NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - For more than 25 minutes, Vanderbilt didn't look the part of the favorite. But the Commodores needed just 55 seconds to assume the role.
Two late first-half touchdowns made up for a penalty-filled opening half and broke open a tight game as Vanderbilt rolled to a 49-7 victory over winless Massachusetts on Saturday night.
Jordan Rodgers completed 17 of 21 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score as the Commodores (4-4) overcame 11 penalties, two turnovers and the loss of their starting running back to blow out UMass (0-8).
"I do think that we're making some progress as a program when you score 49 points and win 49-7 and you're not happy; that you feel like you could play better," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "I think that's progress just because we have higher expectations. On the same hand, we're going to enjoy it because winning is hard to do."
Vanderbilt made it look easy in the second half - specifically the third quarter. Within five minutes, the Commodores leapt to a 49-0 lead thanks to four touchdowns, including an interception return and the team's first punt return for a score since 1999.
Rodgers gave Vanderbilt some breathing room going into halftime.
Leading just 7-0, Rodgers hooked up with a wide-open Kris Kentera for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:53 left in the first half. After a fumble by UMass on the ensuing kickoff, Rodgers took advantage of a short field. He rushed for a 4-yard touchdown to give Vanderbilt a 21-0 lead with 58 seconds to go before halftime.
"It was huge," Rodgers said. "We needed it. We got off to a slow start and we needed to hit a couple of those touchdowns late in the half to give us some momentum - some kind of confidence going into halftime because we had too many mental mistakes."
Vanderbilt played undisciplined for most of the game, especially on its opening drive. The Commodores committed six penalties for 50 yards to stall a drive that ended with a pooch punt by Rodgers. Three offensive linemen drew flags, including a 15-yard penalty on center Joe Townsend for an illegal chop block. An illegal shift followed for a first-and-30 at Vanderbilt's own 38, leading to a timeout by Franklin.
That didn't stop the mental errors. Five offensive linemen committed penalties and Vanderbilt tied a season-high with 11 penalties for 80 yards. UMass wasn't immune to yellow flags, either. The Minutemen committed 11 penalties for 94 yards.
"Way too many penalties on both sides of the ball," Franklin said. "That really, I think, made the game difficult because it was just choppy. I think those guys were trying to break a record to see how many flags they could possibly throw."
Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, the school's all-time rushing leader, exited five minutes into the game with an injury. He later returned to the sideline wearing a splint on his right ankle. Franklin said Stacy could have returned, but the coach didn't want to risk further injury.
His replacements did just fine. Wesley Tate scored the game's first touchdown - a 25-yard scamper midway through the first quarter - and finished with a career-high 81 yards on 15 carries. Highly-touted freshman Brian Kimbrow also set a personal-best with 98 yards on seven rushes but lost a fumble.
He broke loose for a 74-yard touchdown in the third quarter, impressing his teammates with his speed. Even so, he was almost caught near the goal line. "He said he slowed down," cornerback Trey Wilson said. "You don't slowdown in college, baby."
Kimbrow's score came in the midst of a scoring flurry.
On five straight touches, Vanderbilt scored four touchdowns.
Rodgers started the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown to Chris Boyd. Less than 90 seconds later, Trey Wilson extended his own school record with his fourth career interception return for a touchdown. The 17-yard return was his second score of the year. Only Tennessee's Jackie Walker has returned more interceptions for touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference, scoring five from 1969-71.
Vanderbilt entered with an SEC-low five turnovers, but forced three against UMass. "When you get toss-ups like that, you get your hands on it, you got to make something happen," Wilson said.
Kimbrow then displayed his electrifying speed. Krause capped off the scoring by taking a short punt and sprinting 40 yards untouched to the end zone for a 49-0 lead with 1:05 left in the third quarter. The last Vanderbilt player to score on a punt return was Jimmy Williams, who had a 65-yard return against Northern Illinois on Sept. 11, 1999.
UMass, slowly adjusting to its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision, snapped a streak of seven scoreless quarters. A.J. Doyle threw a 10-yard strike to Deion Walker with 6:05 remaining.
"As I told the football team, I know where we came from, I know where we are, and I know where we're going," UMass coach Charley Molnar said. "It's a slower journey than I would ever possibly want it to be, and it's disappointing to me, but I'm not discouraged."