Commodores Drop Opener to South Carolina

This game was supposed to be different from those over the past few years. The only thing that seemed destined to remain was the Anchor Dash and the stout defense.

After the approximately 1600 freshmen sprinted across the field, Vanderbilt sent out Tommy Openshaw, Trent Sherfield and Oren Burks to handle the coin toss. To start the much hyped season, Vanderbilt kicked off the ball to South Carolina, which nearly ended in a disaster for the visiting Gamecocks.

Coin Toss before Vanderbilt lost against the South Carolina Gamecocks 13-10 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 1, 2016.

Coin Toss before Vanderbilt lost against the South Carolina Gamecocks 13-10 at Vanderbilt Stadium September 1, 2016.

The first drives of the game stalled for each team. However, a muffed punt gave Vanderbilt the ball in opposing territory soon after. The drive hardly progressed, but Openshaw gave Vandy the 3-0 lead with the season’s first field goal.

Vanderbilt’s defense would remain steadfast during the entirety of the first half, shutting out their opponents. This wasn’t too shocking the defense returned many key players from last year and South Carolina’s offense had plenty of woes and their own two-quarterback system.

Apparently, South Carolina wasn’t the only team on the field planning to utilize this system though. After starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur led Vanderbilt on a 67 yard drive arguably one of its best in a while, head coach Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig plugged Wade Freebeck in at quarterback in a predetermined move. The decision left many shocked and puzzled both in the immediate moment and after the game. Mason said in the summer that he would stick to one quarterback but felt the need to provide Freebeck with more experience just in case.

From that point on, Vanderbilt couldn’t score and watched as South Carolina came back to put up 13 points. It was enough to defeat the Commodores at home. The Gamecocks held Vanderbilt to 73 passing yards, although running backs Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame each put up solid numbers.

South Carolina sealed the deal when they sent out Elliot Fry, their kicker, for a career long 55 yard field goal attempt. Vanderbilt players, coaches and fans watched helplessly as Fry nailed the ball through the uprights with plenty to spare. The 35 seconds remaining weren’t enough for Vanderbilt to come back.

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Vanderbilt hasn’t won an opening game since 2011, when James Franklin was head coach. Since then, nearly every game has been heartbreaking. In 2012, South Carolina took the lead and won in the fourth quarter. The next season, 2013, was even more brutal to watch, as Ole Miss scored on a 75 yard run with 1:07 left to put away what seemed like a miraculous Vanderbilt win. Mason’s first year, 2014, opened with a 37-7 blowout loss to Temple. Last year, red zone struggles doomed the Commodores, as they fell to Western Kentucky.

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Story by Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief
Photos by Claire Barnett, Emily Goncalves and Ziyi Liu, Photo Director

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