BIRMINGHAM, ALA. — There are many things for which this Vanderbilt football team will be remembered. Its knack for inviting fourth-quarter drama may top the list.
The Commodores squandered a 24-point halftime lead in just 15 minutes, but they awoke to score 17 points in the fourth quarter and stave off Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Legion Field.
The outcome lifted Vanderbilt (9-4) to consecutive nine-win seasons for the first time. The Commodores improved to 4-2-1 in bowl games.
Brian Kimbrow's 21-yard touchdown run capped an 82-yard drive at 9:28 of the fourth quarter to give Vanderbilt a 31-24 advantage. Carey Spear's 35-yard field goal three minutes later provided a cushion after Jahmel McIntosh's first career interception gave the Commodores possession at the Houston 18.
Andre Hal sealed the win with his interception of Houston freshman John O'Korn with 2:36 remaining, and Jerron Seymour (20 carries, 89 yards) cashed in the turnover on a 1-yard run for the final score.
The Commodores celebrated by dousing James Franklin with a bucket of Gatorade and then dancing around their smiling coach.
Franklin has been reported as a candidate for the openings at Penn State and Texas.
Vanderbilt senior wideout and Alabama resident Jordan Matthews capped his record-setting career with a pair of 50-yard touchdown catches and 143 receiving yards, and redshirt freshman quarterback Patton Robinette (6 of 19 passing) threw for 154 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Commodores did not have a passing yard after halftime.
Vanderbilt's hard-hitting defense kept Houston's hurry-up passing attack in neutral during the first half. Houston (8-5) didn't generate a first down until backup quarterback Greg Ward Jr. connected with Eric Eiland with 10 yards with less than seven minutes in the second quarter. By that time the Cougars were on their eighth series and trailed 24-0, prompting Houston coach Tony Levine to sit O'Korn for a pair of series.
The Commodores outgained Houston 220-18 in the first half and had the game seemingly in hand when the Cougars stunned a crowd of 42,717 by posting 24 third-quarter points.
After Vanderbilt's defense halted Houston on fourth down from the Commodores 6 to take possession, Robinette fumbled and the Cougars had another chance. Running back Kenneth Farrow scored from 6 yards one play later to make it 24-7.
Houston followed with a string of big plays to seize momentum and put the Commodores on their heels. Daniel Spencer's 62-yard run on an end around set up a 6-yard touchdown from O'Korn to Markeith Ambles, cutting the margin to 24-14. Ambles got behind the Vanderbilt secondary for a 58-yard catch on the Cougars' next series, and Kyle Bullard's 30-yard field goal made it 24-17.
Then with 19 seconds in the third quarter, after the Commodores' offense had stalled again, a defensive gaffe allowed receiver Deontay Greenberry to come across the middle of the field uncovered for a 67-yard touchdown and a 24-24 tie.
Reach Jeff Lockridge at 615-259-8023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.