The Men in Black and Gold were led by their defense and special teams on Saturday night. The defense gave up 201 yards rushing on the night, but did not give up an offensive touchdown to the Rebels.
Ryan Hamilton got the defensive playmaking started when he intercepted a Jevan Snead pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. Hamilton’s interception really switched the momentum of the game that had been all Rebels up to that point.
Vandy’s next scoring drive was set up by a 38 yard kickoff return by Sean Walker. Ole Miss was flagged for a personal foul on that return that allowed the Commodores to start their drive at the Ole Miss 43 yard line. Vanderbilt would get a touchdown six plays later when Chris Nickson found running back Jared Hawkins for a 9 yard reception.
Hamilton had another interception in the second quarter that he returned 24 yards. That interception led to a 34 yard Bryant Hahnfeldt field goal that tied the game at 17.
Bobby Johnson’s defense has their biggest stand of the season in the third quarter when they denied Ole Miss running back Cordera Eason on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. That stand kept the game tied at 17, and took away the momentum Ole Miss had gained from the 12 play 78 yard drive that opened the second half.
Hamilton made his third huge play of the night when he recovered Marshay Green’s muffed punt. That play did not lead to any points for the Commodores, but it did gain them almost 30 yards in field position.
The biggest play of the night came late in the fourth quarter when Vandy’s defense forced a Dexter McCluster fumble inside the 5 yard line for a touchback. A Rebel touchdown there would have taken the lead away from Vanderbilt with just under three minutes left to go in the game.
Vandy proved on Saturday night that they can win even when the offense struggles. They were unable to get in an offensive rhythm all night long, but got some big plays on their final drive that allowed them to put away the game. Vanderbilt Hawkins, who had struggled all night, ripped off a 40 yard run on that final drive to set up a 40 yard Hahnfeldt field goal that put the game out of reach. Commodore teams in the past have lacked guys who could step up and make plays when it matters the most. Hawkins proved Saturday night that he is up for that challenge.
It was good to see this team get a win on a night when the offense really struggled. They now have an open week to get the offense back on track and get healthy before the Auburn Tigers come to Nashville October 4th.