SEC: American Athletic Conference
January, 4, 2014
By Edward Aschoff | ESPN.com
It was a wild one in Birmingham, Ala., but behind 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt defeated Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The Commodores opened the game with a 24-0 lead at halftime before allowing the Cougars to score 24 straight points of their own in the third quarter.
However, a 21-yard touchdown run and late interceptions by safety Jahmel McIntosh and cornerback Andre Hal helped seal Vandy's win after a valiant Houston comeback.
It was over when: Hal intercepted Houston quarterback John O'Korn and returned it 30 yards to the Houston 2-yard line, setting up Vandy's final touchdown.
Game ball goes to: In his final game in a Vanderbilt uniform, senior receiver Jordan Matthews led the Commodores with five catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Surprisingly, this was Matthews' first multi-touchdown game of the season. All of Matthews' stats came in the first half. He caught five of quarterback Patton Robinette's six pass completions. The SEC's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards enjoyed a nice final game at the college level.
Stat of the game: It truly was a tale of two halves in Birmingham. The Commodores outgained Houston 232-22 in the first half and held the Cougars to just one first down. In the second half, Houston dominated the stat chart with 362 offensive yards to Vandy's 133. Houston outgained Vandy 309-44 in the third quarter alone.
Stat of the game II: Both teams combined to go 3-of-34 on third downs and punted 20 total times.
Unsung hero: Vandy kicker Carey Spear connected on two big field goals and five extra points. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 62-yard kickoff return by Demarcus Ayers. The Cougars failed to score on the drive.
What it means for Vanderbilt: Vandy is now 16-4 in its past 20 games and has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The Commodores also have back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time ever. Expect coach James Franklin to hear his named mentioned even more when it comes to head-coaching vacancies at both the college and pro level. It wasn't the prettiest victory after a bit of a second-half lull for the Commodores, but this win should still give the Commodores a ton of momentum going into the offseason. It certainly won't hurt in recruiting either.
What it means for Houston: The Cougars shouldn't hang their heads for too long after this loss. There is still a lot of good, young talent on this team, starting with O'Korn, receiver Deontay Greenberry and running back Ryan Jackson. The offense stalled against Vandy's stout defense early, but showed just how explosive it can be when things started to click in the third quarter. A solid second year under Tony Levine should help create higher expectations for a Houston program that should come back stronger in 2014.
To watch the trophy presentation of the BBVA Compass Bowl, click here.