NASHVILLE, Tenn.-True freshmen Zac Stacy and Warren Norman each rushed for over 100 yards in their college debuts, and a stingy Vanderbilt defense held Western Carolina to four first downs and 115 yards in the Commodores' 45-0 opening night win over the Catamounts at Dudley Field on Saturday evening.
With starting tailback Jared Hawkins out, Stacy (135 yards, one touchdown) and Norman (105, 2) keyed a VU rushing attack that gained 433 yards on the ground, and an offense that racked up 620 on the evening. VU ran 95 total plays and held the ball for 34:44.
Defensively, the 'Dores squelched any chance that Western had to sustain drives by holding the Catamounts to 0-of-13 on third-down conversions and forcing four turnovers.
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"First of all, I was really pleased that our team came out and played hard at the first of the game, and really took control of it," Coach Bobby Johnson said. "Sometimes, you just want to make sure you come out and take care of business, and play the way you ought to play.
"We did that. We had some flaws in there, some bad spots, kicking game errors and things like that, which we would love to get cleaned up. But, it gives us a good chance to try to run our offense and do some different things."
VU out-gained WCU 320 to 66 in the first half, yet let just 21-0 due to some sloppy play. Vandy lost a fumble in the Catamount end zone, a missed field goal, and had punts of seven and minus-24 yards in the first half.
A Larry Smith touchdown throw and scoring runs by Stacy and Norman accounted for the halftime margin.
Two drives into the second half, VU tacked on another score when Norman rolled over from 2 yards on a nine-play, 44-yard drive.
The 'Dores cleared the bench throughout much of the second half, but managed to light up the scoreboard and stat sheets.
With 6:45 remaining, junior Kennard Reeves added his first career touchdown on a 12-yard run, and Ryan van Rensburg also added his career first with 4:39 left.
A 25-yard Ryan Fowler field goal, set up by an Eric Samuels interception and return deep into Catamount territory, accounted for the final margin.
VU took over on the Western 30 and 29 on its first two possessions to start the evening following fumble recoveries by the defense.
However, VU failed to score on either after Smith fumbled going into the end zone on the first drive, and Fowler missed a 43-yard field goal on the second.
But after a 3-and-out by the Catamounts, two Stacy rushes for 19 yards moved VU into WCU territory before Smith found an open Justin Green around the WCU 10. Green first bobbled the ball, but eventually corralled it and jogged untouched into the end zone for the game's first score.
The Commodores wasted little time in adding to that, forcing another three-and-out, then marching 57 yards in six plays capped by Norman's 6-yard run around the left side with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
Stacy followed by scoring on a 9-yard direct snap from center to culminate a nine-play, 80-yard drive, giving Vandy a 21-0 lead.
VU's last drive of the first half stalled at the Western 40, then Brett Upson's rugby-style punt hit teammate Austin Monahan and ricocheted back to the Commodores 37, where WCU had 1:09 to mount a scoring drive.
But a T.J. Greenstone sack on the drive's first play set the tone for another stalled drive than ended when Sean Richardson deflected a pass in the end zone with five seconds left in the half.
Stacy's yardage total was a Vanderbilt single-game freshman record.
"It was a great experience. I just have to thank God for giving me the opportunity to go out there and showcase my talent. We played hard, and it was a lot of fun," Stacy said.
VU (1-0) travels to Baton Rouge to face nationally-ranked LSU at 6 p.m. Central next Saturday. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
"We'll have a slight increase in talent level of the opposition," Johnson quipped. "We've got to improve... but we're not going to be scared to go down there. We're looking forward to the game."