TE Brandon Henderson couldn’t hang on to a slick throw by Tyson Lee at the five, though and State had to settle for kicking. Adam Carlson’s first try, from 39 yards, was blocked but the Commodores had jumped the snap. Given another chance from 33 yards Carlson was good at 9:16.
A blocking penalty meant Vanderbilt had to start at their 16-yard line, and a delay call left them punting on 4th-and-9. Brett Upson unleashed a 54-yarder with the wind and as the Bulldogs in their turn also blocked-in-the-back State was stuck on the 17. Dixon went left for ten yards, and Lee pulled it down on a rollout-right for a nine-yard keeper for a second first down. Blake McAdams’ punt ended up on the Commodore 28-yard line.
Early in the second period when the ‘Dores got the ball back they had a 3rd-and-1 on the 35-yard line. They tried to catch State’s defense napping as Nickson dropped to throw, only to be sacked hard by S Keith Fitzhugh for a eight-yard loss. A rugby-punt and roll of 47 yards had State starting on their 16. Lee hit Jamayel Smith for 11 yards, and McRae for ten more to advance to Vanderbilt’s 46-yard line. But on second down the quarterback not only had to throw it away, he was across the line doing so. A ten-yard sack by Brent Trice forced punting, and McAdams hit it horribly for a net of five whole yards.
Thus the Commodores were starting on State’s 49-yard line. A reverse-run by Sean Walker got their first first down, at the 37, but three Dogs swarmed Nickson for loss of ten yards. On 4th-and-15 Upson hung his punt for a downing at the Dog two-yard line.
Lee barely evaded a safety on 3rd-and-7, given credit for getting to the half-yard line on a sack. This had McAdams punting from back of his end zone, and while he got a bit more downfield angle the ball was ruled out at the 17-yard line.
Nickson got a dozen yards on two totes, and while a procedure call cost five yards Jeff Jennings got seven on his run. On third down outside the one-yard line Nickson’s rollout throw was incomplete for his tight end, but CB Jasper O’Quinn had grabbed a facemask in the end zone for a free first down. Two snaps later DT Kyle Love lined up offsides, stopping the clock at 0:22. Vanderbilt used a timeout to tell Nickson to just stick the ball over the goal line, which he did at 0:19. Despite only 43 net offensive yards and three first downs—not to mention more penalties in a half than in any entire previous game--the Commodores took a 7-3 lead into their locker room.
Vanderbilt’s opening possession of the new half lasted 65 seconds and ended on a shanked punt of their own, a 28-yarder so State could start on their 46-yard line. This seemed a non-starter too, with a 3rd-and-11. Lee converted by racing to the marker for a 12-yard pickup.
A toss to Dixon netted a dozen more yards to the Vanderbilt 36-yard line, and on 2nd-and-11 Ducre turned a draw into 20 yards with only a stumble stopping him. Still State faced 3rd-and-7 and Lee should have been sacked, but his height—or lack thereof—played to an advantage as he ducked an arm and scooted straight ahead to the six-yard line. With 3rd-and-4 Lee had more pressure in his face and threw high, which was just the right thing to do. Because the ball hung just over 6-2 safety Reshard Langord’s hands where the 6-1 TE Henderson could pull it down in the end zone at 8:09 for the 10-7 Bulldog lead. It was Henderson’s first college catch.
Another ‘Dore rugby punt pinned State to the 19-yard line. Lee was able to scramble again for one first down before the Bulldogs had to kick it back, and this time McAdams loosed a 47-yarder sticking Vanderbilt on their 27-yard line. Then, their 17 after a penalty and draw-loss. This time Upson was punting from near the red zone, and his rugger-kick was a liner right to Derek Pegues, which he brought back 23 yards to Vandy’s 45. Dixon moved the marker once but a foolish personal foul on WR Co-Eric Riley helped kill the drive. McAdams’ sky-high punt took a fair bounce as the quarter ended, downed on the 15-yard line.
Yet that 32-yard kick and the ensuing field position made all the day’s difference. Because backed-up deep the ‘Dores again tried to surprise State’s defense and Nickson rolled to throw. Under pressure he unloaded in an area where only S De’Mon Glanton could catch the ball. The Dog did, returning 16 yards to the Vanderbilt seven for the great gift State’s offense needed. Dixon got nothing on first down, but Ducre made four yards on second and on 3rd-and-goal out of a split-back set made a slick cut through right guard for the touchdown.
Vanderbilt had coped with deficits every game all year so a 17-7 scoreboard with over 13 minutes still showing was no reason to panic. And a short kickoff that started the Commodores from their 43-yard line didn’t hurt. Nor did changing quarterbacks as Mackenzi Adams hit Walker for 21 yards to get the drive really moving. On 3rd-and-5 at State’s 36 Justin Wheeler made a short catch that turned into a 16-yard play by spinning off LB Karlin Brown’s tackle. A bigger break came on second-and-goal as CB Marcus Washington was flagged for interfering in the end zone with Jamie Graham, though there was no chance of an in-bounds catch.
Two snaps and a timeout later Vanderbilt cut it to 17-14 as Adams got off a pitch to Jennings for the two-yard touchdown at 8:16.
State was able to burn 3:19 of that off with one first down, a two-yard grind by Dixon, but the clock stopped when Lee couldn’t hook-up with Henderson. The Commodores hurt their cause adding ten penalty yards for holding to a 34-yard McAdams punt, setting them on the 15 at 4:49. Two incompletions and a Jennings run used only 40 ticks. The Bulldogs couldn’t move chains either but did force the ‘Dores to burn two timeouts before punting to the 28-yard line.
And Vanderbilt was all out of rallies this time. With good coverage buying him time DT Cortez McCraney pushed through two blockers and tripped Adams for a seven-yard sack on first down. The last VU timeout later, Adams telegraphed his intentions down the middle and Brown avenged his earlier misplay by stepping in front of the throw for the interception. State still had 3:18 to kill, and it took an exceptional spinning catch by McRae of a low Lee throw to earn the final first down on the nine-yard line. Two more hikes were all it took to run out the clock for Mississippi State’s first SEC victory, and Vanderbilt’s first loss. #13 Vanderbilt became State’s highest-ranked victim in eight years, since a home win over #3 Florida in 2000.
Dixon finished with 107 net ground yards, his first 100-yard day since Kentucky last season. Oddly, that was the entire offensive output for Vanderbilt with just 62 passing yards and 45 net rushing yards. State ended up with 247 total yards but produced no less than 16 first downs and held the ball 36:12 minutes, to 23:48 for the guests.