Oct. 19, 2013
Never count the Commodores out. Those words have held true since James Franklin arrived on campus in 2011, and Saturday provided just another example of that.
The Commodores trailed Georgia by as many as 13 points, 27-14, with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter on a cool and wet October afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Vanderbilt was missing starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who exited with an injury in the first half, and had inserted backup Patton Robinette into the game. The Bulldogs had all the momentum, but it didn't stop the Commodores from pushing and fighting their way back into the game ... just as they have done before.
"There is never a roller coaster of emotions for the team," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "Everybody keeps their eyes on the mission, so don't think at any point we were nervous or worried."
Earlier this season, the Commodores had spotted South Carolina 28 points on the road before rallying to pull within 10, but eventually ran out of time. And who could forget last year's rally at Ole Miss where the Commodores trailed by 17 points before winning by one on the road?
The Commodores have shown resolve time and time again, and have proven to get stronger as the game goes on. On Saturday, Vanderbilt erased the 13-point deficit by scoring 17 unanswered points - all in the fourth quarter. For the season, Vanderbilt has outscored opponents 81-36 in the fourth quarter.
Conversely, Vanderbilt has been notorious for starting slowly in 2013. Until Saturday, Vanderbilt had not scored a touchdown in the first quarter against an SEC opponent. Instead, Vanderbilt took a 7-3 lead into the second quarter. The fast start set the tone for the game and prevented Georgia's second-half lead from potentially being even larger.
"To me, the story of this game is that we persevered," said a teary-eyed Franklin. "We persevered all year long. We persevered as a community. We persevered ... as a campus. I'm really happy for our kids and I'm really happy for our program."
Vanderbilt's rally started on a fumbled punt by Georgia's Damian Swann. After signaling for a fair catch, the ball bounced off Swann's hands and Vanderbilt's Torren McGaster picked it up at the Georgia 36-yard line.
The turnover gave the Commodores excellent field position, but it appeared as if Vanderbilt may have squandered the opportunity. On fourth-and-4 at the Georgia 30-yard line, Robinette's pass was incomplete to Jonathan Krause, who was hit by Georgia's Ramik Wilson. However, Wilson was flagged for a personal foul penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver and Vanderbilt received an automatic first down. The call was also initially ruled to be targeting by Wilson, but was later reversed and Wilson was able to stay in the game, but the 15-yard penalty stood.
From there the Commodores were able to take it into the end zone behind a 2-yard run by Robinette.
The momentum had swung.
Georgia went three-and-out on its next possession and the Commodores answered with a 40-yard field goal by Carey Spear, who had earlier scored a touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt.
Georgia again was unable to answer with anything on offense and was prepared to punt it away. But before being able to flip field position, Georgia's snap was high and flew over the head of punter Collin Barber. Barber recovered the football by falling on it at the 13-yard line.
One play later, Vanderbilt had the lead for good on a 13-yard carry by Jerron Seymour with 2:53 remaining in the game.The touchdown sealed the program's first win over a ranked opponent since defeating Auburn in 2008.
Two years ago, the same two teams staged a back-and-forth battle on the same field. Just like in 2011, there were dramatic swings in momentum. Just like in 2011, Vanderbilt reached into its bag of tricks by scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal. Just like in 2011, tempers were hot and emotions spilled onto the field of play. Words were exchanged and players were a little chippy. In his press conference, Franklin called the game "spirited."
But unlike in 2011, the Commodores left Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday with a win.
Jordan Matthews set a career high with 11 receptions and totaled 89 yards receiving. He is now just 13 yards from tying Terrence Edwards of Georgia for the SEC record in career yardage. Matthews is also tied for second in SEC history with 208 career receptions and is 28 catches shy of tying Earl Bennett's league record.
Robinette Rises to the Challenge
It wasn't Patton Robinette's first game, but it was definitely his biggest moment. The redshirt freshman was summoned from the bench in the second quarter to replace starter Austyn Carta-Samuels, who left the game due to injury.
Robinette took some time to get going, but once he did, he was difficult for Georgia to stop. Overall, he finished 9-of-15 for 107 yards and led Vanderbilt on its final three scoring drives.
"I thought Patton Robinette coming in under tough circumstances was very very big," Franklin said. "That's all that kid did in high school and that's why we recruited him."
A native of Maryville, Tenn., Robinette entered Saturday having played in three previous games, but throwing just five passes - all against Austin Peay.
"I didn't wake up this morning expecting to play," Robinette said, "but Austyn went down and it was my job to step up and execute the offense to the best of my ability."
Defense Steps Up
The defense surrendered 51 points just two weeks ago to Missouri, but on Saturday, the defense played arguably its best game of the season.
The Commodores pressured quarterback Aaron Murray throughout the day and forced the senior quarterback to one of his most forgettable games, completing just 16-of-28 passes for 114 yards and one interception.
Even when Murray had time to throw, there weren't many open receivers because of outstanding coverage by Vanderbilt's secondary.
Overall, Georgia totalled just 221 yards of offense and was held to just three points in the second half.
"Coach (Bob) Shoop does a great job of giving us plays to execute and go out and stop them," linebacker Darreon Herring said.
Bag of Tricks
Vanderbilt reached deep into its bag of tricks to take a 14-10 lead with 9:00 remaining in the second quarter. With Vanderbilt facing fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Vanderbilt took the field as if it were going to attempt a field goal.
The ball was snapped, but instead of kicking the field goal, Carey Spear took a handoff from holder Taylor Hudson and easily ran it in for a touchdown.
"We are at a point in our program where we have to take some calculated risks and chances. We've been committed to doing that for three years."
It was the first touchdown of Spear's career.
After missing the last three games, Karl Butler returned to the starting lineup Saturday. He made an immediate impact upon his return, finishing with two tackles. On Georgia's first possession of the game, Butler registered a tackle for loss.
Although he did not finish with many tackles, Butler's impact was felt throughout the game.
"Having Karl Butler back I think was significant," Franklin said.