NCF Nation: Mackenzi Adams


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson isn't necessarily a proponent of playing two quarterbacks.

But when he has two (or three) that he thinks are pretty close, he's going to let the situation sort itself out.

That's what he did this preseason with sophomore Larry Smith and senior Mackenzi Adams. From the outset, the Commodores' coaches felt like Smith and his big right arm probably gave them the best chance to effectively throw the ball, but they were also going to make him win the job on the practice field.

There's more to playing quarterback in this league than just throwing the ball, too.

Smith has worked with the first-team offense most of August, so it's not a big surprise that Johnson named him the starter for this Saturday's opener against Western Carolina.

Smith has the ability to make plays down the field and keep defenses honest. He's also a nice fit for the hurry-up, no-huddle offense the Commodores are employing. It's very similar to the offense he ran in high school in Prattville, Ala., when he never lost a regular-season game as a starter and passed for 6,011 yards and 54 touchdowns during his career.

While Smith is clearly the guy, Johnson has made it clear that he won't be hesitant to call on Adams if needed. The Commodores have done so in each of the past two seasons. He came off the bench last season to engineer one of their biggest wins, a 14-13 victory over then-No. 13 Auburn.

There's no plan to play two quarterbacks this season. But, then, there was no plan to play three last season. Once Chris Nickson injured his shoulder, he wasn't as effective, and the Commodores turned to Adams and then Smith late in the season.

Johnson isn't one of those coaches who frets over how a guy might react if he's not named the starter. He's comforted by the fact that he has two quarterbacks who've won for him.

And if the situation calls for it, he'll use them both again this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

A few things to watch as the first SEC teams kick off their portion of the bowl season on New Year's Eve. Vanderbilt takes on Boston College in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), and LSU faces Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET):

1. Angry or apathetic?: LSU coach Les Miles has talked a lot about how the Tigers are ready to come out and fight in this bowl game, how they're primed and ready to put a bow on an otherwise disappointing season. Honestly, it's been a while since we've seen that version of the Tigers. The defending national champions enter the matchup with Georgia Tech having lost three of their last four games. If they're genuinely ready to get it on, this has a chance to be one of the more interesting bowl games. If they're ready to get it over with, the Yellow Jackets and everybody else in the Georgia Dome may be asking what the rushing record is by the start of the second half. Remember, the last time the Yellow Jackets and their triple-option offense faced an SEC defense, they rolled up 409 rushing yards against Georgia to end the regular season.

2. Defensive distractions: The LSU defense didn't play very well this season when there were no distractions. But the Tigers go into this game knowing one co-defensive coordinator, Bradley Dale Peveto, is headed to Northwestern State, where he's been named the head coach, while the other co-defensive coordinator, Doug Mallory, is headed to New Mexico to be the Lobos' defensive coordinator. It's called finding other employment before you're demoted or fired, and both of the Tigers' embattled co-defensive coordinators did just that. Now that they're on their way out and everybody knows so, let's see how an LSU defense that gave up 30 or more points in its last three games responds.

3. Proving ground for Eagles: Talk about a battle of bowl neophytes vs. bowl veterans. Boston College will be gunning for its ninth straight bowl victory, the longest such streak in the country. This is the Eagles' 10th straight bowl appearance. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is making its first bowl appearance in 26 years. Nothing against the Music City Bowl, but you know the Eagles had hoped for more this year, losing for the second straight year in the ACC Championship Game. They've just missed on some chances to land BCS berths in recent years and are annually passed over by other bowls because their fans don't typically travel well. Will they be determined to prove they deserve better, or will they be bummed to even be in the Music City in the first place?

4. Quarterback carousel: Who won't line up at quarterback for the Commodores? Senior Chris Nickson will likely get the start, but he's been wildly inconsistent this season. In his defense, he hasn't been the same since hurting his throwing shoulder, the same injury that plagued him all of last season. Junior Mackenzi Adams was strong in relief several times this season and took over the starting duties toward the end of the season, but he went down with injuries to his knee and chest. Redshirt freshman Larry Smith showed enough promise in the regular-season finale against Wake Forest that Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has said that Smith will figure into the mix in the bowl game. Smith's reps during the pre-Christmas practices went up considerably. Boston College has its own issues at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Dominique Davis will be making just his third career start after taking over for injured fifth-year senior Chris Crane. Davis threw a pair of interceptions in the ACC Championship Game loss to Virginia Tech.

