Jan. 4, 2014
Legion Field felt like Vanderbilt Stadium South Saturday. There was a large, energetic crowd with a distinct black and gold hue and the Commodores put together another one of their signature fourth quarters for a 41-24 victory in teh BBVA Compass Bowl.
The entire east side and a portion of the west side of Legion Field was filled with fans donning black and gold shaking their gold shakers. What looked like was going to be a rout soon sent the Commodore faithful through a wild roller coaster ride.
Vanderbilt sprinted out to a 24-0 only to see Houston come back and tie the game in the third quarter before putting the game away by scoring the final 17 points of the game.
The first half was Vanderbilt's most dominant of the season.
The offense made a number of big plays, led by Jordan Matthews doing well ... what Jordan Matthews does. He caught a screen pass and raced 50 yards untouched for the game's first touchdown. He hauled in a one-handed 39-yard pass with an over-the-shoulder catch in the second quarter. He also scored on another 50-yard pass when he got behind the secondary.
When Matthews wasn't torching Houston's secondary, Vanderbilt's defense was completely shutting down the Cougars' offense. The Commodore defense was making a potent Houston offense look lost. The defensive line spent most of the half in the backfield familiarizing themselves with Houston quarterback John O'Korn. The secondary covered Houston's receivers like a blanket and the linebackers kept the Cougars on their toes with a number of bone-rattling hits, most notably being dished out by Chase Garnham.
The Commodores had the Cougars all out of sorts on offense. Houston had a total of eight, yes, eight yards on its first 20 plays and did not allow a first down until Houston's eighth possession and 21st play of the game. The Cougars didn't cross its own 32 yard-line in the first half.
"I thought our defense in the first half played really fast," James Franklin said. "They were able to pressure the quarterback and they were able to tackle in the open field."
At halftime, Vanderbilt had more points than Houston did yards, as the Commodores vaulted out to a 24-0 lead, while holding Houston to just 22 total yards.
The good times would not keep on rolling. What Vanderbilt did to Houston in the first half, the Cougars were able to do to the Commodores in the third quarter.
Houston's defense became a brick wall and its offense started discovering holes in the secondary. Before the Commodores could catch their breath, the Cougars scored 24 unanswered points and took all the momentum with them as the third quarter came to a close.
As the fourth quarter began, Vanderbilt had second-and-7 at its own 21. Brian Kimbrow was stuffed on the carry and on third down, Patton Robinette was intercepted by Richie Leone down the right sideline on a pass intended for Matthews. Leone appeared to return the pick deep into Vanderbilt's territory. However, an official review brought the ball back into Houston's territory.
It was time during the review that proved to be a pivotal moment of the game. As players from both sides waited for the official's call, Vanderbilt's defensive players huddled around Vince Taylor. Taylor jumped up and down in the huddle and yelled words of encouragement as his teammates began jumping around as well. It was a small gesture, but it paid big dividends for a team that was in need of a jolt of energy.
"Vince Taylor came out there and really spoke to the defense and got them fired up," defensive end Walker May said. "I believe that series right there is what set the tone the rest of the game."
From that point on, the entire game changed.
Houston went three-and-out and Vanderbilt received the punt and drove it down the field 82 yards in seven plays for a go-ahead touchdown. The biggest play of the drive came on second-and-10 from Vanderbilt's 28-yard line when Jerron Seymour carried the ball 38 yards to the Houston 34. The run was followed by carries of 13 and 21 yards by Brian Kimbrow, with the second going for a touchdown.
"Somebody on this team always steps up and makes a play when we need it most and everybody believes," Franklin said. "We were able to use that momentum from Jerron's big play to get this thing back going."
The Commodores would score 10 additional points for a 42-21 win to complete a day full of wild swings of emotion. The 17 points were scored despite not completing a single pass in the second half.
It was the third straight fourth-quarter rally for the Commodores, who were only outscored one time in the fourth quarter this season. Vanderbilt finished the season outscoring opponents 141-50 in the fourth quarter.
Overall, it was the fourth game of the season in which Vanderbilt entered the fourth quarter trailing or tied only to leave with a win. The wins came against Georgia, Tennessee, Wake Forest and Houston.
"I think the thing that describes this team is that this team perseveres," Franklin remarked. "This team is going to find ways to survive. This team is going to find ways to overcome."
Vanderbilt ended the year with five straight wins and a second straight nine-win season for the first time in school history. Last year, Vanderbilt finished with nine wins for the first time since 1915. The Commodores have four nine-win seasons in their history and two of them have come in the last two seasons.
It's a new day in Vanderbilt football. Times have changed within the program, and the rest of the country had an opportunity to take note Saturday as the Commodores won their second bowl game in as many years, and did so behind a sea of black and gold.
"This is part of Vanderbilt's culture now," Franklin said of playing in bowl games. "Everybody plans their Christmas and their holidays around bowl games now and that is pretty cool."