JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt opens season with a costly loss

Photo: WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) -Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason said the game against Western Kentucky would be a statement game for both teams.

Here’s the statement: Western Kentucky 14, Vanderbilt 12. Both teams played the season opener as poorly as two teams can play. I hate to see what Vanderbilt will do in the SEC schedule. Brace yourself. It’s going to get ugly.

Oh, it was close at the end. Vanderbilt scored a touchdown to pull within 14-12, but an attempt for two points failed, as did an ensuing on-side kick.

The Commodores left too many points on the field and Western did just enough to earn the win. Vanderbilt had 393 total yards on 76 plays while Western had 247 on 52 plays.

I came prepared to see what had been billed to be an explosive Western Kentucky offense led by quarterback Brandon Doughty. After a slow start, the six-year senior finished with 19 of 30 for 209 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions He was sacked twice.

It was also touted as an improved Vanderbilt offense to go with a more experienced defense.

What I saw the first half was a snoozer. At half it was Vanderbilt 3-0. I could have sworn I was watching a soccer match.

In the first half, the Hilltoppers managed only 46 offensive yards on 22 plays in the first two quarters. Doughty was 6 of 14 for 58 yards through the air and ran the football three times for minus-20 yards.

They must have passed out free 5 Hour Energy drinks at halftime.

Vanderbilt made a game of it after intermission. Before that, the Commodores got 59 rushing yards out of their top tailback Ralph Webb and 47 yards from quarterback Johnny McCrary. But the only score came off the foot of kicker Tommy Openshaw who nailed a 49-yard field goal to break the ice in the second quarter.

It got better in the second half. After all the pregame accolades heaped on Doughty and his offensive mates, surely he had more than he showed in the opening half.

On one possession, Vanderbilt moved the ball to Western’s nine-yard line.  First-and-goal.

Ralph Webb lost two yards on first down. McCrary found an open seam and was tripped up at the one-yard line. It was third-and-goal when Western Kentucky cut Dallas Rivers’ water off for no gain.

OK, Vanderbilt still had less than a yard to go on fourth-and-goal. You would think one of the best running backs in the SEC, Ralph Webb, could make that, right?

No, just like Seattle would not give the ball to Marshawn Lynch to win this year’s Super Bowl, Vanderbilt stole the Seahawks’ playbook.

McCrary threw a high pass in the back of the end zone and Western Kentucky’s linebacker Nick Newton leaped in the air for the interception.

What little air was left in Vanderbilt Stadium was sucked out by the pick.

McCrary finished 18 of 34 but was intercepted twice. Webb rushed for 70 yards on 18 carries. He averaged 3.9 yards a carry.

If these two teams continue to play this season as they did Thursday night, wins will be hard to come by. Fans of both teams cannot be happy with what they watched. It was downright painful at times. Western did leave town with a win over an SEC team. Enough said.

Deep in the third quarter, Western broke the ice thanks to a 65-yard Doughty completion that put the ball on the Commodores’ four-yard line where the Toppers took it over for what would be a 7-3 lead.

On the next possession, Vandy moved the ball downfield and faced a third-and-goal from Western’s eight-yard line. McCrary threw the ball to a wide-open tight end Nathan Marcus. It hit Marcus in the wrong place. His hands. The ball dropped to the ground, forcing the Commodores to kick a 26-yard field goal at 12:35 in the game, moving the score to 7-6.

It would be as close as the Commodores could manage.

More of these games and Derek Mason’s future looks bleak.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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