5. Points at a premium: The first team to 20 is probably going to win this one. Boston College is sixth nationally in total defense, so few teams have taken the ball and driven it down the Eagles' throats. The Commodores haven't driven it down anybody's throat in a long time. They had a terrible time scoring points after starting out 5-0 this season. In fact, they were held to 14 or fewer points in seven of their last eight games. In addition to the uncertainty at quarterback, Vanderbilt is also shorthanded at running back. Jamie Graham, a receiver and return specialist this season, could see most of his time in the backfield depending on how much Jared Hawkins is able to play. There's also All-America cornerback D.J. Moore, who's proven he can make plays wherever the Commodores put him.

The SEC's 10 best games in 2008

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:13
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The ballots have come in from near and far. I even received one from Heidelberg. With your help, I've managed to rank the top 10 games and the top 20 plays from the SEC this season. So sit back and enjoy a look back at a year that just may produce the fourth national champion from this conference in the past six years. We'll do the games first and then the plays a little bit later in the day. Thanks again for all you input. Here goes:

 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida past then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game.

1. Florida 31, Alabama 20, Atlanta, Dec. 6: In one of the most anticipated SEC games of the last quarter century, Florida played a near-perfect fourth quarter to rally past previously unbeaten and then No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. The showdown between two teams that had won a combined 20 straight games was essentially a play-in for a berth in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Florida earned that right and will take on Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami. The game was extremely well-played. The only turnover was a meaningless one and came in the final seconds. Alabama's offensive line and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow each had points where they took over the game, but two long drives by the Gators in the fourth quarter after falling behind 20-17 were the difference. Tebow finished with three touchdown passes, and all three came on third down. The Crimson Tide only had the ball for six offensive plays in the fourth quarter, as Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a key third-down sack of Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Gators showed their mettle by winning without their most dynamic playmaker, Percy Harvin, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.

2. Alabama 27, LSU 21 (OT), Baton Rouge, Nov. 8: The return of Nick Saban to Baton Rouge was pretty uneventful off the field, but the game itself was filled with drama. It was a disappointing season for the defending national champion Tigers, but they were ready to play in this one. The two teams slugged it out for four quarters, and Alabama had a chance to win it with three seconds left in regulation. But LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Leigh Tiffin's 29-yard field goal attempt. With Tiger Stadium rocking, LSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee put a damper on things by throwing his fourth interception of the game on the Tigers' first possession in overtime. Fittingly, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson was there in the back of the end zone to collar the pick. It was his third of the game, and he took one of those back for a 54-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Alabama went right to freshman receiver Julio Jones on its first play in overtime, and Jones went up high and made a sweet adjustment in the air for a 24-yard catch at the 1. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson plunged in for the touchdown to keep the Tide unbeaten and clinch a trip to the SEC championship game.

3. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, Gainesville, Sept. 27: The upset of the year in the SEC doesn't look like quite the shocker now that it did back in September. The Rebels, who were a three-touchdown underdog when they went into the Swamp, ended the season on a five-game winning streak and head to the Cotton Bowl playing some of the best football in the league. But nobody saw their upset of the Gators coming. They'd just lost to Vanderbilt at home a week earlier. Quarterback Jevan Snead, though, grew up in a hurry with two touchdown passes, including an 86-yarder to Shay Hodge, with 5:26 to play, and the Rebels came up big on special teams and defense in the final minutes to snap a 14-game SEC road losing streak. Kentrell Lockett blocked the Gators' extra point attempt when it appeared they had tied the game with 3:28 left, and then Peria Jerry and a host of his Ole Miss defensive mates smothered Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on fourth-and-short at the Rebels' 32-yard line with 41 seconds remaining to seal the upset. Tebow and the Gators were fueled by the gut-wrenching setback and haven't lost since. In fact, nobody has come within double figures of them.

