Big Plays Lead Vandy to a 24-17 Win

The Vanderbilt Commodores opened their 2008 Southeastern Conference schedule with a big 24-17 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Vandy took advantage of a number of South Carolina miscues on the way to opening the season 2-0.

Every analyst said heading into this game that big plays were going to be the deciding factor. That turned out to be exactly the case. The Gamecocks got the first big play of the game when their defense blew up an option play forcing Gaston Miller to fumble on his own 20 yard line. South Carolina would take advantage of the turnover with a 19 yard touchdown pass from Chris Smelley to Kenny McKinley.

The second big play of the game came when VU cornerback Darlron Spead picked off a Smelley pass and returned it 41 yards to the South Carolina 30. The Vandy offense, which struggled in the first half, was able to get the ball to the two yard line but was unable to get in the end zone. They settled for a 19 yard field goal from Bryant Hahnfeldt to cut the score to 7-3.

South Carolina answered by returning the ensuing kickoff to the 50 yard line which allowed them to kick a 41 yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

After being out gained 133-50 in the first half, the Commodores made some important halftime adjustments on both sides for the ball. "Mainly it was sorting out what they were doing to us with their defense. It's a lot harder than most people think to try to change what 11 people do according to what the defense is doing. It just takes a little bit of time and then Coach Cain did a great job of getting in the locker room and reformulating the game plan, and it worked," Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson said after the game.

Vandy would get the first big break of the second half when a Brett Upson punt bounced off the foot of South Carolina's Addison Williams and was recovered by Ryan Hamilton at the SC 31 yard line. The Men in Black and Gold would capitalize on that turnover on the very next play when Chris Nickson found tight end Brandon Barden in the middle of the field for a 31 yard touchdown.

VU's next scoring drive came after Greg Billinger blocked a Ryan Succop field goal attempt that John Stokes returned 15 yards. Sean Walker would set up the 1 yard Nickson touchdown run with a 29 yard gain on a reverse.

"I think tonight's win was a statement win. We showed the nation that our football team is improving and that we are becoming a winning organization. We showed that not only is Vanderbilt University a great academic school but a great athletic school as well. There are a lot of exciting things happening here at Vanderbilt and I think everyone saw that tonight," Nickson said after the game. Vanderbilt did a great job of making big plays and turning them into points. Vandy teams in years past would force turnovers but not be able to turn them into points. That speaks volumes to how far Coach Johnson has brought this program.

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