NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt’s seniors went out winners Saturday in somewhat of a bittersweet home finale in a season that hadn’t gone as planned.
Most all of the Commodores who were playing in their final game at Vanderbilt Stadium found a way to contribute during a 38-0 win over East Tennessee State.
“When there’s only so many games left in the season you really have to understand what you’re playing for,” Vanderbilt redshirt senior linebacker Caleb Peart, who had two tackles for loss, said. “Obviously, there isn’t a bowl game, but we’re still playing for something bigger than ourselves. I think guys are very committed and guys did their job very well tonight.”
Tight end Jared Pinkney, a redshirt senior, had the best game of his senior season with five catches for 76 yards. He brought in two touchdowns – one to open the scoring on a 31-yard throw from senior quarterback Riley Neal and the other on a 7-yard pass late in the third quarter.
Pinkney nearly matched his total number of receptions (5) from the previous seven games coming in (six) to Saturday.
Vanderbilt also got 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Ke’Shawn Vaughn while receiver Kalija Lipscomb caught six balls for 75 yards. Neal, a graduate transfer from Ball State, went 16-for-24 passing for 179 yards.
“We had some opportunities to get the ball to our playmakers and that’s what you want to see from this football team,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “We just need to continue to build off this one as we were able to put some points on the board. I think we’ll still need to be better in some areas and there’s a lot we need to clean up in this ballgame.
“So excited for our seniors. Truly excited for those seniors who go out with a victory in their last football game here at Vanderbilt.”
The Commodores slogged their way to a 14-0 halftime lead Saturday on a cold and misty day. On the first play of the second half, Vaughn helped Vandy send a message that the end was nigh.
Vaughn took a handoff to his left, found a hole along the front and burst through an opening to get to the next level. He was off to the races for a 75-yard score and the Dores never looked back.
“Halftime we talked about they may flow heavy to the ball,” Vaughn said. “We knew there would be a cut-up somewhere. We went outside zone, saw the cut and I took it – went 75 yards.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt held ETSU to a mere nine yards of offense in the second half. The Buccaneers (3-9) were 4 of 15 on third down and averaged just 1.1 yards per carry.
Defensive tackle Cameron Tidd, a redshirt junior, blocked a field goal in the first half to help preserve the shutout after East Tennessee State had driven to the Vandy 12.
The Buccaneers wouldn’t enter Vanderbilt territory the rest of the game.
“This defense is a young defense. It’s still growing,” Mason said. “With that, we needed to make sure that they made a statement and I thought they did in the second half.
“I thought it started up front with those guys, using their hands, playing knock-back and controlling the line of scrimmage. I thought that’s what it looked like for most of the day.”
The Commodores (3-8) now head to Knoxville to face rival Tennessee (5-5). They’ll do so with a little but of momentum after breaking a three-game losing streak.
Vandy has won three in a row in that series and another victory over the Volunteers would send Mason’s program full steam ahead into the offseason – and send the seniors out with another unforgettable memory.
“One of the things we really preached this year is brotherhood,” Peart said. “When you spend so much time with a group of guys from workouts to different practice, really through ups and downs this past year or the couple years, you really grow close to people. You really grow close to your brothers and it is awesome to be in the fight with them.”
• Vanderbilt has now won nine straight games against programs from the state of Tennessee.
• Tidd’s field goal block in the second quarter was Vanderbilt’s first since Zach Cunningham did so Nov. 5, 2016 at Auburn.
• In 23 career games with Vanderbilt, Vaughn has 2,259 rushing yards – the fifth-most in Vandy history. He needs 375 yards next game against Tennessee to finish third all-time behind Zac Stacy (3,143) and Ralph Webb (4,173).
• Vaughn is now third on the program’s career rushing touchdowns all-time list with 21. Stacy (30) is second and Webb (32) is first.
• Vaughn passed Jared McGrath (2,151) for seventh, Jermaine Johnson (2,152) for sixth and Jamie O’Rourke for fifth (2,202) on Vanderbilt’s all-time career rushing yards list.
• Saturday’s game was the ninth career contest with 100 rushing yards or more for Vaughn.
• Vandy senior receiver Kalija Lipscomb (194 catches and 2,313 reducing yards) moved past Boo Mitchell (188) for the fourth-most catches in program history (Keith Edwards is third with 200) and also moved ahead of Martin Cox (2,275) for the fifth-most receiving yards in a Vandy career.
• Attendance on Saturday was announced as 19,863.