4. Arkansas 31, LSU 30, Little Rock, Nov. 28: After being decimated by Alabama, Texas and Florida earlier in the season, the Razorbacks hung on under first-year coach Bobby Petrino and improved greatly during the second half of the season. They caught an LSU team that was teetering on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and senior quarterback Casey Dick came off the bench in his final college game to deliver a memorable performance. A starter for the first 11 games of the season, Dick relieved his younger brother, Nathan Dick, who'd been injured. Casey Dick entered the game in the second half and rallied the Razorbacks from a 30-14 deficit. His 24-yard touchdown pass to London Crawford on a fourth-down play with 22 seconds remaining won it for the Hogs, who still had to sweat out a Colt David 63-yard field goal attempt with 2.4 seconds to play that was no good.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We check in with the Internal Affairs department from around the SEC:

1. Tackle by committee: Florida is banged up in its defensive line heading into Saturday's game at Florida State, which means you could see all sorts of combinations at tackle. The Gators will be without backup tackle Matt Patchan, who has a sprained knee, and it's unknown how much starting nose tackle Lawrence Marsh will be able to play after spraining his MCL last week against The Citadel. Sophomore Terron Sanders will move in as the starter at tackle, and if Marsh can't play, junior Brandon Antwine will start at nose. Sophomore Torrey Davis is moving from tackle to nose to provide depth at that position, but a number of players may see action at both interior positions against the Seminoles. Redshirt freshman Jaye Howard is another one that will see time at tackle behind Sanders.

2. Loading the line: It sounds simple enough, although not a lot of teams have made it work against Georgia Tech. But look for Georgia to do everything it can (including putting everybody in the box) to take Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer out of the game as early as possible. This is a big game for the Georgia linebackers. They have to tackle well and play with some discipline against Georgia Tech's option offense. Georgia as a defense has not been consistent with its tackling this season, and stopping the run has also been an issue of late. The Bulldogs have given up 185 yards or more on the ground in three of their last four games, and the Yellow Jackets are fourth in the nation in rushing at 270.8 yards per game.

3. Adams back in: Vanderbilt is searching for anything right now to get its offense going. Coming off one of their worst offensive showings of the season in a 20-10 loss to Tennessee (where they had just 25 yards of total offense at the half), the Commodores will go back to Mackenzi Adams at quarterback this Saturday against Wake Forest. Adams at least gave Vanderbilt a pulse in the passing game in the second half last week after Chris Nickson threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and also lost a fumble near midfield. Nickson had started the last two games and played well in the win at Kentucky. But a shoulder injury from earlier in the season has limited his ability to throw the ball. The only thing that could hold Adams back this weekend is a knee injury he suffered against Tennessee, although Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said he didn't believe it was serious.

4. Kodi to the rescue: The truth is that Auburn's coaches aren't going to ask sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns to go out and win the game for the Tigers on Saturday when they travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium for only the seventh time in this storied rivalry. If anything, it will be just the opposite. Burns' directive is not to lose the game, and when Auburn has its chances, he has to be poised enough and savvy enough to capitalize on those chances. Punting the football away won't be such a bad thing Saturday against Alabama. Burns is playing much more settled now that it's clear he's Auburn's quarterback. He hasn't thrown an interception in his last two games. That's after throwing six in his previous three games.

5. Then there was Jefferson: LSU coach Les Miles hasn't said so officially, but it appears that true freshman Jordan Jefferson will be the Tigers' third different starting quarterback this season when LSU faces Arkansas on Friday in Little Rock. Jarrett Lee injured his ankle against Ole Miss and didn't practice Monday. Andrew Hatch, who started the first three games, remains out with a leg injury. Look for the coaches to give Jefferson more of the playbook than he had against Ole Miss. He's always a threat to run and showed flashes of being a good passer in that game, too. He just needs experience, and given the Tigers' struggles at quarterback this season, he probably deserves more playing time than he's gotten to this point. It's pretty clear that he's LSU's quarterback of the future.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
 AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
 Tim Tebow accounted for five TDs in the Gators' win over Vanderbilt.

