SEC: compass bowl 2013

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.

BBVA Compass Bowl preview

January, 4, 2014
Vanderbilt is looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time, while Houston wants to show that its high-powered offense can send another SEC defense reeling in the postseason.

The Commodores (8-4) and Cougars (8-4) meet in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The SEC's all-time leader in receptions and yards steps back into his home state to take on a pass defense that is allowing 276 passing yards per game (ranked 116th in the nation). Matthews was one of the SEC's best receivers this season, catching a league-high 107 passes for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. He's averaging almost nine catches and 111.2 yards per game.

Matthews had eight 100-yard receiving games this season and has caught double-digit receptions in three consecutive games. But it will be interesting to see if he sniffs the end zone -- Houston has given up just 12 touchdown passes and has 23 interceptions.

What to watch: Both secondaries. Houston has given up a lot of yards through the air, but one thing that could work in the Cougars' favor is the fact that Vanderbilt starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is out (knee surgery). That means backup Patton Robinette will have to lead this offense. Robinette has passed for 488 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions this season. If the Cougars can harass him and keep Matthews in check, Vandy will have a long day.

On the other side, Vandy's secondary has been solid all season, allowing just 204 passing yards a game. Leaders Andre Hal and Kenny Ladler had solid seasons, defending 21 passes and snagging seven interceptions. Houston freshman quarterback John O'Korn has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, while receiver Deontay Greenberry has 76 receptions for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Why to watch: The Commodores have been a feel-good story since James Franklin took over as coach three years ago, and this is the last time we'll see Matthews play in a Vandy uniform. He's had a truly special career with the Commodores, and it was only elevated with the arrival of Franklin. Plus, the Commodores have a chip on their shoulders after getting passed by Mississippi State in the bowl pecking order.

With Houston, it's a chance to see a team possibly on the rise behind a pretty fun offense that could give the Commodores fits. Behind a young quarterback and young playmakers such as Greenberry and running back Ryan Jackson, the future could be very bright for the Cougars.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 23, Houston 21. Two fun offenses take the field in Birmingham, but Vandy will be without its starting quarterback. This is a big stage for Robinette, but having Matthews next to him to make plays should take the pressure off him.
Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will miss the BBVA Compass Bowl against Houston after having surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee.

But here's the kicker: He tore his ACL way back on Oct. 19, when the Commodores upset Georgia 31-27.

Instead of packing it in and undergoing surgery shortly after Vandy's win, Carta-Samuels "made the ultimate commitment to his team," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said, by deciding to play when he could. Carta-Samuels sat out Vandy's loss at Texas A&M and the Commodores' win in Gainesville over Florida, but he returned to start Vandy's final three games of the season -- all wins.

Equipped with a knee brace, Carta-Samuels threw for 596 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Vandy's final three games. He also ran for 28 yards in a 23-21 win over Wake Forest in the season finale.

Carta-Samuels clearly played through pain during the last three games of the season, but he told reporters that he couldn't do any more damage to his knee. Doctors also cleared him to play with a knee brace. Still, it was a pretty gutsy decision by Carta-Samuels to push through and play -- and actually be effective.

With Carta-Samuels out, Patton Robinette will start Vandy's bowl game Jan. 4. Robinette helped lead the Dores to that upset of Georgia after Carta-Samuels left and then threw for 216 yards in Vandy's 56-24 loss at Texas A&M. He then turned around to guide the Dores to their historic 34-17 win at Florida while throwing the ball just 12 times for 57 yards.

With Carta-Samuels graduating, Robinette will go into the spring with the upper hand in the quarterback competition. Getting these bowl prep reps and starting in a postseason game will certainly help him as he gets more and more comfortable with the offense and leading this team.

BBVA Compass Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4) vs. Houston Cougars (8-4)

Jan. 4, 1 p.m. ET, Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN)

Coach James Franklin has turned his revival of the Vanderbilt program into a new golden age. These are heady times for the Commodores. Vandy recently completed yet another unbeaten November, giving it a nine-game winning streak in that critical month that dates to 2011.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Matthews
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesJordan Matthews, the SEC's all-time leading receiver, has eight 100-yard games this season.
Vanderbilt defeated Georgia and Florida for the first time in the same season, picking up the school's first road win against the Gators since 1945. VU's only SEC East losses were to the top two teams -- South Carolina and Missouri.

Despite a nail-biting loss in the season opener against Ole Miss and a big road loss to Texas A&M, the Dores won eight games and went .500 in the SEC. VU has eight wins in back-to-back regular seasons for the first time since 1927-28 and is making its third straight bowl appearance. Here's some perspective: Before Franklin arrived, Vanderbilt had been to four bowl games in 120 years.

The Commodores have a balanced offense that features the passing combination of quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels to wide receiver Jordan Matthews. But this year has seen more emphasis on running the ball, as Vandy employs a committee that includes leading rusher Jerron Seymour, Brian Kimbrow, Wesley Tate and lately more designed runs for Carta-Samuels and backup QB Patton Robinette. The biggest star and most dangerous player, however, is the silky-smooth Matthews, who has an SEC-record 18 career 100-yard games and broke his own school record this season with 1,334 yards receiving (fifth most in SEC history).

Perhaps the biggest strides the program has made this season have been on the other side of the ball, where Vanderbilt has allowed 333.9 yards a game to rank No. 19 in the nation in total defense. This is an opportunistic bunch with 26 takeaways. On the whole, Franklin runs a tight ship. His offense doesn't give up the ball very often (20 turnovers on the year) and averages just more than five penalties a game.

In other words, Vanderbilt rarely beats itself. -- Jeff Barlis


The Cougars have quietly had a nice turnaround season, sitting at 8-4 in coach Tony Levine's second season after a 5-7 campaign in 2012.

[+] EnlargeTony Levine
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsTony Levine's Cougars have enjoyed a nice bounce-back season thanks to an opportunistic defense.
Houston has improved in a number of areas, especially on defense. It leads the country in turnover margin (+25) and takeaways (40) under defensive coordinator David Gibbs.

Each of the Cougars’ four losses have come by seven points or fewer -- not bad for a team with a true freshman quarterback (John O'Korn).

While he’s had some growing pains, O'Korn has been solid (26 touchdowns, eight interceptions) and he has many weapons at his disposal, namely sophomore receiver Deontay Greenberry (76 receptions, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns).

One note: Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham has accepted the same job at TCU so co-OC Travis Bush will call the plays in the bowl game. -- Sam Khan Jr.