Wins are not taken for granted many places, and Vanderbilt is not the exception. On Saturday the Commodores moved to 4-4 on the season with a 49-7 thumping of UMass. It wasn't pretty at first, but after Vanderbilt overcame some sloppy play and a host of penalties in the first half, the Commodores took care of business at home, defeating UMass 49-7 on homecoming.
Vanderbilt now has four wins this season, and each one has been of historical significance. Those things can happen to a program in search of back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, but the frequency in which it occurs cannot be overlooked when examining at the overall improvement of the program.
Against Presbyterian, Vanderbilt pitched its first shutout since 2009 and its largest margin of victory since 1999. Additionally, Zac Stacy took a handoff 86 yards for the longest rushing play in school history. At Missouri, Vanderbilt won on the road for the first time in the SEC since 2010 at Ole Miss. Against Auburn, Stacy became the school's all-time leading rusher.
The end result on Saturday was no different, but the accomplishment had people like myself looking a little deeper into the record book. Vanderbilt scored in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams, and came within one 4th-and-7 of its second shutout of the season. Had Vanderbilt pitched its second shutout of the season, you'd have to go back to 1963 to find the last time the Commodores had done so.
But you have to go back even further to find the last time Vanderbilt won by 40-plus points not once, but twice in the same season. The Commodores last won two games by more than 40 points in 1950 when Vanderbilt opened the year with a 47-0 win over MTSU, followed by a 41-0 win over Auburn.
The feat is impressive, but what may be even more impressive is the lack of satisfaction by the team after a 42-point win.
"We're going to enjoy wins around here and savor every one of them," James Franklin said after Saturday's game. "I do think that we are making some progress as a program when you score 49 points and win 49-7 and you are not happy that you feel like you could play better." I think that is progress, just because we have higher expectations. On the same hand, we are going to enjoy it because winning is hard to do."
Franklin was not the only one looking for a little more after the game. Following a day in which he completed 17-of-21 passes for 217 yards, senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers reflected more on his missed opportunities than his successes.
"It should have been better," Rodgers said. "I missed a couple of gimmes."
The Commodores were also justifiably unhappy with their undisciplined play at times. The team committed 11 penalties for a season-high 80 yards.
"We just have to be more disciplined," defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. "You can't hurt yourself in this game, especially when you are playing the opponents we do week in and week out. It's one of those things where you have to help yourself, you can't be hurting yourself with stupid penalties. We are better in that then last year, but we still have room to improve."
Vanderbilt's football program continues to grow, and the sign of that improvement was more evident after Saturday's game than during it. The Commodores had their way with UMass in all three phases of the game and won handily. However, instead of just celebrating what they did well after the game, the players and coaches were just as interested in looking at what they could have done better.
Another Pick-Six for Wilson Trey Wilson's interception will go down as one of if not the easiest pick of his career, but the senior defensive back knows all interceptions look the same in the box score.
With UMass backed up deep in its own territory, quarterback Mike Wegzyn winged a pass out toward the sideline that went directly into Wilson's hands, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
"He looked right at me when he threw it and I was like, 'Oh, let's go,' " Wilson said. "Our defensive line did a great job of getting pressure and I'm blessed to play with some of the best teammates in the world and they do a great job of putting me in position to make plays."
The pick-six was the fourth of his career and his second of the season (Presbyterian). Wilson is Vanderbilt's all-time leader with four interception returns for touchdowns and is second in the SEC behind former Tennessee defender Jackie Walker, who had five in his career.
"That guy just seems to find a way when he does get his hands on the ball, he gets in the end zone," Franklin said.
Wilson and the secondary has not been tested much this season due, in part, to its outstanding play, but UMass put it to the test Saturday. Playing two quarterbacks, the Minutemen put it in the air 41 times, which was the most of any team this season against Vanderbilt. The end result was 210 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown.
"I was just talking to Brandon Banks (freshman defensive back) in the hotel about how few of opportunities we get because we have such talented corners," Wilson said. "When we get opportunities, we have to take advantage of them and that was one of the few that we've actually been able to get."
Also getting an interception for the Commodores' defense, which ranks third nationally against the pass, was freshman linebacker Darreon Herring.
Matthews has Career Night
At this stage of his career, Jordan Matthews is used to having big days, which makes a day in which he sets a personal best that much more impressive. Saturday, Matthews did something that no other Commodore has done since 2007: he caught 10 passes.
Matthews finished the game with 10 catches for 112 yards, becoming the first Vanderbilt player with as many receptions since Earl Bennett caught 11 passes against Ole Miss in 2007.
Matthews now has four games this season with at least 100 yards receiving. He also has seven 100-yard receiving games in his career, two shy of the nine career 100-yard games that Bennett had.
The junior wide receiver also broke into the top 10 all-time in career receiving yards at Vanderbilt. He has 1,739 yards, which passed Carl Parker for ninth all-time.
Stacy "Could Have Returned"
When running back Zac Stacy went down with an injury in the first quarter, Vanderbilt Stadium grew completely silent. It was only but a few hours before that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. So forgive any Vanderbilt fans who immediately feared for the worst.
After being down for a short while with the training staff, Stacy was helped to his feet and limped off the field with the help of the training staff. He did not return to the game following the injury, but afterwards, Coach Franklin said that he could have returned if he was needed.
"He could have came back in the game," Franklin said. "We didn't feel like we needed to ... and we are going to need him down the stretch, so we made that choice."
Taking a page from hockey coaches, Franklin declined to discuss the specifics of the injury, only stating that it was "below the waist."
Krause Takes it to the House
It's been an up and down year for Jonathan Krause returning punts, and Saturday was as up as he's been all season. The wideout and punt returner lost his job returning punts to Jordan Matthews midway through the season, but he has since regained it. Against UMass, Krause returned six punts for 93 yards, including one for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Krause's punt return for a score came with 1:05 to play in the third quarter.
"When I cut back to the left side, I kind of knew I was going to score," Krause said.
Krause's punt return for a touchdown was the first by a Commodore since Jimmy Williams in 1999.
It was Vanderbilt's first touchdown on special teams this season, and it was rewarding for the players, given the importance placed on special teams.
"Coach Franklin makes sure that everyone takes (special teams) seriously and that it's not just another play or walkthrough or something," Krause said.