Sept. 29, 2013
Vanderbilt played its most complete game of the season Saturday in its 52-24 thumping of UAB. The Commodores moved the ball on the ground and in the air on offense, kept UAB off balance with a stingy defense and made big plays on special teams.
Throughout the year, there have been noticeable deficiencies in certain areas that could be pinpointed after each game, but not Saturday.
Vanderbilt squashed concerns of a slow start by scoring the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter. The Commodores established the run early with Jerron Seymour driving the pile back and then gashing the defense for a 58-yard sprint and score. And Vanderbilt's defense made UAB earn every yard. Each time the Blazers caught a short pass, a Vanderbilt defender was there to make the tackle in open space.
Are there areas to nitpick? Sure, there always will be, but the game set a positive tone heading back into conference play with a span of seven straight league games on the horizon.
After the game, Head Coach James Franklin pointed to one specific factor as the sole reason behind Vanderbilt's performance: aggressiveness.
"The biggest difference - we talked to the team last night and before the game - was just playing more aggressive," Franklin said. "I felt like so far this season, just looking back at it, we weren't playing aggressive enough. We weren't taking calculated risks. We weren't calling the game aggressive. We weren't playing aggressive. People thought it was how we were calling the game. We've played off coverage since we've been here. But this week we jumped routes and were more aggressive. I thought that was really the big difference in the game, across the board."
The aggressiveness was evident across the board. Vanderbilt's offense took shots down the field. The offense even tried a gadget play with Josh Grady. It failed, but the play added another element for opponents to study when watching film. Defensively, the Commodores flew to the ball, delivered crushing hits and had consistent pursuit from all 11 players.
Maintaining the aggressiveness will be the challenge going forward for the Commodores, but it is one the team is ready to face head on.
"You have to try and make it an everyday thing," defensive tackle Adam Butler said. "It has to become a routine. I felt like we played with that aggression today and that's what allowed us to be successful tonight."
The game couldn't have come at a better time for the Commodores, who are set to host undefeated Missouri next Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium in a pivotal SEC East matchup.
Vanderbilt defeated Missouri, 19-15, in Columbia last season for their first SEC win of the season. The Commodores will look for their first league win again this season when the Tigers come to town.
The Commodores played with an edge in their game at Missouri last year, and their aggressiveness led to much of their success. The team ran trick plays, they ran the football with a purpose and they were relentless in their pursuit of the ball. A similar approach will likely be needed in the rematch, and in Saturday's win against UAB Vanderbilt gave every indication that the aggressive play will continue.
"In general, we were just so much more aggressive in everything we did," Franklin said. "I think that was the difference in every factor: In the amount of shots we took. In the tackling. In every aspect and we are going to build on that. That's what the fans want to see. That's what I want to see. That's how the players want to play. That's why they came here.
"I think we are going to get back to doing what we've done the first two years. We're going to play an exciting, physical, aggressive brand of football around here from today until eternity. We are not going back."
The offensive fireworks were on full display Saturday night as the Commodores put together one of their finest offensive performances of recent years. Vanderbilt scored a season-high 52 points and accumulated 540 yards of total offense.
The points were the most by a Vanderbilt team since putting up 55 against Wake Forest last season and the total yardage was the most since having 605 yards against Presbyterian last season.
Individually, quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, running back Jerron Seymour and wide receiver Jonathan Krause and Jordan Matthews had much to do with Vanderbilt's offensive output. Carta-Samuels threw for a career-high 334 yards on 23-of-29 passing. Seymour carried the ball 12 times for a career-high 107 yards. Krause hauled in four catches for a career-high 108 yards and Matthews caught eight balls for 115 yards.
The combination of having a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers was a first in school history since at least World War II. Vanderbilt's individual stats records are not readily available before World War II.
Just having players pass for 300 yards, rush for 100 yards and have 100 yards receiving is not very common. You have to go back to Sept. 17, 2005 to find the last time Vanderbilt accomplished the same feat.
On that date in 2005 against Ole Miss, quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 314 yards, running back Jeff Jennings ran for 103 yards and wide receiver Eric Davis had 107 yard receiving.
"On offense I think we got our swag back," Carta-Samuels said. "I think we had it. It felt good there. It felt good to have guys in front block like that and guys out wide to catch like that and guys like (Seymour) to run like that."
Seymour with Career Day
With the departure of Zac Stacy, a common question this offseason dealt with Vanderbilt's running game. Vanderbilt had experience at the position, but Stacy had been the primary back the previous two seasons. Through the first four games, Vanderbilt's rushing attack was balanced, but no back had consistently stood out.
On Saturday, Jerron Seymour put together the best rushing performance of the season by gaining 107 yards on 12 carries. It was the first 100-yard performance of the season by the Commodores and the first of Seymour's career.
Seymour also scored two touchdowns. The second of which came on a career-long run of 58 yards. Seymour's previous long was 40 yards for a touchdown against UConn in 2011.
After UAB drove down and cut Vanderbilt's lead to four, 10-6, Darrius Sims gave the Commodores excellent field position with a 42-yard kick return. Seymour did the rest from there.
On the first play of the drive, Seymour took the snap out of the Wildcat formation and ran 58 yards for a touchdown.
"Tiring," said Seymour, reflecting back on the carry. "I was running out of gas. It was 58 yards. I feel like if it was 65, I probably would have gotten caught. I enjoyed every bit of it. It's a credit to the offensive line."
The play was also Vanderbilt's longest of the season.
Johnson with First Holding Penalty
Offensive tackle Wesley Johnson has started all 43 games of his Vanderbilt career. He has played every position on the line except right guard.
He has played thousands of snaps, and before Saturday, he had a remarkable streak of never being penalized for holding. Take a minute, just to think about that.
Well, the streak ended in the second quarter Saturday night when Johnson was flagged for holding on first-and-10 from Vanderbilt's own 14.
Another game, another outstanding performance for Jordan Matthews. Matthews had his 14th 100-yard receiving game Saturday, totaling 115 yards on eight catches, including one touchdown.
With his performance, Matthews continued is ascent up Vanderbilt's all-time receiving lists. Matthews tied Dan Stricker for first all-time in career receiving touchdowns with his 21st. He also moved past Earl Bennett for third all-time in career receiving yards and now has 2,873 for his career. He is just seven yards from tying Stricker for second and 91 yards from tying Boo Mitchell for the most in school history.
Matthews also moved to third all-time with 190 career receptions, surpassing Boo Mitchell. Matthews is 46 catches behind Bennett's record.
"For him, he accomplished something this week that is pretty special, but he knows it doesn't mean anything if he doesn't come back next week and play really well next week also," Carta-Samuels said of his receiver.
First Quarter Touchdowns
After not scoring a first-quarter touchdown in its first three games of the season, Vanderbilt has now scored first-quarter touchdowns in the last two games.
Jerron Seymour scored his fifth touchdown of the season when he ran it in from seven yards out with 5:45 remaining in the quarter.