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Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Season wrap: Vanderbilt

By Chris Low

For all the history Vanderbilt made this season (again), it's a season that probably will be best remembered for what the Commodores lost. Third-year coach James Franklin, after elevating the program to unprecedented heights, left to become the Penn State head coach.

The Commodores won nine games for the second consecutive year, the first time that has happened in the 124-year history of the program, and also finished in the Top 25 of the final polls for the second year in the row -- yet another first for the program. Keep in mind that until 2012, the Commodores hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915.

It easily could have been 10 victories, too, if not for a 75-yard touchdown run by Ole Miss’ Jeff Scott with 1:07 to play in the season opener.

The Commodores persevered in 2013 despite a season-ending knee injury to starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, and they again played championship-caliber defense. They were No. 23 nationally in total defense, the third consecutive season in which they finished among the nation’s top 25 defenses. The only other SEC defenses that can make that claim are Alabama, Florida and South Carolina.

Offensive MVP: Jordan Matthews will go down as one of the best and most productive receivers to ever play in the SEC. The record-breaking senior led the league in receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,477). He also was a leader in the locker room and set the tone every day on the practice field. Even though opposing defenses shadowed Matthews and did their best to take him away, he still delivered one big play after another for the Commodores.

Defensive MVP: Bob Shoop's defense the past three seasons was a huge factor in the Commodores' climb into the upper echelon of the SEC. In particular, the secondary was consistently outstanding, and senior safety Kenny Ladler did a little bit of everything this season. He led the team with 91 tackles, intercepted five passes and forced an SEC-best five fumbles. When the Commodores needed a play to be made this season on defense, Ladler was there to make it for them.

Best moment: Take your pick. Sweeping Florida and Georgia in the same season ranks right up there. But nothing trumps beating rival Tennessee for the second consecutive year, especially doing it in Neyland Stadium. Backup quarterback Patton Robinette's fake jump pass and 5-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left won it for the Commodores, who last won two in a row over the Vols back in the 1920s, when they won six straight in the series.

Worst moment: Blowing the late lead against Ole Miss in the opener was a kick in the gut for the Commodores, not to mention being pillaged at home 51-28 by Missouri in the first week of October. But the real downer came off the field, when Franklin bolted for Penn State.