Returns for touchdowns help Vanderbilt roll past UMass

Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 10:45pm

For nearly two years, a touchdown famine swept over wide receiver Jonathan Krause. Cornerback Trey Wilson, on the other hand, has a knack for ending up in the end zone.

Both provided rare non-offensive touchdowns for Vanderbilt during a 49-7 rout of Massachusetts on Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Krause scored his first touchdown since Oct. 30, 2010 when he returned a punt 40 yards to cap off the Commodores’ scoring. It marked Vanderbilt’s first punt return for a touchdown since 1999. Just four minutes earlier, Wilson extended his own school record with his fourth interception return for a touchdown.

Both scores were a part of a five-minute scoring flurry when Vanderbilt (4-4) scored four touchdowns on five touches in the third quarter.

“When we get opportunities we have to take advantage of them. That was one of the few we actually got,” Wilson said. “You get the gifts, you have to take advantage of them.”

The chances had been scarce for Krause.

With Jordan Matthews, who caught a career-high 10 passes for 112 yards against UMass, and Chris Boyd turning into Jordan Rodgers’ top targets, Krause is often the third or fourth choice. The junior slot receiver has just six catches for 45 yards for the season.

Therefore, more of his opportunities are on special teams.

The 5-foot-11, 184-pounder started the season as the starting punt returner. But coach James Franklin didn’t care for Krause’s tendency to opt for a fair catch instead of absorbing a blow and trying to make a return. Matthews stepped in and started fielding punts. He averaged 12.1 yard on seven punt returns.

Prior to Saturday, Krause had just five returns for 18 yards — or a 3.6 average. Against UMass, he quickly surpassed his season total.

On the first punt from the Minutemen, he misdirected and ran 28 yards down the sideline. He popped up after a vicious tackle in which Stephane Milhim appeared to bring Krause down by his helmet.

His best return came in the third quarter. Backed up at its own 6-yard line, Massachusetts (0-8) sent off a short punt. Krause fielded it at the UMass 40-yard line and then headed left. He sprinted 40 yards untouched to the end zone to score Vanderbilt’s first punt return for a touchdown since Jimmy Williams scored on a 65-yard return against Northern Illinois on Sept. 11, 1999.

“When I cut back to the left side, I knew,” Krause said. “Coach Franklin makes sure we take [special teams] into account and make sure everybody takes it serious. It is just not another play you can walk through.”

Wilson could have walked into the end zone for his touchdown.

The senior cornerback benefitted off an underthrown pass by UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn. He plucked the third-down pass and darted 17 yards for the score.

It was one of three turnovers forced by Vanderbilt. The Commodores entered with an SEC-low five takeaways.

“He looked right at me and when he threw it I was just like, ‘Oh, let’s go,’ ” Wilson said with a smile. “The defensive line did a great job getting pressure. I am blessed with the best teammates in the world. They do a great job of putting me in a position to make plays and I just have to take advantage of the opportunities I get.”

Not many cornerbacks in the country do a better job than Wilson at taking advantage of turnovers.

He now has five career interceptions. He has turned four into touchdowns, including a 100-yard return last month. Only Tennessee’s Jackie Walker has returned more interceptions for touchdowns in the SEC. The linebacker returned five interceptions for touchdowns from 1969-71.

“That guy just seems to find a way,” Franklin said, “when he does get his hands on the ball, to get into the end zone.”