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Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt Cruises Thanks to N. C. State Miscues

Five Pack turnovers led to 17 points and gifted the game to the Commodores.

James Franklin can thank Mike Glennon and the turnover-prone Pack for that refreshing Gatorade bath.
James Franklin can thank Mike Glennon and the turnover-prone Pack for that refreshing Gatorade bath.
Joe Robbins

N. C. State had nearly 200 more total yards than Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl but gifted the game to the Commodores thanks to five turnovers. Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 383 yards and surpassed 4,000 yards on the season but was picked three times. The ‘dores scored 17 points off turnovers, which was basically the difference in the 38-24 final that closed the Tom O'Brien and friends era at N. C. State with a disappointing 7-6 record.

Vanderbilt (9-4), which won nine games for the first time in almost a century, was led by senior running back Zac Stacy, who rushed for 107 yards and a score on 25 carries. Stacy did much of his damage from the wildcat formation; Vandy went with the wildcat on six of seven snaps at one point, with Stacy and Wesley Tate scoring touchdowns from the formation during that stretch.

Despite the success of the wildcat, the Commodores only managed 117 yards rushing for the game and were held to under three yards a carry. Jordan Rodgers, who, as you may have heard, is the younger brother of Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers, was not much help to the offense. Little bro posted just 108 yards through the air and averaged 4.3 yards per attempt, though he did manage to toss two touchdowns and run for another. Vanderbilt totaled just 225 yards of total offense in a game that was, despite the scoreboard, dominated by a Pack defense that simply could not overcome the offense's slew of mistakes.

Remarkably, the Commodores scored a point for every six yards it gained on offense; the Wolfpack needed 17.7 yards for each of their points. Part of that discrepancy is accounted for by the penalty yardage. State was flagged nine times for 90 yards and had a pair of penalties that helped the ‘dores take a 7-0 lead in their opening drive. Vanderbilt was flagged just twice for 10 yards. Vandy, despite allowing a kickoff TD return, also averaged 10 yards more on kick returns and 16 more yards on punts than the woeful State special teams units.

Vanderbilt led 14-0 after Stacy's touchdown run with 10:08 left in the second quarter. Despite turnovers on three straight possessions, State climbed back in it on Tony Creecy's one-yard run with 6:18 to go before halftime. Tate's score pushed the advantage back to two touchdowns before Tobais Palmer took the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards to keep the Pack close. Palmer went over 1,000 yards in kick return yardage during the game, setting a somewhat dubious record in the process. It's the most kickoff return yardage in a season by a Pack player but was made possible because the opponent was kicking off far too frequently.

Eschewing the TOB take a knee strategy late in the first half, interim coach Dana Bible had Glennon come out gunning with just over a minute left on the clock. Perhaps TOB knew what he was doing, as Glennon tossed his second pick of the half, both on all-arm, back-foot throws that fell well short of their intended target, and Vanderbilt took advantage with a Rodgers to Jordan Matthews 18-yard bubble screen to go back up by 14. Glennon continued to gun it, and even though he had just 41 seconds to work with, he put the Pack in position for a field goal before the half but Niklas Sade's 44-yard attempt fell comically short and left of the uprights.

The Pack marched effortlessly down the field to open the third quarter, reaching the Vanderbilt 25 before Glennon inexplicably forced a jump ball into the endzone, which Trey Wilson picked off and returned 65 yards. Stacy's wildcat rush of 14 yards on 4th and four moved the chains and led to a Carey Spear 30-yard field goal, pushing the lead to 31-14. At that point, the Commodores had put up 31 points despite gaining just 168 yards from scrimmage.

Despite the many offensive gaffs and penalties, the Pack were still in the game after Spear's field goal, but they needed nearly 10 minutes of game clock to answer with a Sade 24-yarder to get back within two scores. That meant the offense had to be perfect from then on; it wasn't, turning the ball over on downs near midfield on its first possession after Sade's strike.

Now the defense had to be perfect; it wasn't. A personal foul penalty on T. Y. McGill and a 4th and 14 completion for 14.5 yards to Matthews, who was given a huge cushion by David Amerson, put the Commodores in business, and Rodgers put the game out of reach with a 15-yard scamper with 5:11 to play.

Glennon finally reached the endzone, hooking up with Rashard Smith on a 19-yard score with 2:06 left in the game, but it was far too little too late for the fifth-year senior who threw for 383 yards but possibly hurt his draft stock with three interceptions that showed both a lack of fundamentals and decision-making ability. Glennon certainly has a cannon, but so did Ryan Leaf and Heath Shuler.

For the game, State totaled 424 yards to Vandy's 225, but the Pack "run" game managed just 41 yards on 25 carries for a 1.6 average. Those numbers are hurt by Camden Wentz's gloriously awful snap over his 6-foot-6 QB's head that lost 20 yards and killed a drive. State was an impressive 13-for-18 on third down against a Vandy D that had previously allowed just a 31.9% conversion rate. State's D gave up just three third down conversions all game, and even though they allowed Vandy to convert on three of four fourth down tries, Earl Wolff and company really deserved a better fate.

Wolff, in his final game, led the defense with nine tackles. McGill had 1.5 tackles for a loss, including the Pack's lone sack. Kenny Ladler led the Commodore turnover parade with a pick and a fumble recovery and also made a team-high 10 stops, though his unit was gashed for 100 yards more than it normally gave up in total yardage on the season. Of course getting five turnovers makes up for a lot of yardage, and getting turnovers was not a strength for Vanderbilt, which entered the game 113th in the FBS with 13 takeaways all season.

Another anomaly was the Commodores' red zone efficiency; they entered the game fifth worst in the FBS in touchdown percentage but scored on their first four trips to the red zone to build a lead the Wolfpack could not surmount.

Stay tuned to BTP in the coming days for more on the MCB and a retrospective of the TOB era (if you have strong antidepressant medication and/or a healthy supply of beer).