In two short years, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has established himself as a risk-taker.
Look no further than this season in which the Commodores top the Southeastern Conference with 24 fourth-down attempts. They’ve converted only half but Franklin has made no apologies for the bold moves.
On Saturday in a 27-26 come-from-behind victory at Ole Miss, perhaps the gambling paid off.
Vanderbilt attempted just one fourth down – and it was necessary. Trailing 26-20 with 1:49 remaining, the Commodores faced a fourth-and-two on their own 46.
There was no risk involved here. Fall short and the game was most likely over. But maybe the task seemed less daunting because fourth downs weren’t anything new. Franklin had rolled the dice plenty of times before when no one thought he should. Sometimes he looked like a genius, others a goat. But the Commodores (6-4, 4-3 SEC) had felt the pressure and maybe that helped them rise above it in clutch moment on the road.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers scrambled for three yards to move the first-down marker. Four plays later, he connected with a wide-open Chris Boyd down the sideline for a game-winning 26-yard touchdown with 52 seconds left. The improbable score capped off nine-play, 76-yard drive and an even more unlikely comeback.
Vanderbilt overcame a 23-6 deficit early in the third quarter for its largest comeback in more than 30 years. For the first time the Commodores have won three SEC road games.
And in the program’s 112-year history, Vanderbilt has reached new heights by becoming bowl eligible for consecutive years for the first time. Two years ago, it would have been a crazy bet. But, then again, James Franklin isn’t afraid of a risk.
Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4OT): This might leave a mark as the Vols (4-6, 0-6) dropped their seventh straight SEC game and 14th over the last two years. UT blew a 14-point second-half lead and allowed a game-tying touchdown with 47 seconds left. The Vols couldn’t make a stop in any overtime period – or for most of the game as they allowed 454 yards. Instead of kicking a 35-yard field goal in the fourth overtime to secure points, UT fell short on fourth down to turn the ball over to watch Missouri make the game-winning field goal. VolQuest.com is reporting coach Derek Dooley will be fired at the end of the season.
Tennessee Tech 45, Tennessee-Martin 44 (OT): The Golden Eagles (3-7, 1-6 OVC) snapped a seven-game losing streak by upsetting the 23rd-ranked Skyhawks. Doug Page scored his second touchdown of the day in overtime and then Tech’s Tommie McBride made a game-winning tackle on a botched extra point by UT-Martin. Tech might have something in sophomore Darian Stone, who made his third consecutive start and tied a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 190 on 25 carries. He also threw three touchdowns as the Golden Eagles overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, gave up a late touchdown and then regrouped in overtime.
Jacksonville State 38, Austin Peay 23: Jake Ryan wore out his right arm but he couldn’t save the Govs (1-9, 0-7 OVC), who led 16-14 at halftime. The Gamecocks unloaded in the third quarter, regaining the lead on 21 straight points. Ryan threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns while completing 40 of 61 passes, setting school records for both attempts and completions.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 – overtime loss at home for Tennessee -- a first. The Vols had won six straight games that had gone into overtime at Neyland Stadium before losing to Missouri.
3 – SEC road wins by Vanderbilt this year, a program first.
61 – pass attempts, a school record by Austin Peay's Jake Ryan. He also completed a school-record 40 passes in a loss to Jacksonville State.
466 – total yards, a school record by Tennessee Tech quarterback Darian Stone.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tennessee Tech quarterback Darian Stone
The sophomore from Clinton, Tenn., rallied the Golden Eagles past No. 23 UT-Martin to snap a seven-game skid and earn OVC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Stone was making his third consecutive start in replace of injured starter Tre Lamb. The 6-foot, 180-pound Stone finished with school-record 466 total yards and tied another Tech mark with 190 rushing yards on 25 carries. It was his second straight game with more than 100 rushing records. He also completed 16 of 29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns. His 79-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Tilghman was the eighth longest completion in Tech history and put the Golden Eagles in front 38-31 with 70 seconds left.
QUOTE OF NOTE
“That was a great win tonight. It was an awesome win. ... I’m looking forward to the day when I don’t have to stand up here and talk about the first ever. Things are starting to become routine. It is a mentality. We have a culture of winning at Vanderbilt.” – Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.
Two teams going in different directions square off at Vanderbilt Stadium. The Commodores are looking for the first win over UT in Nashville since 1982. The Vols are hoping to avoid a seventh loss which makes them ineligible for a bowl for the second straight year. ... A win at UT-Martin could put Tennessee State (8-2, 4-2 OVC) in the FCS playoffs. The Tigers are playing with a heavy heart after freshman Wayne Jones collapsed and died at practice Wednesday. ... Middle Tennessee State (6-3, 4-1 Sun Belt) can stay atop the conference standings with Arkansas State with a road win at South Alabama. ... In a battle between the OVC’s two worst teams, Tech and Austin Peay wrap up the season in Clarksville.