Vanderbilt ends historic season with Bowl win.
By: Clint Wood
Photos By: Mike Curran, Clint Wood and Matt O’Donnell
NASHVILLE, Tenn.,–On Sunday at LP Field, the Tennessee Titans became the first team in NFL history with two players scoring twice on returns in a game as the Titans beat the Jaguars 38-20 Sunday in their season finale.
The field saw more history made the next day, which happed to be New Year’s Eve Day. On Monday in the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl, the Vanderbilt Commodores collected their ninth victory for the first time since 1915 by dominating the North Carolina State Wolfpack 38-24. Vanderbilt who finished its season with a 9-4 overall record also won its seventh straight game, the longest winning streak in the Southeastern Conference.
Commodores’ coach James Franklin told several reporters, “We had an unbelievable experience.”
He noted that winning nine games in a season puts the Commodores, who were competing in their second consecutive bowl game, in a “different” category.
When asked why the big turnaround? Franklin answered that his players “bought into” and believed in his strategy.
The Commodores’ defense was the strong believers in this game. Similar to Jacksonville making several turnovers in their game against the Titans, so too did North Carolina State in front of the more than 55,800 fans dressed as if the weather in the low 40s was as cold as the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc.
The Commodores forced five turnovers, including four in the first half. The turnovers resulted in 21 Vanderbilt points.
Wolfpack’ quarterback Mike Glennon was intercepted three times.
Wolfpack acting head coach Dana Bible said he blamed himself for these. “I put him in a position to fail,” he admitted. “He was doing what I coached him to do.”
Commodores’ senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, admitted that his offense did not play a perfect game.
“Our defense kept us in it,” said Rodgers, who rushed for one touchdown and completed 16 of 25 passes for 108 yards and two scores. “They gave us an unbelievable number of opportunities to turn this game around.”
Senior running back Zac Stacy, who had 25 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown, was named the most valuable player.
Stacy said he considers the honor as “a team award.”
He noted that Franklin instilled in the players to have confidence and a positive attitude.
The Commodores confidence rang true on their first possession. They struck first early in the game with a play that was the highlight of the game on local television stations. Rodgers threw a 5-yard pass to sophomore receiver Chris Boyd in the corner of the end zone at the 9:51 mark. Boyd was airborne as he grabbed the ball with his right hand. The play was ruled incomplete but the replay showed Boyd had dragged his foot in the end zone before going out of bounds. The memorable catch capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive. One big play in the drive was a pass from Rodgers to junior receiver Jordan Matthews for 14 yards on a second-down-and-nine play. Two Wolfpack penalties, a 15-yard facemask and offside, assisted the Commodores in their drive. The kick by Carey Spear was good.
Both teams punted on their next possessions.
On the Wolfpack’s next possession, Commodores junior free safety Kenny Ladler intercepted a pass by Glennon on the drive’s first play from scrimmage. Vanderbilt was not able to capitalize on the turnover and punted.
The Wolfpack drove to mid field on their next possession before Vanderbilt’s defense rose to the occasion again as it began to sleet. Senior defensive end Johnell Thomas forced a fumble that was recovered by Commodores freshman defensive end Caleb Azubike.
This time, the Commodores capitalized on the turnover and built a 14-0 lead at the 10:08 mark of the second quarter. Stacy owned the four-play, 27-yard drive. He rushed up the middle for all the yards, scoring standing up on a 6-yard run. Fowler’s kick was good.
North Carolina answered on its next possession to narrow the margin to 14-7 at the 6:18 mark. Sophomore halfback Tony Creecy rushed for a yard to cap off an 11-play, 84-yard drive. The kick by Niklas Sade was good.
The Commodores continued where they left off, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. Tate scored on a seven-yard rush at the 3:47 mark. Key plays in the five-play, 32-yard drive were a 52-yard kickoff return by Brian Kim brow and a 14-yard rush by Stacy on the first play from scrimmage. The kick by Spear was good.
The Wolfpack answered with one play. Tobais Palmer ran the kickoff back untouched 94 yards for the score at the 3:35 mark. Sade’s kick was good.
The Commodores didn’t answer on their next possession and punted. But their defense rose to the occasion again. Senior strong safety Eric Samuels intercepted Glennon at the North Carolina State 30-yard line and ran it back to the Wolfpack 18.
Two plays later, Rodgers hit Matthews from 18 yards out for the score with 41 seconds remaining. The kick by Fowler was good to put the Commodores ahead 28-14.
The Wolfpack drove 42 yards on six plays to Vanderbilt’s 27-yard line on their next possession. A field goal attempt by Sade was short as the first half ended.
Vanderbilt’s defense reared its ugly head to start the third quarter. Senior cornerback Trey Wilson stepped in front of a Wolfpack receiver in the end zone and ran the ball back to the North Carolina State 35-yard line.
Eight plays later, Spear kicked a field goal to put Vanderbilt ahead 31-14 at the 9:39 mark.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions. After North Carolina State punted on their third possession of the quarter, Vanderbilt drove to the Wolfpack 27-yard line on four plays. Spear missed the 44-yard field goal at the 3:38 mark.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Wolfpack drove down to the Vanderbilt 9-yard line as the third quarter ended.
The Wolfpack opened the final quarter by scoring off a 24-yard field goal by Sade to put the score at 31-17 at the 14:56 mark.
Vanderbilt answered with a touchdown on their second possession after the score. Rodgers rushed for 15 yards hitting pay dirt standing up to cap off an eight-play, 44-yard drive. Several factors were involved in the short drive. The Commodores’ defense stuffed the Wolfpack at their 44-yard line on a fourth-down-and-four play. The Wolfpack had a 15-yard personal foul penalty and Rodgers hit Matthews on a pass that netted 14 yards on a fourth-and-14-yard play. The kick by Spear was good.
The Wolfpack answered with a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. Glennon hit Rashard Smith for the 19-yard score. The kick by Sade was good and the score was 38-24 at the 3:05 mark.
The Wolfpack racked up 424 total offensive yards to Vanderbilt’s 225. Glennon completed 35 of 53 passes for 383 yards.
For more photos click here…