Football

Vandy still on top in East with win over Auburn

The Vanderbilt Commodores are on a mission and tired of being considered a football joke.

Well, they're big-time now.

Mackenzi Adams came off the bench and threw for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 19 Vanderbilt beat 13th-ranked Auburn 14-13 Saturday night to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1943.

"People can think what they want to think," Vandy linebacker Chris Marve said. "We just want to show the country we're a different Vanderbilt."

The Commodores improved to 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference for only the third time ever — the first since 1950. This win keeps them undefeated atop the SEC East while also snapping a 13-game skid to Auburn. It was Vandy's first win in the series since the 1955 Gator Bowl, and the fewest points Auburn has scored in this series since that bowl game.

"This is what coaches live for," Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson said. "I live to walk into the locker room and see how happy our players are."

Trying to preserve a one-point lead, Vandy had to punt the ball back to Auburn one last time with 2:16 left, but Brett Upson kicked it 55 yards and Alan Strong downed it at the Tigers 3. On the next play, Myron Lewis intercepted Elizabethtown High School graduate Chris Todd's pass intended for Rodgeriqus Smith.

All that was left was for Adams to take a knee a couple of times, and the party was on for one of the biggest wins in the history of a program that's perennially been the doormat of the SEC. After leaving the field, the Commodores returned for a curtain call and received a standing ovation from their adoring fans.

"A lot of these teams think they're way better than us," Vandy receiver George Smith said. "But we're proving that we can play with them."

The SEC's smallest school, and only private university, is known more for its academics than its football. Fans were celebrating the Commodores' first appearance in the Top 25 since 1984 even before the game started, sporting signs that boasted "Geeks rule."

Then the Commodores — whose last winning season was in 1982 — went out and backed it up by pushing around Auburn.

The difference in the game was Auburn kicker Wes Byrum's missed extra point in the first quarter, but Vandy outgained the Tigers on offense 263-208, and a defense that had led the SEC in sacks coming in added five more by five different Commodores. Vandy sacked Todd twice inside the final 4 minutes to force the Tigers to punt away with 2:51 left.

The Tigers managed just 4 yards rushing in the second half, and Coach Tommy Tuberville took the blame.

"We couldn't run it. We tried both quarterbacks, and they played us a little in the second half, got in our face, gave us bad plays ... We're not making any excuses. We lost this game. I did," Tuberville said.

South Carolina 31, Mississippi 24: Chris Smelley passed for a career-high 327 yards and three touchdowns, led a 95-yard game-clinching drive and helped South Carolina to its first SEC win.

"Chris is our starter, it's as simple as that," Coach Steve Spurrier said.

The coach, notorious for his lack of patience with his quarterbacks, yanked Smelley early in the team's game against Alabama-Birmingham a week ago after the redshirt sophomore started 3-for-9 with an interception. Redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia had a strong game in the 26-13 win, but a mostly mistake-free Smelley showed why Spurrier is sticking with him.

Ole Miss led 21-14 at halftime but a fumble in the second half turned the game for the visiting Gamecocks.

Chris Culliver forced Dexter McCluster to fumble at South Carolina's 6 midway through the third quarter. Emmanuel Cook returned the fumble to the Rebels' 42.

Smelley was especially sharp on the ensuing drive, converting a pair of first downs with sneaks, including fourth-and-inches at the Ole Miss 10. That set up a 6-yard touchdown pass that put the Gamecocks up 24-21.

No. 12 Florida 38, Arkansas 7: Tim Tebow and the Gators rebounded from their surprising loss to Mississippi, methodically holding off Arkansas for three quarters before pulling away for a road win.

Last weekend, Tebow was stopped on fourth down at the end of a 31-30 loss to Ole Miss. On their first drive against Arkansas, the Gators went for it when they could have kicked a field goal. Tebow plunged for 2 yards, setting up first down at the 4.

The Gators were sluggish for a while after that, and it was only 17-7 late in the third quarter when Jerry Franklin picked off Tebow, snapping the Heisman Trophy winner's streak at 203 passes without an interception.

The Florida defense held, and Tebow came back to lead his team on an 83-yard drive that ended with his 21-yard pass to Percy Harvin.

Tennessee 13, Northern Illinois 9: Nick Stephens threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore and Tennessee's new starting quarterback helped the Volunteers slip past visiting Northern Illinois.

Stephens' touchdown pass came on the first play of a third-quarter drive and put Tennessee up 13-3. It was the Vols' longest play of the season.

Coach Phillip Fulmer named Stephens the starter on Friday in hopes of sparking a mistake-prone offense which had been anemic behind Jonathan Crompton.

Tennessee still struggled, converting three of 13 third downs and picking up only nine first downs.

  Comments