The Commodores also went no-huddle, and moved the chains once on a first-play pass of ten yards to their 46-yard line. When stopped on 3rd-and-nine their punt was downed at State’s seven-yard line. Chris Relf got this turn at quarterback and took a shot unloading a pitch—which lost four yards—on second down. Soon P Heath Hutchins was hurrying a punt out of the end zone that only reached the State 45. The Dog defense hurried an incomplete on 3rd-and-5, and this time Brett Upson’s punt angled-out at the five-yard line.
With FB Patrick Hanrahan opening a seam RB Anthony Dixon punched out a dozen quick yards. It gave Hutchins room to work with after WR O’Neal Wilder let Lee’s third-down throw go off his hands. Vanderbilt fair-caught at their 41-yard line and shortly returned it, Berry fielding at the 13 this time. Wilder caught Lee’s second-down shot for a first down at the 35-yard line, and on second down Dixon bowled over a couple of ‘Dores to the Vanderbilt 43. That 16-yard carry pushed Dixon into third place in MSU’s career rushing list. Arnil Stallworth went right end for ten more yards and another move of chains.
But State needed to use a timeout on 3rd-and-nine at the 32 to avoid a substitution foul, and a draw-run by Dixon only netted five yards. Quarter’s end meant Sean Brauchle had to wait on his 42-yard field goal try, and do it at the other end of the field. He still hit it high and straight at 14:55 for the night’s first points.
Warren Norman had to be run out of bounds by S Wade Bonner at the 38-yard line but Vanderbilt made no good of it. A second-down flag cost five yards and a third down blitz by Bonner produced a sack by DE Pernell McPhee for seven more lost. Upson’s punt was a bomb, though, and Berry only got it back to the 15-yard line.
Disaster struck immediately as RB Robert Elliot lost the handle after Sean Richardson’s hit, with Tim Fuggar recovering at the Bulldog six-yard line. Two blasts by Kennard Reeves got five yards’ worth, but the third time he was caught in the backfield by safeties Charles Mitchell and Zach Smith. The ‘Dores settled for a tied score on the 20-yard field goal, but State had to be relieved by limiting the damage.
Berry’s return started State at the 35-yard line, and nine-yard bursts by Dixon and Relf had the ball across midfield when the Dogs had to call time again on offense. Vanderbilt made better use of the break and stuffed three varied rush tries before Hutchins kicked it 46 yards into the end zone. CB Marcus Washington made sure a third-down completion stopped three yards short of the stick and Upson kicked it back.
Starting at the 38 after Vandy accidentally contacted the punt, Relf scrambled for nine and ran on-purpose for six more. Dixon broke a trio of tacklers for 14 yards to the 33-yard line, then Relf hit Berry for seven and another first down and pulled the ball down in the pocket and rambled to the 12 himself. With 3rd-and-8 at the ten-yard line Relf threw behind TE Marcus Green, so Brauchle was summoned to chip through the 27-yarder for a 6-3 lead.
Vanderbilt wasn’t able to run out the last 2:14 due to a false-start and fumbled third-down snap, so State used the last timeout at 1:30 for the punt play. Upson hit it huge, 60yards, and Berry let it bounce twice, before scooping and scampering to the Bulldog 47 at 1:10. And Lee found Green for 23 yards on the first snap, to the ‘Dore 30. But a couple of sacks meant no chance at padding the halftime margin, thus State held the slender three-point lead despite a whopping 172-to-33 edge in offense, 11 to 1 in first downs. It was primarily Upson’s punting with four balls hit inside State’s 20 that was saving Vanderbilt’s day.
The ‘Dores successfully converted a pair of third downs to open the new half, getting to State’s side of midfield before Smith was pressured into throwing high for favored target Udom Umoh. Upson aimed for the left corner yet again but missed into the end zone. Lee found WR Chad Bumphis for consecutive catches and 14 yards for operating room. And after slipping for just a yard on first down, RB Christian Ducre burst through left end for 23 and first down at VU’s 42.
