NASHVILLE -- The Vanderbilt Commodores rode a season-long wave of confidence and gridiron abilities to a 38-24 victory in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
It didn’t hurt their cause that North Carolina State could not hold onto the football for much of the afternoon.
The win propelled the Commodores to a 9-4 final record in what is one of the most storied football seasons in school history.
“Nine wins is significant,” declared Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin.
“That’s something that hasn’t been done here in a long time.”
Not since 1915, to be precise.
It’s not known if there were any 97-year-olds among the 58,801 in attendance who could have been alive the last time Vanderbilt achieved a nine-win season.
It is, perhaps, just as noteworthy that five of this season’s wins came against SEC rivals. As the final moments drained off the game clock Vanderbilt fans took up the chant “S.E.C.” as they watched their team defeat an ACC foe. The Commodores are now 2-0 lifetime against N.C. State, their last meeting having occurred in 1946.
Coach Franklin has turned around a program that was often last in the Southeastern Conference to one that has now made back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. The Commodores are now 3-2-1 all-time in bowl competition.
“The coaches and the players know that we’ll do whatever necessary on the field in order to try to win,” Franklin stated, his eyes still stinging from a Gatorade victory bath that he usually doesn’t permit his players to pour upon him. That included converting two critical fourth down plays that could easily have altered the outcome were they not successful.
The contest pitted two seasoned quarterbacks – Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers and N.C. State’s Mike Glennon – each trying to lead his respective team to one final win before saying goodbye to the college game.
Rodgers completed 16-of-25 passes for 108 yards and no interceptions. His throw to Jordan Matthews on a fourth-down-and-18 late in the game effectively sealed Vanderbilt’s victory.
Glennon, meanwhile, passed for a staggering 383 yard. But the Wolf Pack senior also tossed three interceptions. Those plays, coupled with a pair of team fumbles, robbed the Wolf Pack of the opportunity to stay in contention down the stretch.
“Two of Glennon’s picks are on me. I put him in the position to fail,” said N.C. State interim head coach Dana Bible. “Credit for the other one can be given to Vanderbilt for playing great defense.”
Bible had the unenviable position of coaching the Wolf Pack for one game as the program transitions from former coach Tom O’Brien, whom the school fired in November despite a 7-5 regular season, to Dave Doeren, newly hired away from Northern Illinois. The transition has also deprived Doeren of coaching his former school in the Orange Bowl.
If N.C. State wasn’t giving up the football on turnovers, they were finding other ways of giving it away. One promising Wolf Pack drive ended when senior center Camden Wentz snapped the football 21 yards over Glennon’s head. That changed a third-and-short in Vanderbilt territory to a fourth-and-30 at State’s 34 yard line.
Senior halfback Zac Stacy, who two games earlier had become Vanderbilt’s all-time rushing leader, was named Music City Bowl MVP for his 88 yards rushing on 19 carries. Those gains included a six-yard touchdown carry in the second period that helped give his team a 14-0 lead.
“I’ve got just two words – anchor down!” Stacy declared upon receiving the MVP nod. That, of course, is the nautical phrase instilled by Coach Franklin as the team’s new mantra.
It will remain to be seen whether Franklin can keep the program on a course of continued success with the departures of Rodgers and Stacy, both of whom have now played their final games in black and gold.
Franklin may also have to face a 2013 campaign without Matthews. The junior receiver is still considering a move to test the waters in the NFL. Each member of the talented trio accounted for a touchdown. Matthews scored on an 18-yard reception to put his team up 28-14 just 41 seconds before halftime. Rodgers capped his team’s scoring on a 15-yard misdirection carry with 5:11 left in the game.
N.C. State scored the game’s final points three minutes later when Glennon connected with Rashard Smith for a 19-yard TD.
Notable game contributions: Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler led all defensive players with 10 tackles. He also had an interception and a fumble recovery.
Vanderbilt kick return specialist Brian Kimbrow, who entered the game with four punt returns for touchdowns, almost ran end zone-to-end zone on a kickoff return. However, the 5-8, 180-pounder known by his teammates as the “Memphis Missile” was stopped cold by a teammate who got in Kimbrow’s way trying to make a downfield block. The mishap occurred 52 yards into Kimbrow’s return.
N.C. State’s Tobais Palmer provided his team a rare highlight moment when he returned a kickoff 94 yards untouched for a touchdown, pulling his team to within 21-14 just 3:35 before halftime.
NC State 0 14 0 10 - 24
Vanderbilt 7 21 3 10 - 38
Qtr. Time Scoring Play
1st 09:51 Vandy – Chris Boyd 5 pass from Jordan Rodgers (Carey Spear kick)
2nd 10:08 Vandy – Zac Stacy 6 run (Ryan Fowler kick)
06:18 NC St. – Tony Creecy 1 run (Niklas Sade kick)
03:47 Vandy – Wesley Tate 7 run (Spear kick)
03:35 NC St. – Tobais Palmer 94 kick return (Sade kick)
00:41 Vandy – Jordan Matthews 18 pass from Rodgers (Fowler kick)
3rd 9:39 Vandy – Carey Spear 30 field goal
4th 14:56 NC St. – Sade 24 field goal
05:11 Vandy – Rodgers 15 run (Spear kick)
02:06 NC St. – Rashard Smith 15 pass from Mike Glennon (Sade kick)