Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Vanderbilt: 2012 Music City Bowl Champions

Vanderbilt’s last nine-win football season came during World War I, but then a lot of history has been rewritten since coach James Franklin arrived in Nashville two years ago.
Senior running back Zac Stacy ran for 107 yards, and the Commodores forced five North Carolina State turnovers en route to winning the Music City Bowl for the second time in five years, 38-24, on Monday at LP Field.
It was the seventh win in a row for the SEC’s only private institution, which recovered from a 2-4 start to notch its most victories since 1915.
“We really heard that from the time that we arrived on campus, all the things that couldn’t be done or can’t be done, and all the negativity that was surrounding the program,” Franklin said. “We just put our earmuffs on and kept bombarding these guys with the same positive messages.”
“We’re not going anywhere, so everybody better get used to it.”
Vanderbilt senior Jordan Rodgers passed for two touchdowns and ran for one, and Stacy added a scoring run while being named the game’s MVP in his final college contest. Chris Boyd, Wesley Tate and Jordan Matthews also found the end zone for the Commodores.
N.C. State senior quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 383 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted three times as the Wolfpack (7-6) lost for the fourth time in six games. Dana Bible served as the interim coach after the dismissal of Tom O’Brien. Former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren is set to take over the program.
“I made a couple of calls on two of those interceptions that should be put on me,” Bible said. “I put him (Glennon) in a position to fail. … The goal was to attack and if they make a play, more power to them.”
Vanderbilt (9-4) is poised to crack the final poll in the Associated Press top 25 rankings for the first time since 1948, when it ended that season No. 12 after going 8-2-1. That was the last year Vanderbilt had a seven-game winning streak.
Franklin is the first coach to lead the Commodores to bowls in consecutive years, and this trip produced better results than a 2011 Liberty Bowl loss to Cincinnati.
“The significance of winning nine games is different,” Franklin said. “It’s different to me. It’s different to the team. I think it’s perceived different than winning six or seven games. When you get into the nine-win category, it’s a completely different conversation you’re in.”
Close to 80 percent of the 55,801 in attendance for an 11 a.m. kickoff were bundled up in black-and-gold attire for what was a de facto home game with Vanderbilt’s campus three miles away. The Commodores had aspirations for a more prestigious bowl, but they have been quite comfortable spending New Year’s Eve in Nashville — they defeated a ranked Boston College team 16-14 in this bowl in 2008.
N.C. State nearly doubled Vanderbilt in yardage, 424-225, but Wolfpack mistakes and big plays from the Commodores cemented the result. Vanderbilt, which didn’t commit a turnover, converted three of four fourth-down attempts despite its struggles on third down (3-of-14).
“It’s just making plays,” Stacy said. “That’s just what we were doing. The defense did a great job today giving us those opportunities to get back on the field.”
Vanderbilt led 28-14 at halftime and opened a 38-17 lead with 5:11 remaining on Rodgers’ 15-yard run. N.C. State tacked on a meaningless score three minutes later when Glennon found Rashard Smith for a 19-yard touchdown.
When the game ended, at least a dozen Commodores players leapt into the stands to be with their fans, celebrating a symbolic leap forward.
“Call it the Music City Leap,” Boyd said.
Vanderbilt cashed in two of N.C. State’s four first-half turnovers, and the last of those provided a huge momentum swing.
N.C. State had pulled to within 21-14 on Tobias Palmer’s 94-yard kickoff return with 3:35 in the half and got the ball back with 1:04 remaining after forcing a Vanderbilt punt. Glennon’s bid to tie the score before halftime ended quickly when his underthrown pass was intercepted by nickelback Eric Samuels, who gave the Commodores possession at the N.C. State 18.
Two plays later, Matthews was in the end zone after slipping a tackle on an 18-yard receiver screen.
“It just changed the momentum of the game,” said Vanderbilt free safety Kenny Ladler, who had an interception and a fumble recovery. “We wanted to take that and run with it.”
Vanderbilt went up 7-0 after winning the coin toss and putting its offense on the field. Boyd toe-tapped his right foot just inside the left sideline while making a one-handed catch and was awarded a 5-yard touchdown upon review, capping a 10-play, 65-yard opening drive.
N.C. State’s string of errors ensued. A snap three feet over the head of the 6-foot-6 Glennon derailed its first series. Ladler intercepted Glennon when he threw downfield on the initial play of N.C. State’s next series. Freshman tailback Shadrack Thornton fumbled when the Wolfpack took possession again.
Vanderbilt failed to generate a first down after either of those turnovers near midfield, but a shift in offensive strategy got the Commodores going.
After N.C. State’s third consecutive giveaway — a fumble by tight end Asa Watson that Ladler returned to the Wolfpack 27 — Vanderbilt went with the direct snaps to Stacy and stuck to the running game. Stacy carried it four times on that drive, including a 6-yard touchdown, and eight consecutive times overall.
Trailing 14-0, N.C. State answered with an 84-yard drive capped by Tony Creece’s 1-yard run for its first score. But freshman Brian Kimbrow responded with a 52-yard kickoff return, and after a penalty, there were only 32 yards between Vanderbilt and its next touchdown. Tate’s 7-yard run made it 21-7.
The 38 points was the most by Vanderbilt in its six bowl appearances, but it was nothing new for a team that eclipsed 40 four times in its final five regular-season games.

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