Robbie Caldwell still says Larry Smith is his man.
Vanderbilt’s junior quarterback bounced back from some early mistakes and led the Commodores to a 52-6 rout of visiting Eastern Michigan on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
It marked the first home victory for the Commodores since they defeated Western Carolina to start the 2009 season. The 52 points were the most scored since they put up 58 against The Citadel in 1999.
“I’m very proud of Larry,” Caldwell said. “He just keeps playing, doesn’t say a word. People try to be critical but as you can see: Larry’s the man.”
Smith missed open receivers on back-to-back throws in the second quarter, but from that point on, he completed his next eight throws before halftime for 130 yards and two touchdowns. VU settled for a field goal when he overthrew both a wide-open Brandon Barden and an unguarded Tray Herndon in the end zone.
“Of course those two throws, if he had hit the first one he wouldn’t have had an opportunity to make the second one,” Caldwell said. “He did a great job running the team, getting us in the right play. The thing that the public doesn’t see about Larry is his leadership and what he means to this team.”
With 22 seconds left in the first half, Smith connected with tight end Mason Johnston for a one-yard touchdown on a play action pass. It was Johnston’s first career reception.
Smith also hooked up with Udom Umoh on a 65-yard catch and run when Umoh shook two Eagle defenders to reach the end zone. A well-thrown bomb had slipped through Umoh’s hands earlier at the start of the second quarter.
Thus, Vanderbilt went into the locker room with a commanding 31-3 lead. The Commodores scored 24 points in the second quarter. It’s the second time this year they put up over 21 points in one quarter.
“I think going towards halftime we put some more points on the board, it was a big confidence booster,” Smith said.
After giving up 114 first quarter yards, the Commodore defense held EMU to just 95 yards the rest of the game.
Tim Fugger knocked loose his fourth fumble of the year when he hit EMU’s Javonti Green, and Jamie Graham fell on the ball at the EMU 38 yard-line. That eventually led to the aforementioned field goal.
Fugger leads the SEC in forced fumbles.
“We made some [defensive] adjustments,” Caldwell said. “(Defensive coordinator Jamie) Bryant did an excellent job of making adjustments up there. (Assistant head coach Bruce) Fowler adjusted them on the ground, and the next thing you know we’re stoning them. That’s the same offense that scored 20-something against Ohio State.”
Warren Norman gave VU a 14-3 lead when coasted untouched through a hole up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown with 10:13 left in the first half. Norman and Zac Stacy combined for 165 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The Commodores took a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game on Smith’s goal line keeper.
That scoring drive took all of two seconds. It was sparked by John Cole’s crafty, spinning 52-yard punt return to the EMU 1-yard line, during which he broke three tackles.
“It’s important to do what we should do in a game like that,” Cole said. “With the offensive struggles of late it was a good thing to really open up.”
While the second half was largely inconsequential to the game’s outcome, there were several exciting spurts for the Commodores.
Backup quarterback, and fifth-year senior, Jared Funk took over in the fourth quarter. His second career pass and first career completion was a 57-yard touchdown to Cole (four receptions, 103 yards).
Casey Hayward, second in the SEC in interceptions entering the game, picked off EMU’s Alex Gillet for his fourth interception of the season. He has one in each of the last four games.
Ahead 38-6 in the third quarter, freshman receiver Jordan Matthews recovered an onside kick on the Vanderbilt 44 yard-line. The field position set up an 11-yard Norman touchdown 11 plays later.
Caldwell said the kick was a mistake. He called a sky kick and Ryan Fowler misstruck the ball. It happened to land in Vanderbilt hands.
Caldwell said he apologized to EMU coach Ron English for the incident.
Stacy outran the Eagles secondary on a 67-yard touchdown run halfway through the third to make the game 38-6. It was Stacy’s longest run of the season and his third touchdown run for over 30 yards in five games.
“I've never seen a game get away from you that fast,” English said. “I think at this level, when you don't take advantage of opportunities, or you don't put pressure on the other team, particularly when you're not really talented yourself, you're going to struggle. I think that's what happened here.”