Alabama's hot. Florida may be hotter. How's that for a segue into this week's edition of Hot and Not? We could sit here for days and argue the merits of both teams, and I'm sure it would be a lively debate. But we get to find out who's the best team on the field come Dec. 6 when they meet in the SEC Championship Game. That showdown, a play-in game for the right to play in the BCS National Championship Game if both teams can win the rest of their regular-season games, should take all the debate out of it. Until then, we can still go back and forth.

En Fuego
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow:
In his last three games, Tebow has accounted for 14 touchdowns (seven passing and seven rushing). His passer rating of 214.5 leads the nation over that time frame, and he hasn't thrown a fourth-quarter incompletion in nearly two months. In Florida's 42-14 fleecing of Vanderbilt last weekend, Tebow had three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs all in the first half. He might not win his second Heisman Trophy, but he has the Gators positioned for the prize he wants most of all -- a national championship.

Hot
Alabama receiver Julio Jones: The SEC has several big-time receivers. Florida's Percy Harvin, Georgia's A.J. Green, South Carolina's Kenny McKinley and LSU's Brandon LaFell are all right up there. But there's not a tougher receiver to cover man-on-man in the league than Jones, who has the size, strength, speed and body control to beat any cornerback. It's remarkable to think that he's only a freshman. Or as Larry Munson would say, "My God, a freshman."

Not
Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody:
It was obvious Cody wasn't close to 100 percent against LSU. A knee sprain for any player is a difficult injury to come back from in a couple of weeks. But for a 365-pound defensive lineman? Cody looked a bit heavier and a lot slower. Maybe that's because he was freakishly dominant before the knee injury. You wonder how much he'll play this week against Mississippi State. The good news for him is that Alabama has an open date the next week.

Hot
Tennessee coaching rumors:
The only person who hasn't been connected with the Vols' coaching search is Elvis, and there are some sketchy reports that he was seen playing golf at Tennessee National with Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Vince Lombardi and Gen. Neyland. They all then hopped a jet and met at Graceland to put the staff together. Sounds like Elvis is going to call plays.

Not
Vanderbilt's passing game:
The Commodores have lost four straight, and a big part of their problem is a passing game that doesn't scare anybody. They've averaged just 129.2 yards passing during that skid and thrown seven interceptions. Mackenzi Adams suffered a hip pointer last week against Florida, so Chris Nickson could step back into the starting role against Kentucky.

Hot
South Carolina receiver Kenny McKinley:
Like a fine wine, McKinley just keeps getting better and better. The senior from Mableton, Ga., had seven catches for 130 yards against Arkansas and broke Sterling Sharpe's school record for career receiving yards. McKinley now has 188 catches for 2,602 yards, both school records.

Not
Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez:
It can't be a fun time for Martinez, who's a good coach coaching a bad defense right now. But when things go bad in college football, the coach gets the blame. The Bulldogs have given up 38 or more points in three straight games for only the second time in school history and the first time since ... 1900.

Hot
Alabama running back Glen Coffee:
If there's a harder running 198-pound back in the country than Coffee, I want to see him. The guy hits it up in there like every carry is his last. Coffee rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries against LSU to become the 13th running back in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He now has 1,010 yards on 162 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per carry.

Not
Tennessee's offense:
The Vols, in losing 13-7 to Wyoming in a shameful performance, managed to hit another new low. They've now gone three straight games without scoring in double digits, the first time that's happened since 1964. In seven of their 10 games this season, they've scored 14 or fewer points. Where have you gone Peyton Manning, Carl Pickens and Chuck Webb?

Ice, Ice Baby
LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee:
He's only a redshirt freshman, so it's unfair to expect Lee to carry too much of the load for the defending national champions. But he also can't keep throwing the ball to the other team. He has 14 interceptions this season and threw four more last weekend in the 27-21 overtime loss to Alabama. Even more damaging, he threw his sixth interception of the season that was returned for a touchdown. LSU coach Les Miles says he's going to play true freshman Jordan Jefferson some this Saturday against Troy. Here's a novel concept: Why not give Jefferson a chance against some of the teams that count?

