QB Adams rallies Vandy to win, 1st 5-0 start since 1943

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, October 4, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vanderbilt Commodores are on a mission and tired of being considered a football joke.

Well, they’re big-time now.

Mackenzi Adams came off the bench and threw for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 19 Vanderbilt beat 13th-ranked Auburn 14-13 Saturday night to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1943.

“People can think what they want to think,” Vandy linebacker Chris Marve said. “We just want to show the country we’re a different Vanderbilt.”

The Commodores improved to 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference for only the third time ever — the first since 1950. This win keeps them undefeated atop the SEC East while also snapping a 13-game skid to Auburn (4-2, 2-2). It was Vandy’s first win in the series since the 1955 Gator Bowl, and the fewest points Auburn has scored in this series since that bowl game.

“This is what coaches live for,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “I live to walk into the locker room and see how happy our players are.”

Trying to preserve a one-point lead, Vandy had to punt the ball back to Auburn one last time with 2:16 left, but Brett Upson kicked it 55 yards and Alan Strong downed it at the Tigers 3. On the next play, Myron Lewis intercepted Chris Todd’s pass intended for Rodgeriqus Smith.

All that was left was for Adams to take a knee a couple of times, and the party was on for one of the biggest wins in the history of a program that’s perennially been the doormat of the SEC. After leaving the field, the Commodores returned for a curtain call and received a standing ovation from their adoring fans.

“A lot of these teams think they’re way better than us,” Vandy receiver George Smith said. “But we’re proving that we can play with them.”

The SEC’s smallest school, and only private university, is known more for its academics than its football. Fans were celebrating the Commodores first appearance in the Top 25 since 1984 even before the game started, sporting signs that boasted “Geeks rule.”

Then the Commodores — whose last winning season was in 1982 — went out and backed it up by pushing around Auburn.

The difference in the game was Auburn kicker Wes Byrum’s missed extra point in the first quarter, but Vandy outgained the Tigers on offense 263-208, and a defense that had led the SEC in sacks coming in added five more by five different Commodores. Vandy sacked Todd twice inside the final 4 minutes to force the Tigers to punt away with 2:51 left.

Auburn still looks lost in its new spread offense. The Tigers managed just 4 yards rushing in the second half, and coach Tommy Tuberville took the blame.

“We couldn’t run it. We tried both quarterbacks, and they played us a little in the second half, got in our face, gave us bad plays … We’re not making any excuses. We lost this game. I did,” Tuberville said.

Ben Tate ran for 108 yards, and the Tigers scored 13 points in 60 seconds in the first quarter. That was it against a Vandy defense that had been the SEC’s worst in yards allowed, giving up 364.3 per game.

The Tigers were upset after 11 penalties for 81 yards, and Mario Fannin said they made too many errors.

“We’ve got to make some changes,” Fannin said.

Quarterback Chris Nickson started the game for Vanderbilt but aggravated an injured right shoulder he hurt two weeks ago at Mississippi. Adams, who led the Dores to a win at then-No. 6 South Carolina last October, came in cold.

“We knew we had two good quarterbacks,” Johnson said. “Mackenzi’s already ready to go, and he’s a gamer.”

But the Commodores held Auburn to a mere 25 yards in the second quarter. They stopped Tate on two carries for losses, and D.J. Moore nearly picked off a Todd pass. That forced Clinton Durst to punt from his own end zone, and Moore caught the ball near midfield and ran it back 25 yards to the Auburn 30.

Adams completed all four of his passes for 41 yards, the last a 15-yarder to Justin Wheeler for a touchdown with 39 seconds left in the first half for a TD — the first allowed in the first half this season by Auburn. Bryant Hahnfeldt added the extra point to pull Vandy within 13-7, and Adams, who held for the kick, jumped up and down as he ran off the field.

Auburn opened the third quarter by trying to throw and went three-and-out on its first three possessions. Vandy missed a 40-yard field goal on its opening drive, but Adams drove the Commodores 68 yards in eight plays helped by a couple Auburn mistakes with a defensive pass interference and a face mask.

Adams found Brandon Barden on a 1-yard TD pass to tie the game, and Hahnfeldt’s extra point made it 14-13 with 7:09 left in the third.

Vandy got greedy and tried a 50-yard field goal, and Jake Ricks blocked it for the Tigers. Burns came in for Todd, and he found Mario Fannin for a 24-yard pass down to the Vandy 29. But the Tigers were called for holding, then illegal touching by Montez Billings of a pass after going out of bounds and Burns was incomplete on his next two passes.