NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- James Franklin is bringing a new mindset to the Vanderbilt Commodores, and he refuses to even let them think about letting a game slip away as this program has so many times in the past.
Carey Spear kicked a 31-yard field goal with 2:56 left, and the Commodores rallied from 21-14 down in the fourth quarter and beat the Connecticut Huskies 24-21 Saturday night for their first winning streak since 2008.
"I went down the sideline and reminded the whole team: This is the 2011 Vanderbilt. This is the 2011 Vanderbilt. This is the 2011 Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "Over and over and over again. We have been talking about it since Dec. 17. So we weren't going to allow that to happen. They invested too much. They have put too much into it, and we were going to find a way to persevere."
The victory gives Franklin a 2-0 start, the first by a Vandy coach since Fred Pancoast in 1975.
Tim Fugger had two of Vanderbilt's five sacks, and the Commodores forced four turnovers, all by Johnny McEntee. Senior Casey Hayward picked off a McEntee pass at midfield, then weaved his way back across the field to finish off a 50-yard return. His first career interception return for a TD tied it at 21 apiece with 6:45 left.
Hayward didn't think McEntee would throw to his side of the field. When he did, Hayward took the ball and looked for the end zone.
"If you get a pick, Coach says not to go out of bounds, try to go and score. And that is what I tried to do," Hayward said.
UConn (1-1) lost its second straight road opener despite the defense sacking Larry Smith seven times and forcing two turnovers.
"You can't go on the road in I-A football and make the number of mistakes we made," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "It's very, very hard to overcome the number of turnovers, although our defense did a good job with creating some turnovers tonight."
The Huskies had one last chance to try and tie the game, but Rob Lohr sacked McEntee on third down. McEntee overthrew Isiah Moore on fourth down, giving the ball back to Vandy to run out the clock and start celebrating a rare winning start. It also marked the Commodores' first comeback win over a Bowl Championship Series team since downing Boston College in the 2008 Music City Bowl.
The Commodores came out in pregame warm-ups with gold helmets, then came out for the kickoff with black helmets, putting them in all black. They hadn't used black helmets since 1990, and Franklin broke the news to them Thursday. They came out fired up in what turned into a defensive slugfest with 12 combined sacks, two returns for TDs and a blocked punt for a TD.
Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy said they hope to wear the black helmets again.
"We like it," Stacy said.
UConn took the opening kickoff and rotated three players at quarterback. Lyle McCombs picked up where he left off last week, when he rushed for 141 yards, but he couldn't do it all. He ran 10 times for 74 yards in the first quarter only to finish with 118 yards on 27 carries. Dave Teggert kicked two field goals, and Byron Jones blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a TD.
Huskies linebacker Sio Moore had 3 ½ sacks and forced a fumble that Yawin Smallwood picked up and returned 64 yards for a touchdown that put UConn up 21-14 after McEntee found Ryan Griffin for the 2-point conversion with 10:34 left.
UConn hit Smith repeatedly and even knocked him out of the game briefly. But the senior kept returning, and he threw for 140 yards and one TD. He also had only two turnovers as Vandy outgained UConn 259-193 in total offense.
"Is (Larry) sore?" Franklin said. "Yes, but a lot of our guys are. He's a football player."
Safety Kenny Ladler set up Vandy's first TD, diving in front of Kashif Moore to pick off a pass by McEntee at the Huskies 42. Vanderbilt went for the end zone on the next play with Smith finding Chris Boyd in stride for a 42-yard TD pass down the left sideline for a 7-3 lead with 5:54 left.
The Commodores drove 80 yards on their next drive with Smith connecting with John Cole for a 31-yard completion on third-and-11 at the Vandy 19. Freshman Jerron Seymour capped the drive, running 40 yards for a TD even as UConn was flagged for having a 12th man on the field in a substitution penalty for a 14-3 lead at halftime.
UConn's best chance to score came in the third when Vandy linebacker Chris Marve knocked a McEntee pass away from Griffin at the back of the end zone.
The Huskies seemed to turn the game in the second half as they hit Smith so hard he left the game for a few plays, replaced by Jordan Rodgers. That helped back Vanderbilt up near its own goal line, and Jones blocked Richard Kent's punt and recovered it in the end zone for the touchdown that pulled UConn within 14-13 midway through the third quarter. It was the first blocked punt for a TD by the Huskies since 2002.
Notes: Franklin said after the game that starting left guard Jabo Burrow's career is over after the junior had been dealing with injuries. Senior tight end Brandon Barden, who was on crutches and wore a boot on his left leg, will undergo tests.