NCAA Football

Ellis: Vanderbilt aces test vs. K-State

September 16, 2017

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Dores cement potential in beating No. 18 Wildcats

Sept. 16, 2017

By Zac Ellis

NASHVILLE, Tenn.Derek Mason spent much of the offseason lauding the leadership on his Vanderbilt roster. Indeed, the Commodores entered the 2017 season featuring 38 junior and seniors in their locker room, a stark contrast to Mason’s earlier – and less experienced – teams on West End.

This weekend, following the biggest win of Vanderbilt’s young 2017 season, Mason harkened back to the importance of upperclassmen once again.

“When you start to get an older football team in this conference, and you can only put 11 guys on the field, you can play with anybody,” Mason said. “I thought those guys believed.”

There’s no doubt this Vanderbilt team believed as it engineered a convincing 14-7 win over No. 18 Kansas State on Saturday. The Commodores stifled a prolific Wildcats squad – one with enough talent to contend in the Big 12 – into an emphatic statement victory at Vanderbilt Stadium.

It’s far too early to know just how good this Vanderbilt team can be. But this much is clear: it’s no longer wise to sleep on the Commodores in the SEC.

“We’re a family,” safety Ryan White said. “We know that coach has been though a lot, and he always tells us to trust the process. Now, we’re trusting that process.”

Vanderbilt entered Saturday prepping for the first course of a tasty four-game gauntlet against ranked opponents. Kansas State had blitzed both of its opening foes, scoring 55 points in both victories. It boasted a seasoned, dual-threat quarterback in Jesse Ertz and a legendary coach in Bill Snyder. In terms of nonconference foes, the Wildcats were no slouch.

But Vanderbilt stood toe-to-toe with the Wildcats in front of a packed crowd and a national television audience on West End. The two teams slugged out a low-scoring affair, one that broke in the Commodores’ favor when White intercepted an Ertz pass with 10:16 left to play. Vanderbilt turned the takeaway into a Kyle Shurmur touchdown run, lifting the Dores to a 14-7 lead.

Ertz and the Wildcats then had one final drive to force overtime. But Vanderbilt stuffed Ertz’s fourth-down run one yard short of the first down, sending the crowd at Vanderbilt Stadium into a euphoric frenzy.

Vanderbilt managed just 270 yards of offense and rushed for a mere 65 yards against Kansas State. But Mason said the important numbers appeared on the final scoreboard.

“When I look at this football team, it wasn’t fireworks. And I don’t know if everybody expected fireworks,” Mason said. “It was a defensive battle.”

Flashy or not, the Commodores passed the biggest test of their 2017 season thus far. But things don’t ease up from here: Next week, Vanderbilt welcomes No. 1 Alabama to West End (2:30 p.m. CT on CBS). From there, the Dores venture to Florida before returning home to host Georgia. The next three weeks will go a long way in defining this Vanderbilt team’s mettle.

But by beating Kansas State, Vanderbilt managed to cement itself as a force to be reckoned with. And that surely didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the SEC.

“I think this is a really close-knit team,” receiver C.J. Duncan said. “We hold each other accountable. We take that back to the spring, summer and fall practice.

“Now, it’s paying off.”

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt athletics.

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