Vanderbilt’s offense missed a couple of opportunities score – not to mention all of it passes – in the first half Saturday.
Quarterback Larry Smith connected on his first six throws after halftime, including his first touchdown pass against an SEC opponent, and the Commodores’ defense even got its hands on a couple of Ole Miss attempts. Still, none of that was enough to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit, which grew to 23 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Vanderbilt fell to 0-3 in SEC play (2-3 overall) with a 23-7 loss to the Rebels before 39,625 at Vanderbilt Stadium due in large part to its inability to mind its Ps – passes and penalties – which cost it the most important Q – quality.
The Commodores had more penalties (12) than completions (10) and lost more yards to penalties (74) than it gained through the air (69).
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that had that many penalties or that many mental errors in a game,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “It was just disheartening for our team and for the fans.
“It’s just a tough situation for us right now.”
Actually, it was only the most penalties and yards for the Commodores since they were flagged 14 times for 141 yards in a loss to Middle Tennessee State on Oct. 12, 2003, Johnson’s second year on the job.
Smith was 0-for-9 before halftime, but the Commodores still managed to get within field goal range twice during the second quarter. Freshman kicker Ryan Fowler missed to the left both times, the first from 47 yards and the second from 37 yards.
Smith finished the night 10-for-27 and was sacked four times. He threw just one interception, but that was in the end zone early in the fourth quarter when Vanderbilt had a chance to get within a single score.
“It was just hard for me to get in a rhythm in the first half,” Smith said. “I missed some open guys. It was a horrible start.”
By comparison, Ole Miss’ Jevan Snead, an all-conference candidate, was 14-23 in the first half and 19-for-34 overall for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted three times, one fewer than the last time he faced the Commodores.
“It was the plan to throw the ball a lot coming in,” Snead said. “I really enjoyed it and I like getting some rhythm when I am able to throw the ball around a lot. … As far as the interceptions are concerned, I don’t think as an offense that will hurt us.”
Casey Hayward’s third-quarter pick and return to the Ole Miss 34 finally positioned VU to score. Smith’s seven-yard pass to Udom Umoh capped a seven-play drive, but that only made it 23-7 in favor of the visitors.
Myron Lewis followed with another takeaway on the Rebels’ next possession, but a holding penalty negated a fourth-down conversion and forced the Commodores to punt.
“The first half we weren’t very good at all,” center Bradley Vierling said. “The second half we weren’t very good either but we moved the ball a little bit better. … We had plays that we’d get stuff going and then we hurt ourselves.”
Both of Fowler’s missed kicks were made longer by violations. The Commodores had it second-and-10 at the Ole Miss 15 when a false start was followed by a four-yard loss on a run and then a sack. It was second-and-10 from the 13 on the next possession when lost five yards to another false start. A sack and an incomplete pass followed.
The officials did not ignore the defense and special teams either. A personal foul on the opening kickoff added 15 yards to the Rebels’ starting field position. From their own 42, they drove 55 yards to a field goal and 3-0 lead.
Ole Miss made it 10-0 three plays after an illegal substitution by the Commodores’ defense turned a third-and-1 from the 7 into a first-and-goal from the 4.
“We got some turnovers but we just couldn’t capitalize on offense because we were making too many mistakes,” Johnson said. “You start a drive first-and-10 and then it’s first-and-15, it’s hard to make a first down. Harder.
“We just blew our opportunities. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win.”