Franklin, Vanderbilt earn Music City Bowl win
DEC 31, 2012 3:36p ET
That's been the steady mantra James Franklin has espoused since becoming Vanderbilt's 27th football coach the season before last. Some thought him crazy -- change the culture of Vanderbilt's decades of futility on the gridiron?
Culture change comes with winning. And win is exactly what Vanderbilt (9-4) did Monday in convincing fashion with a 38-24 victory over North Carolina State (7-6) in the Music City Bowl in front of 55,801 mostly hometown Commodores fans at LP Field.
"I think it's really two things," said Franklin of the quick turnaround for the team that played in consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and won nine games, most for Vandy since 1915. "The university decided to hire some psycho that nobody ever heard of and gave him a chance and an unbelievable group of guys that bought in and believed in everything that we asked them to do."
That included a senior class led by running back Zac Stacy, named the Music Bowl Most Valuable Player after rushing for a game-high 107 yards and one touchdown; and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who completed 16-of-25 passes for 108 yards and two scores.
"From an individual standpoint, winning the MVP was definitely a team award," said Stacy, Vandy's all-time leading rusher and rushing touchdown leader. "We've been through a lot. Coach Franklin and his staff have done a great job instilling confidence in us."
The list of superlatives this team achieved is lengthy, including winning 15 games in two seasons, most since 1928-29; a seven-game win streak, most since 1948; outscoring opponents by 154 points, most since 1955; winning five Southeastern Conference games, most since 1935; and on and on and on.
As the game closed, Vanderbilt fans chanted, "SEC! SEC! SEC!" Now, they know what it feels like to be relevant while playing in arguably the best football conference in the country.
"The significance I think of winning nine games is different," Franklin said. "It's different to me. It's different for the team. It is perceived differently than winning six or seven games. When you get to the nine-game category, it is a completely different conversation.
"When you throw out dates like 1915, that's a very, very long time ago."
In getting its third bowl game victory, Vanderbilt took advantage of five NC State turnovers, including three interceptions thrown by senior quarterback Mike Glennon, and two fumble recoveries from the six times the Wolfpack put the ball on the ground.
"When you play a team like Vanderbilt, you cannot make mistakes like that," said NC State interim coach Dana Bible, who took over the team when Tom O'Brien was fired following the regular season.
"We know we were playing against a team with a lot of momentum, playing with a lot of confidence," Bible added. "That expressed itself throughout the game."
NC State turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions of the game, but Vanderbilt didn't take advantage of the first two -- an interception by junior safety Kenny Ladler off an underthrown ball over the middle by Glennon, and a recovery by freshman defensive end Caleb Azibuke off a fumble by Wolfpack running back Shadrach Thornton.
But the Commodores did take advantage of the third N.C. State miscue early in the second quarter. Leading 7-0, Vanderbilt freshman linebacker Darreon Herring smacked Wolfpack tight end Asa Watson following a reception, and Ladler picked up the fumble and returned it to the N.C. State 27-yard line. Four plays later, Vanderbilt took a 14-0 lead on a 6-yard run by Stacy.
The Commodores opened the game by taking the initial possession 65 yards on 10 plays, getting the final 11 yards of the drive on a scoring pass from Rodgers to sophomore receiver Chris Boyd. NC State finally got on the board midway through the second quarter to pull within 14-7. Glennon led an 84-yard, 11-play drive that was capped by a 1-yard scoring run by sophomore running back Tony Creecy.
That's when the return game kicked in for both teams. Following the N.C. State score, the Commodores got a 52-yard kickoff return by freshman Brian Kimbrow. Five plays later, Vanderbilt went back ahead by two touchdowns on a 7-yard run by junior running back Wesley Tate.
Not to be outdone, NC State senior Tobias Palmer took the ensuing kickoff and raced 94 yards untouched up the middle of the field to pull the Wolfpack to within 21-14 with 3:35 before intermission. But Glennon's third interception of the first half was the costliest for N.C. State.
With just over 1:00 to play before half, he was picked off at the Wolfpack 30 by Vandy senior cornerback Eric Samuels, who returned it to the 18-yard line. Two plays later, Rodgers connected with junior receiver Jordan Matthews on an 18-yard scoring strike, giving the Commodores a 28-14 halftime lead.
For Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the bowl win provided some personal redemption. In last year's lost to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, Rodgers didn't play particularly well.
"Last year, I feel I didn't put the team in a position to win, and that was really tough" said Rodgers, whose passing totals this season ranked in the top 10 for the program. "This year, I did what I was asked to do. I don't think I played a perfect game, but that is where the play from our defense and our offensive line picked up this team and made us so successful."
"That's why we were so successful this year, because we were firing on all cylinders."
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