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Making the rounds throughout the SEC before I take off later Friday afternoon for Tuscaloosa, where I will cover the Alabama-Ole Miss game on Saturday:

Internal affairs in the SEC

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We go inside as we do every week at this time with our "Internal Affairs" look at the conference. And, no, I'm not going to break down the rationale that different people use in voting in the polls:

1. Garcia on the move: Don't look for Stephen Garcia in the direct-snap Wildcat Formation or anything, but South Carolina is going to do its best to move him around and not allow the LSU defense to zero in on him in the pocket Saturday night in Columbia. Garcia, a redshirt freshman, is making his first collegiate start. He's pretty fearless running the ball, and Steve Spurrier likes his ability to make throws and make things happen on the run. Plus, you know the Tigers are going to be gunning for him.

2. Going five wide: That may be overstating it a bit, but Tennessee is going to try and open it up a little more and play to quarterback Nick Stephens' strengths. Throwing the deep ball is one of the best things he does, and sophomore receiver Denarius Moore has emerged as the Vols' best deep threat. Look for the Vols to get more of those guys on the field in spots to see if they can do a better job of spreading defenses out and backing safeties off the line of scrimmage. Whatever it is, Tennessee's got to find a way to keep defenses honest and run the ball better.

3. Adams takes over: With Chris Nickson nursing a bum throwing shoulder, Vanderbilt's passing game has been non-existent the last few weeks. Enter Mackenzi Adams, who's more comfortable in the pocket and pretty patient when it comes to allowing things to develop. The Commodores will play to Adams' strength, and although he won't run as much as Nickson, they will call some designed running plays for him. The biggest difference is that he's healthy and capable of making Georgia pay this weekend if the Bulldogs don't respect his ability to throw the ball.

4. Dueling quarterbacks at Auburn: The Tigers have a little extra time to figure it all out, but the main thing is that Kodi Burns is in and Chris Todd is out. Auburn doesn't play again until next Thursday (Oct. 23) at West Virginia, but Tommy Tuberville is finally committing to Burns. The Tigers completed just 10 passes in last week's loss to Arkansas. There's also a chance that true freshman Barrett Trotter may play for the first time and not redshirt if the Tigers think he's going to play significant minutes the rest of the way.

5. Turning Dixon loose: Anthony Dixon is healthy again, which means he's going to get the ball as much as he can take it the rest of the season, starting Saturday against Tennessee. Plagued by a painful groin injury, Dixon had been unable to practice much and lost some of his sharpness. But he came back last week against Vanderbilt after an open date and carried the ball 27 times for 107 yards. The most he'd carried the ball previously this season in a game was 18 times. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom is ready to ride Dixon the rest of the way.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

It's a battle of the last two BCS national champions on Saturday night in the Swamp. And if you're into trends, the Gators should be in good shape. The home team is 7-0-1 when the last two national champions meet. The last time it happened was 18 years ago when Notre Dame (the 1988 champ) beat Miami (the 1989 champ) 29-20 in South Bend. LSU's 28-24 win over Florida last season was one of the more exciting, hard-hitting games in the league. But, then, what LSU game a year ago wasn't heart-pounding? The winner of this game can make a pretty convincing statement in its divisional race that it's the team to beat. And especially if Florida wins, there's a decent chance the two teams could meet in a rematch in the SEC championship game. Here's a look at what to watch for in Week 7 in the SEC:

1. The Mad Hatter: Yes, LSU coach Les Miles is a bit unorthodox in how he goes about answering the simplest of questions in such a way that leaves you more confused than you were before you asked the question. And, yes, the way he wears his hat squarely on top of his head is a bit comical. But Miles could wear a lampshade on his head if he keeps winning the way he has. He's 8-3 against top 10 teams at LSU and has won six in a row. He's 4-2 on the road against top-10 competition. In his last 16 games against SEC opponents, the only two games he lost were in triple-overtime. It's high time the Mad Hatter gets his due. The guy can coach.

2. Auburn's offense: What's it going to look like now that Tony Franklin is gone? Steve Ensminger will call the plays, and Tommy Tuberville insists that the Tigers aren't going away from the no-huddle, spread offense that Franklin implemented. That may be, but surely Auburn is going to make more of an effort to run the ball Saturday against an Arkansas defense that hasn't stopped anybody on the ground this season.