The drive stopped as Lee missed two throws, including a deep strike for WR Taylor Reed, and was dragged down for no gain. Hutchins hit it at the five-yard line but it kept going for touchback. Still State thought they had turned the field in their favor. At least until CB Damein Anderson lost Turner Wimberly for a11-yard gain on third down, and on the next third down Brandon Barden hauled in another chain-mover. It took a perfect run-blitz to stuff Reeves for loss and force the next VU punt, into State’s end zone. Relf couldn’t move the offense and Hutchins’ punted.
It only went 38 yards but worked out nicely for the Bulldogs anyway as Alex Washington lost focus and the ball, with LB Jamie Jones recovering at the Commodore 36-yard line. State could only advance four net yards as Relf, with four wides-right, didn’t take care of the shotgun snap cleanly and had to fall forward. But Brauchle had lots of leg to spare on a 49-yard field goal try that was good at 0:59.
The fourth quarter began with Vanderbilt punting from their 34. Upson did it well again, too, pinning State back where the Dogs failed to advance. The ‘Dores tried to turn the momentum immediately as Smith went down the middle for Alex Washington and a 29-yard gainer. Their greater chance came on second down as John Cole went for the goal line and Smith fired. CB Damein Anderson slipped down at the five opening up a game-changer…that Cole had on his hands just long enough to stop all hearts. The ball came loose before Cole hit the turf. State’s defense steadied at their 45, aided by a formation penalty on third down, but still the offense couldn’t move the chains or run much clock and Vanderbilt had the ball back at 10:46 on their 38.
Two first downs later the ‘Dores were on State’s 31 with second down. Cole got away from Anderson again and Smith hit him right in the chest pads only to have the shot glance away. Facing 4th-and-8 they were out of three-point range so Vanderbilt lined up…and the right tackle moved a tick ahead of the snap. On 4th-and-13 they did kick it away.
This time the Bulldog offense asserted themselves, in the form of Dixon reading the flow and cutting through left side. One shift back to the right and the back was rolling upfield, not dragged down until he’d made 40 yards to the Vanderbilt 38. The situation went to 3rd-and-2 with Relf stopped and State calling time to decide whether to give Brauchle a 46-or-so-yard shot in the mist; or as the offense begged, to go for it.
Coach Dan Mullen let the offense have their shot, though not until Vanderbilt had also used a timeout during which the boss almost changed his mind again. Lee was put under center and Dixon got the handoff, following a great pull-block from LG Quentin Saulsberry and diving for three yards and first down at the 27. A snap later Lee read the set, faked the handoff to Dixon—who took a helmet-to-helmet shot that put him down briefly—and cut inside center himself untouched for a 22-yard touchdown scamper at 3:20. State went for two and Green couldn’t find the grip on Lee’s pass.
But it was a two-score lead and State could give ground while burning time. Vanderbilt got some help for first downs anyway, with a personal foul on DT Charles Burns and later pass interference on safety Smith. But having gotten to the Bulldog 22, Vandy’s Smith ran out of luck and an overthrow ended up in long-abused cornerback Damien Anderson’s hands at 2:33.
Vanderbilt did end up with 157 yards but only 33 of that came via rushing, on 29 attempts. This after the ‘Dores only gained 45 rushing yards on State last year at Scott Field. L.Smith was 12 of 32 for 124 yards, a pick and pair of sacks though he felt more pressure than that.
By contrast the Bulldogs pounded out 260 ground yards, the most since a September 2007 win at Tulane. Dixon notched the tenth 100-yard game of his career with 123, on 21 totes, while Ducre added 62 yards a and Relf 44 more. Relf only threw four passes with two completed, for 15 yards; while Lee was 8-of-14 for 66. But neither threw to the wrong team and Lee only took those two pre-half sackings.
Dixon also ended up just two yards shy of tying Walter Packer for second place on the career rushing list, now with 2,818 yards.