockstill was sacked six times on the night. The lack of protection for the senior quarterback was a big issue as he comes back from an injury-riddled 2017 season. The offensive line struggled against the Commodores constant pressure and blitzes throughout the contest, forcing the play-calling on offense to focus more on quick passes to the sidelines.
Stockstill ran for yards on his own on multiple possessions and fought for extra yards instead of opting to slide. However, the fifth-year signal caller brushed aside any worries about his physical running style.
“I’m just out there being a little kid playing football,” Stockstill said. “That’s how I play. Loving contact, being physical (and) trying to show my team that I’m their leader, and I’m going to lay it on the line.”
MTSU will host their home opener next week to face UT-Martin. The Blue Raiders will look to bounce back in similar fashion to last year’s campaign when they took down Syracuse in week two. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 8.
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