Vanderbilt handles Houston in BBVA Compass Bowl
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Each team won a half in the BBVA Compass Bowl at Legion Field on Saturday, but Vanderbilt's half was a touch better than Houston's.
The Commodores jumped out to a 24-point lead at halftime, weathered a Houston storm and emerged with a 41-24 victory before a crowd of 42,717. The winning points came on a 21-yard run by Brian Kimbrow with 9:28 remaining.
"We were told by the ESPN people that the ratings had gone down so we wanted to spike them back up by making it exciting in the third quarter," said Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, whose team won nine games for the second consecutive season.
"The thing that's probably the most exciting to me is there is a culture of winning at Vanderbilt. These guys know how to win. A lot of different ways they do it: ugly, pretty. People can describe it however they want."
Vanderbilt's first-half domination on defense began from the outset. The Commodores (9-4) whipped Houston (8-5) up front on nearly every play, limiting the Cougars to 22 yards on 30 plays.
The Commodores sacked Houston quarterbacks four times, allowed only one first down and limited the Cougars to six yards on the ground.
"It was awesome," Vanderbilt defensive end Walker May said. "Our game plan was to come out strong from the beginning. We wanted to get in there, get in their face and let our presence be known."
The defense also had a hand in Vanderbilt's second touchdown, when linebacker Chase Garnham forced quarterback Greg Ward to fumble and Commodore safety Andrew Williamson recovered at the Houston 16-yard line.
Robinette gave Vanderbilt a 14-0 lead four plays later with an 8-yard scoring run.
The other story of the first half was the performance of Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who had five catches for 143 yards, including two 50-yard touchdown receptions.
His first touchdown came on the third series of the game, when he turned a screen pass into a long scoring play. His other scoring catch came on a deep post pattern that gave the Commodores a 24-0 lead with 7:09 left in the half.
Things were much different for most of the second half.
Houston changed the tone of the game by driving deep into Vanderbilt territory. Vanderbilt stiffened inside the 10-yard line and held when cornerback Andre Hal knocked down a fourth-down pass by John O'Korn in the end zone.
Two plays later, however, Robinette fumbled and William Jackson of Houston recovered at the 6-yard line. Running back Kenneth Farrow gave Houston its first touchdown on the next play.
After a Houston stop, the Cougars used a 62-yard run by Daniel Spencer to set up another score. Spencer was tackled at the 8-yard line and the touchdown came when Markeith Ambles kept his feet inbounds at the back of the end zone on a 6-yard scoring toss from O'Korn.
Houston pulled within a touchdown on a 30-yard field goal by Kyle Bullard and tied the game 24-24 on a 67-yard scoring pass from O'Korn to Deontay Greenberry.
"We felt like we just needed to settle down offensively, specifically at the quarterback position and up front as well," Houston coach Tony Levine said. "I thought we did that in the third quarter."
From that point, however, Vanderbilt regained control on defense and Kimbrow capped off a seven-play drive by taking a direct snap and weaving 21 yards for the go-ahead score. Perhaps the biggest play during that stretch was a tackle-breaking 38-yard run by 5-foot-6, 200-pound Jerron Seymour that grabbed the momentum back from Houston. Two plays later, Kimbrow was in the end zone.
"It was a big momentum shift in the game," Seymour said. "It was coming to the point that we just needed to make a play on offense."
Vanderbilt iced the game on Carey Spear's 35-yard field goal and a 2-yard scoring run by Seymour, two plays after Hal's interception.
"It's a good feeling, especially that we went out and got the win," said Matthews, an Alabama native who earned MVP honors. "A lot of people made a big deal about coming back home but it's never that sweet unless you go out and get that (win). People talk about individual stats but all my stats came in the first half. In that second half, we leaned on Jerron and Kimbrow, which shows you what type of team we have and how balanced we are."
NOTES: Jordan Matthews had two touchdown receptions in a game for the first time in his career. The All-SEC receiver had 22 touchdown receptions before Saturday but never more than one in a game. Matthews also set a BBVA Compass Bowl record with 143 receiving yards and tied the bowl record in touchdown receptions. ... Saturday's attendance of 42,717 marked the second-best crowd in the bowl's history. The only bigger crowd came last year when 55,099 were on hand for Ole Miss' win over Pitt. ... Vanderbilt was playing in its third consecutive bowl for the first time in school history, and the back-to-back wins are also a school record. ... Houston LB Steven Taylor had a game-high 11.5 tackles, with 3.5 coming for loss.