NASHVILLE—After blowing two scoring opportunities inside the Tennessee State 2-yard line and clinging to a 10-3 lead late in the third quarter, Vanderbilt looked to special teams and defense to turn the game on Saturday night at Dudley Field.
The Commodores got it, and then some. Vanderbilt forced three Tiger turnovers in less than two minutes, turning them into three touchdowns and cruising to a 38-9 route of TSU.
The onslaught began when Vandy's Brett Upson chipped a punt that D.J. Moore downed at the TSU 1-yard line.
Two plays later, under severe pressure from Jonathan Goff and Theo Horrocks, TSU's Antonio Hefner tried to throw a pass from the back of his end zone.
Goff appeared to hit Hefner's arm from the back side as he threw, and the ball hit a TSU lineman in the back of the helmet and bounced to VU's Marcus Buggs, who caught it and got his feet down in the back of the end zone for a 16-3 lead.
Bryant Hahnfeldt added the extra point, then kicked off to TSU's Jarrett Morrow, who was hit by Funtaine Hunter and fumbled at the TSU 7. Jared Hawkins recovered, and two plays later, Chris Nickson's five-yard scramble and Hahnfeldt's extra point extended the lead to 24-3
On the next play from scrimmage, Heffner threw deep and was intercepted by Reshard Langford, who returned it 21 yards to the TSU 33. On the next play, Nickson threw to the end zone to Earl Bennett, who beat single coverage and hauled in the pass for a 30-3 lead.
"That play really got us out of the doldrums," said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. " It was a big momentum changer that gave us a little bit of breathing room. Marcus really did a great job of getting his foot down for the touchdown," said Johnson.
"It just popped up in my face, so I grabbed it, and made sure I was in bounds," said Buggs.
The Commodores led 10-3 at the half, but it should have been worse. On the first two possessions, the Commodores got inside the TSU 2-yard line and failed to come up with points. Hahnfeldt missed a 20-yard field goal on the first, and the Tigers stopped Cassen Jackson-Garrison on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the next.
Vandy's opening drive of the second half stalled when Jackson-Garrison lost a fumble at the TSU 14.
The Tigers then drove to the Vandy 7, where Goff sacked Hefner for a loss of 16 on third-and-6. Vandy's Moore blocked Eric Benson's 40-yard field goal to keep the lead at seven.
On the ensuing possession, Vandy drove to the TSU 32, setting up Upson's punt to the 1.
The Commodores scored their final touchdown when Hawkins scored on a five-yard rush, the first touchdown of his career.
The game, played at Vanderbilt's Dudley Field in front of 27, 460 fans, was the first ever between the two schools. The significance was not lost between the players, said Vandy's Marcus Buggs, whose cousin, Chris Johnson, scored the lone TSU touchdown.
"It was mainly for bragging rights around here," added Buggs, whose cousin scored the lone Tiger touchdown. "A lot of guys on both teams know each other, and it should make for some very interesting conversation after tonight."