3. Tuberville crossing over: Tommy Tuberville has a distinguished background as a top defensive coordinator and linebackers coach when he was at Miami and then Texas A&M for a year before getting the Ole Miss top job. But calling offensive plays? It will be interesting to see how involved he really is the rest of the way in coordinating Auburn's offense and making the play calls on game day. Tuberville says it will be a team effort and that he will be a big part of that team.

4. Spikes vs. Scott: Florida's Brandon Spikes is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He's fast, physical and always around the ball. He dares you to run at him. But that's what LSU likes to do with bruising 233-pound tailback Charles Scott, who's rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his four games this season. There's not a whole lot fancy about Scott other than his penchant for running over people. That first collision between Spikes and Scott ought to be one to remember.

5. The beast within: Brandon Spikes has already warned everybody that talking trash to Tim Tebow before a big game is akin to making the beast that much angrier. Look for Tebow to be a beast in this game and not hold back. It's obvious he hasn't looked to run quite as much this season. That all changes Saturday night in the Swamp. Not only will he look to run, but he'll look to run over somebody early to set the tone. The Tim Tebow that won the 2007 Heisman Trophy isn't a pocket passer. He's a modern-day, 240-pound single-wing tailback.

6. Solving Spurrier: Rich Brooks has yet to beat South Carolina since taking the Kentucky job in 2003. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky. He's 15-0 all-time against the Wildcats, who have lost eight straight to the Gamecocks. In short, something has to give if the Wildcats are going to break through and have a big season. They get the Gamecocks at home in a game that should provide the most definitive answer yet as to whether Kentucky is a contender or a pretender.

7. Adams on call: It sounds like Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson's right throwing shoulder is healthy enough for him to start Saturday against Mississippi State. Of course, Nickson has failed to finish the last two games after taking hits on that shoulder. The comforting thing for the Commodores is that they don't miss a beat when backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams is in the game. In fact, they really didn't start moving the ball consistently against Auburn until he entered the game in the second quarter.

8. Southerland's impact: Rumor has it that Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland, who missed the first five games after recovering from foot surgery, will arrive at Sanford Stadium on Saturday in a limousine provided by sophomore tailback Knowshon Moreno. Nobody has missed Southerland's crushing lead blocks more than Moreno, who was a nonfactor in the Alabama loss two weeks ago. Southerland's leadership and all-around toughness will also be key for the Bulldogs as they enter the teeth of their schedule beginning this weekend against Tennessee.

9. Getting to Smelley: The problem South Carolina had earlier this season was protecting the quarterback. But Chris Smelley has had more time to throw these last few games. He faces a Kentucky front four that ranks up there with the best in the league. The Wildcats sacked Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson three times last week, and the Crimson Tide offensive line was whistled twice for holding on pass plays. Rich Brooks says it's easily the best pass rush he's had at Kentucky, and the numbers back him up. The Wildcats are second nationally in pass efficiency defense.

10. Stephens' SEC debut: Not only does Tennessee have to go on the road Saturday against a Georgia team eager to get revenge for last season's shellacking in Knoxville, but the Vols do so with a quarterback (Nick Stephens) who's never taken a snap in an SEC game. Stephens was serviceable last week in the narrow win over Northern Illinois, but you know the Vols have to be kicking themselves now for not giving him a chance against Auburn or Florida earlier this season and for not giving him a chance to at least compete with Jonathan Crompton for the starting job back in the spring and preseason.

 
 John Reed/US Presswire
 Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams stepped in for an injured Chris Nickson to rally the Commodores past Auburn.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt receiver Justin Wheeler didn't even need to look into Mackenzi Adams' eyes Saturday night.

"I knew what I'd see," Wheeler said. "I knew what was getting ready to happen. I came in with him when we were on the scout team together in 2005."

Adams wasn't flawless, but he was fearless in stepping in for injured Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson and rallying the No. 19-ranked Commodores to a 14-13 victory over No. 14-ranked Auburn at a sold-out, raucous Vanderbilt Stadium.

