Jordan Matthews was tuned into his assignment but he couldn’t help but hear the commotion behind him.
Late in the fourth quarter of Vanderbilt’s 19-15 win at Missouri on Saturday, the Commodores wide receiver burst off the line of scrimmage on a crucial third-and-nine.
He quickly locked arms with a Missouri defender and proceeded to make a block. It wasn’t necessary. Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy was doing just fine on his own.
“I heard the collision and all I was thinking my head was, ‘Yep, that’s Zac,’ ” Matthews said. “He was able to get the first down, get down, shows you his intelligence at the position.”
Stacy rattled off an impressive 13-yard run to grab the first down for the Commodores (2-3, 1-2 SEC) with more than a minute remaining. The scamper featured a stiff arm, bouncing off another defender and sliding right past the first-down marker to stay in bounds and keep the clock running.
It was a climactic ending to another stellar performance for the senior. He finished with 90 total rushing yards but lost 18 to finish with a net of 72. But the Commodores kept turning to the 5-foot-9, 210-pounder, who had a career-high 29 carries and scored the team’s only two touchdowns.
“He just ran hard,” coach James Franklin said. “Because our defense played well and special teams played well, although everything was working all night, we were able to stick to the plan. We didn’t have to abort the run. Although we didn’t have unbelievable success doing it, we were able to stick with it to keep the defense honest.”
Both of his touchdowns gave Vanderbilt the lead.
He rumbled into the end zone on a five-yard run on a direct snap late in the first half. He then broke a 9-9 tie in the fourth quarter with a 14-yard scamper. He boosted the team earlier in the drive with a halfback pass to a wide-open quarterback Jordan Rodgers that went for 24 yards.
“It was just making a play,” Stacy said. “It is one of those things that when you’re number is called you just have to make the play. Jordan did a great job of catching the ball and I did a great of job of throwing it to him. It is just a little wrinkle we have in our offense.”
His two scores gave him 23 rushing touchdowns for his career, moving past Charley Horton (1952-55) for the third most in school history. He is just one behind Marcus Wilson (1989-92) and three back of all-time leader Dean Davidson (1947-1950). He also now has 2,415 rushing yards, also third most at Vanderbilt.
“Zac’s a beast, man, and he plays with so much heart,” Matthews. “He’s always positive no matter how the game is going. He is a workhorse. He is a great player and I’m just lucky to have him on my team.”
• Matthews matched a career-high with nine receptions, which went for 91 yards.
He also ended the third quarter by running for 18 yards on a reverse, which was a prelude to Stacy’s halfback pass on the next play.
“I thought they worked tremendously,” Matthews said. “In the field position game you need big plays like that to swing the momentum.”
• Richard Kent put his own stamp on the game thanks to six big punts.
The only time Missouri started a drive in opposing territory was after an interception. Otherwise, the Tigers couldn’t do better than their own 38-yard line.
Kent put two inside the 10-yard line and kicker Carey Spear placed a pooch punt at the 2-yard line. It forced Missouri to punt from deep inside the end zone and Tigers punter Trey Barrow bobbled the snap, resulting in a safety.
Kent averaged 45.2 yards and booted a long of 59. That’s eight yards short of his career-high, which he matched on Sept. 10 at Northwestern.
“It is nice to know that you have an effect on the game,” Kent said. “Two weeks ago [against Georgia] I only had one punt but it was nice to contribute to my team’s performance.”