|by Brandon Barca (Archive)
Twitter updates @brandonbarca
With no Vanderbilt football game on the slate this weekend, what could you possibly do while waiting anxiously for the big bowl announcement?
Watch more highlights. That's always worked for me.
Just think back to all of the exciting plays on both sides of the ball this season under first-year Head Coach James Franklin. How about Zac Stacy carrying the entire Kentucky defense on his trip to the end zone? Or Casey Hayward's pick-six to save the Commodores in Week 2 against UConn?
Well, the highlight-reel trend continued in Vanderbilt's 41-7 rout of Wake Forest last Saturday with several explosive plays to mention, including one that went viral immediately.
So why not look back at six of the best plays from win No. 6? And watch them over and over and over again. (Bonus- we even threw in radio calls from The Voice to spice it up.)
Play No. 1: See Barden jump Watch Video
No, the 73-yard touchdown by Brandon Barden wasn't featured on ESPN's Top 10 plays, but don't let that travesty define the beauty of the moment. Let Coach Franklin translate it instead. "That play was one of the most impressive football plays I've ever seen," he pointed out.
As impressive as the play was, Barden explained that it didn't go exactly as planned due to Wake Forest's outside pressure. "I was going to fake block and go outside," Barden said. "I was supposed to run down the sideline, but they actually had a blitz, so I just hit the guy and turned around. It was kind of like a screen pass. It worked out well."
Barden was wide open when he caught the pass and raced 30 yards until the first defender approached him. No problem there; Barden just hurdled him with ease, instantly creating one of those special moments that will be replayed for years. "I saw him try to go low, and I've always wanted to jump. I've always jumped and fell on my face, so I'd been focusing all week on leaning back and keeping my weight back," Barden admitted.
The senior tight end landed on both feet this time, zig-zagged through his blockers, and then punished another defender with a crushing stiff arm to the facemask before getting into the end zone. And while your eyes were probably focused on Barden the entire time, make sure you pay close attention to receiver Chris Boyd, who also does some damage to assist him on the TD.
Side note- this highlight ended up on YouTube so quickly after the game that players were watching it on the bus ride from the airport to campus. One player said in amazement, "it's already on YouTube??!!"
Play No. 2: The Record Watch Video
Coach Franklin has often referred to Zac Stacy as "Steady Eddie" for his consistency and determination. Stacy brings it every day. Whether it's practice or game day, you know what you're going to get. That explains why he was able to achieve something that no other Commodore running back has ever achieved.
With the outcome of the game already decided in the fourth quarter, Stacy took a toss sweep right and ran through excellent blocks by Kyle Fischer and Josh Jelesky to break loose. Stacy then out-ran three Demon Deacons down the sidelines and delivered a lethal hit to another defender to plow into the end zone.
The best part of watching Stacy's record-breaking 40-yard TD is listening to his teammates congratulate him on setting the school mark for single season rushing yards, previous held by Corey Harris (1,103 yards in 1991). Stacy now has 1,136 yards going into the postseason.
After making history, Stacy was quick to point out that he couldn't have done it alone. "I wasn't aware (of the record) until the game," he said. "I didn't really know I'd break it, but it all starts with the offensive line. That's definitely a team honor. It all started with those guys and I'm just proud of them."
Fischer echoed Stacy's comments by saying, "It's a record for the whole offense. Everybody had a part in it. Zac was the first one to congratulate the whole offense. It's definitely a big deal for us and shows all of the hard work that we put in during the offseason and how much we've improved since the new coaching staff got here."
As cliché as team chemistry sounds, you can tell it means something to the Commodores and played a vital role in achieving bowl eligibility.
Play No. 3: Larry! Larry! Larry! Watch Video
Yes, another money play from the Commodore offense, but with a new twist. This time, quarterback Larry Smith was involved in the "trickeration."
"We were able to get (Larry) in there real fast to call the play before he was standing out there a long time because that's when people notice those things," Franklin recalled.
Once Jordan Rodgers took the snap, he threw a lateral pass to Smith near the sideline. Smith then delivered a 45-yard strike to receiver Jordan Matthews to extend the Commodores' lead to 34-7 in the third quarter.
The senior co-captain was greeted with "Larry! Larry! Larry!" chants from fans and teammates. The feel-good moment was a reminder of how Smith put aside his personal goals during the season to focus on what was best for the team. "I'm just really happy Larry was able to come in and contribute," Franklin said. "He's been an unbelievably supportive team member, and supportive of Jordan (Rodgers) and our whole offense all year long. I'm really proud of him."
My only question: could that have been the Phantom play we've heard so much about? Or is that one still in Franklin's bag of tricks?
Play No. 4: May's reversal of fortune Watch Video
Vanderbilt has been on the wrong end of touchdowns before the half on a couple of occasions this season. That wasn't the case in the Wake Forest game as the Commodores reversed their fortune and built momentum going into the locker room.
One of the key plays was made by defensive end Walker May, who ran over tailback Orville Reynolds to bring down quarterback Tanner Price for a 9-yard loss on third and 10 at Vandy's 45. The sack forced the Demon Deacons, who were trailing 20-7, to punt with 1:38 remaining in the half.
"We got a lot of pressure on (Price)," defensive end Tim Fugger said. "If it wasn't a sack, we collapsed the pocket on him. He's a great player. We just really did a good job on the D-line, as well as the linebackers, and the secondary."
"Our D-line got after him a little bit and made him uncomfortable and on the run," added safety Sean Richardson. "He had to make some tough passes."
Play No. 5: Stacy shuts the door Watch Video
May's sack helped Vanderbilt gain momentum, but the backbreaker to the Demon Deacons had to be Stacy's touchdown run right before the half to give the Commodores the lead, 27-7.
On third and 10 from the Wake Forest 20, the Dores decided to go with a run play with the clock winding down. "We have 50-some seconds left in the half and coach trusts us with no timeouts left to run the ball, and Zac punches it in," Rodgers said.
With Fischer and Barden opening a hole on the right side, Stacy bolted through the line, cut outside, and then trucked two Wake Forest defenders at the five-yard line to clear his path for the score. This highlight captures Stacy's never-quit attitude that we've seen over and over again.
"We wanted to keep the foot on the pedal at all times," Stacy said of the play. "That was a great individual run but also a great team play. It all started with the offensive line.
"It's really a pride thing. We pride on YAC yards. We try not to go down on first contact and we take pride in making guys miss. That's just what we do as running backs on this team."
The Commodores registered points on all five offensive drives (3 TDs and 2 FGs) in the first half, including a 21-point outburst in the second quarter. The game was over at that point, even with a half still to play.
Play No. 6: Fugger sets the tone Watch Video
It didn't take long for the Commodores to show it was a new week after a heartbreaking overtime loss in the previous game.
On the fourth play against Wake Forest, Commodore defensive end Tim Fugger stripped tailback Brandon Pendergrass from behind and teammate Walker May pounced on the loose ball to give VU possession at Wake's 39. If you re-watch the clip, you'll notice how Fugger never gave up on the play to force the fumble.
"I felt like it was a pretty big play since we got the ball pretty deep in their territory. But we had big plays from everywhere, all over the defense," Fugger noted. "I wasn't the only guy out there. The whole team just played lights out and gave all their effort like they do week in and week out."
The Commodores converted the turnover into points, using a 10-play drive to set up Ryan Fowler's 33-yard field goal.
Fugger's standout season includes top 10 rankings in several SEC statistical categories, including tackles for loss (7th, 12.5), forced fumbles (T-7th, 3), and sacks (8th, 6.5).