MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Derek Mason finally has his first season-opening win as head coach at Vanderbilt, and now he's eager to push his Commodores to use this victory to set the stage for even more.
The Commodores snapped a five-year skid in season openers to give Mason his first victory to kick off his fourth season in charge. They also won their third straight against the Conference USA school 37 miles away from Nashville.
"It was really important because for us it's something we hadn't done here in my tenure, so we got it done tonight," Mason said. "So now we move on."
Vanderbilt came out throwing with Shurmur, and the junior quarterback didn't disappoint. He completed 13 of his first 14 passes, including a 37-yard TD pass to Kalija Lipscomb to cap the opening drive. He added a 4-yard TD pass to Lipscomb for a 21-0 lead minutes into the second quarter.
"He's an SEC quarterback," Blue Raiders defensive end Walter Brady said of Shurmur. "He's a solid quarterback, and he's been a starter for going on his third year now. I remember him from my freshman year. Hats off to those guys. They came in and executed better than we did."
Ralph Webb, the Commodores' all-time leading rusher, also added a 1-yard TD run. Shurmur hit Webb on a swing pass that the senior took 73 yards for a 28-0 lead in the third.
The Commodores smothered what was a high-powered offense in 2016 with Middle Tennessee running up 495 yards against Vanderbilt last season. The Blue Raiders averaged 517.7 yards and ranked 12th nationally scoring 39.7 points per game.
Bryce Lewis intercepted a tipped pass to set up Webb's TD, and the Commodores also sacked Stockstill five times. The Blue Raiders avoided being shut out at home when Stockstill found Richie James for a 22-yard TD early in the fourth .
"It was a complete mismatch," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. "They were a lot better than us."
VANDERBILT: If Shurmur keeps playing like this, the Commodores finally will be able to keep opponents from stacking the line to smother Webb. Shurmur looks like he picked up where he left off last season when he threw for 1,162 yards combined in the final four games of the regular season.
"It's a nice surprise to ourselves," Shurmur said of their fast start. "I think we've gotten a lot better throughout this offseason. It was encouraging to put a game together. I think we should've finished a lot better on offense. But it was very encouraging for the rest of the year. I don't think we're satisfied where we're at, but it's definitely a good start."
MIDDLE TENNESSEE: A disappointing start for the Blue Raiders after getting the Southeastern Conference team to visit their campus for the second time in three years. This appeared to be the easiest of their first three games against Power Five teams.
Vanderbilt scored on three drives of at least 75 yards or longer against first-year defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. The Commodores' 14-0 lead tied the most points they've scored in the first quarter since Sept. 20, 2014, against South Carolina. Middle Tennessee was held to four consecutive three-and-outs not counting the drive at the end of the first half.
The Commodores managed only 15 sacks all of 2016, and getting more was a big focus of Mason's all through August. Linebacker Charles Wright and defensive lineman Dare Odeyingbo each had two sacks. "It's like a big weight off our shoulders," Wright said. "We were able to do what Coach Mason wanted us, and that's get pressure on the quarterback."
James finished with 10 catches for 112 yards receiving, giving him 15 100-yard games and setting a school record.
VANDERBILT: Hosts Alabama A&M.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE: Visits Syracuse.
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