"I'm just glad to contribute," said Adams, who threw a pair of touchdown passes. "When they need me, I'm ready."

He might as well have been speaking for the entire Vanderbilt team.

Say what you will about these Commodores. Call them opportunistic. Call them fortunate. Call them disciplined. Call them focused.

Let's call them what they are: An undefeated football team that knows how to win, does whatever it takes to win and is hellbent on continuing to win.

"Whether people think we're good or whether they think we're not good, we really don't care because we know we're good," said Adams, who finished with 207 yards of total offense, including 54 rushing yards. "What we really care about is that locker room and what's going on in there."

Nickson reinjured the right throwing shoulder he separated two weeks ago against Ole Miss in the second quarter. Adams stepped in to finish that 23-17 win on the road. He also started the final six games a year ago after Nickson separated his shoulder.

"He didn't miss a beat. He came right in there," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "I've always said that he's a competitor, a gamer. He likes to get into the game. And when he gets a chance, he's going to make sure he does something."

Adams said he and Nickson split the first-team reps last week in practice, so he knew there was a chance he may get into the game early.

"We've got a lot of players on this team, a lot of good athletes," said Adams, a fourth-year junior. "Our coaches have done a great job recruiting and putting us in good positions. This team is starting to get more depth. We have more than just the starters who can get it done now."

Just ask Auburn.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Let the party begin in the Music City.

Vanderbilt is 5-0 for the first time since World War II. The Commodores, after falling behind 13-0 early, reigned supreme once again in the second half and for the second time this season sent a nationally-ranked team packing in a 14-13 win over No. 14-ranked Auburn.

Vanderbilt Stadium has never rocked like it did Saturday night. It's been a while since the No. 19-ranked Commodores have looked this good at this point in the season.

Vanderbilt (5-0, 3-0 SEC) has now outscored its opponents 58-10 in the second half.

Quarterback Mackenzi Adams came off the bench to lead the Commodores to the win. He relieved Chris Nickson, who re-injured his separated right throwing shoulder in the first half.

Adams threw a pair of touchdown passes, the second one a 1-yard toss to tight end Brandon Barden in the back of the end zone in the third quarter.

After getting mauled up front to start the game, Vanderbilt adjusted and more than held its own in the line of scrimmage from the second quarter on. Auburn (4-2, 2-2 SEC) struggled to generate any offense for the second straight week.

The Tigers went back and forth between quarterbacks Chris Todd and Kodi Burns, but neither was effective in moving the ball against a Vanderbilt defense that rose to the occasion in the second half.

Auburn-Vandy halftime update

October, 4, 2008
10/04/08
7:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just when you thought Vanderbilt was on the verge of being blown out of here, the Commodores do what they've done all season.

  

Not surprisingly, a big play on special teams got them back in the game.

With the offense struggling to move the ball at all, D.J. Moore weaved his way to a 25-yard punt return to give the Commodores their best field position of the game at the Auburn 30-yard line.

They were able to capitalize on Mackenzi Adams' 15-yard touchdown pass to Justin Wheeler with 39 seconds left to go into halftime trailing 13-7.

Adams entered the game on the next-to-last possession of the first half after Chris Nickson injured his right throwing hand. Nickson attempted several practice throws on the sideline afterward, but appeared to be wincing in pain every time he gripped and released the ball.

Auburn has dominated this game on both lines of scrimmage. But in vintage Vanderbilt form this season, the Commodores have managed to hang around.

Adams, playing with a lot of confidence, was perfect on that final drive. He hit all four of his passes, and his touchdown throw came on third-and-goal from the 15 and was placed perfectly between two defenders.

Having finished the season a year ago for an injured Nickson, Adams is used to seeing SEC defenses. In other words, it's not like this is totally new territory for him.

Auburn has been so superior up front in this game that you still get the feeling the Commodores are going to have to score on defense or hit another big play on special teams to win this game.

But, then, that's how they got to 4-0 in the first place.

Auburn quarterback Chris Todd completed just four passes in the first half, but two of them were for touchdowns.

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