James Franklin fought every urge in his body not to go for it.
The Vanderbilt coach fended off temptation on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line less than three minutes in. He passed on his usual risk and took the sure points, kicking a field goal.
“We knew we were going to be back,” quarterback Jordan Rodgers said.
The Commodores had no problem finding the end zone in the second half. Twenty-one points in the third quarter fueled a rare rout of in-state rival Tennessee as Vanderbilt rolled to a 41-18 victory on Saturday night in front of a soldout crowd of 40,350 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Players and coaches roared out of the locker room and emerged for a victory lap to thank an overwhelming clan of Commodore fans who stuck around after the first win over Tennessee in Nashville since 1982. The 23-point victory was the most lopsided Vanderbilt win in the rivalry since a 26-0 thumping in 1954.
Vanderbilt (7-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) has just six wins over UT (4-7, 0-7) since then, including just two in the last 30 years. For only the second time ever – and first since 1935 – the Commodores have won five SEC games.
“I think it is a testament to them staying with us through the tough times,” Rodgers said. “We've had a lot of tough times. They’ve been waiting a long time for that. So we wanted to make sure to celebrate with them and honor them.”
A rout and Vanderbilt’s fifth straight win didn’t look inevitable the way the first half went.
Other than a 72-yard screen pass from Rodgers to Zac Stacy on the first play, the Commodores were sluggish. They settled for two field goals despite starting with a first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line and misfired on their first seven third downs.
Their first conversion couldn’t have come at a better time. Chris Boyd hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-4 to propel the Commodores in front for good with 3:12 left in the half. They led 13-10 at the half.
Jordan Matthews opened the second-half scoring when he took a handoff and raced 47 yards on an end-around for his first career rushing touchdown. After Andre Hal picked up his second interception for Vanderbilt’s third takeaway, Wesley Tate threw his first career touchdown. Out of the Wildcat, he tossed a jump pass – a la Tim Tebow – to a wide open Kris Kentera for a 3-yard touchdown. Stacy capped off the third quarter scoring with his 27th career touchdown – a school record – on a 10-yard run for a 34-10 lead with 1:53 left in the third quarter.
“We treated this game like it was any other game,” Stacy said. “It just feels a whole lot better it being Tennessee.”