NASHVILLE — The Southeastern Conference is so strong that even Vanderbilt, yes Vandy, is winning like the Commodores haven’t in nearly a century.
And coach James Franklin says everyone better get used to it.
Jordan Rodgers threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Commodores capped their best season since 1915 by defeating North Carolina State 38-24 in the Music City Bowl on Monday.
“We’re not going anywhere,” a smiling and teary Franklin said.
The Commodores finished 9-4 for their best record since going 9-1 in 1915, and it’s only the third time the smallest and only private university in the SEC has won as many as nine games in a season.
Vandy closed the season with seven straight wins for its longest streak since an eight-game run in 1948, and its 15 wins over the past two seasons is the program’s best total since 1926 and 1927.
“When you’re throwing out dates like 1915, you know that’s a very, very, very long time,” Franklin said. “Talk about these guys great-great grandparents. Seven-game win streak is the team’s longest win streak since 1948, and we also currently have the longest win streak in the SEC, which we’re very, very proud of.”
Vanderbilt forced a season-high five turnovers, including four in the first half, and turned those into 17 points.
Interim coach Dana Bible ran N.C. State (7-6) after Tom O’Brien was fired at the end of the regular season. It was the Wolfpack’s fifth game of the season with at least four turnovers, and it helped wipe out a 424-225 advantage in total offense.
Bible, who said he was head coach for another minute or two, took the blame for two of the interceptions for being aggressive.
“We took the other approach,” Bible said. “Again a Southeast Conference team, Southeast Conference talent, those type things. We weren’t going to play it safe. We weren’t going to play back on this team. We were going to be attacking on it, and if they made a play on it, more power to them.”
This was the 27th bowl for N.C. State, which had won its last two postseason games. But a team that ranked second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in turnovers couldn’t overcome its own mistakes, which also included a bad shotgun snap that cost the Wolfpack 21 yards on the opening drive.
Franklin got a contract extension a month ago for guiding the Dores to a second straight bowl game for the first time in school history. Franklin didn’t change anything that got his Commodores here as he went for it on fourth down, used the wildcat repeatedly and even had senior running back Zac Stacy attempt a halfback pass to Rodgers.
Vandy wound up running for 117 yards, with Stacy getting 107 on 25 carries, mostly in the wildcat.
“Don’t fix nothing if it is not broke,” Stacy said.
Teammate Jordan Matthews called the offense the “wildZac.”
“We could have let him kick today and he would have done great,” Matthews said. “Any way you get the ball in his hands or around him it is going to work.”
The Commodores took control from the opening drive, moving 65 yards for a touchdown that put them ahead to stay. Officials initially called Chris Boyd out of bounds, but the video review showed the sophomore got the toes of his right foot down for a 5-yard TD pass from Rodgers.
Commodores safety Kenny Ladler picked off a Glennon pass at the North Carolina State 45 for Vanderbilt’s fifth interception in three games.
“It wasn’t about going three-and-out,” Glennon said of the Wolfpack’s struggles. “It was just a matter of turning the ball over.”
It was just a sign of what was to come in the first half. Johnell Thomas stripped Wolfpack freshman Shadrach Thornton late in the first quarter, and Derreon Herring stripped N.C. State tight end Asa Watson of the ball after a nice catch. Ladler recovered that ball.
And safety Eric Samuels intercepted Glennon with 54 seconds left in the first half.
Vanderbilt turned the third turnover into a touchdown, making it 14-0 in the second quarter. Stacy, the school’s all-time leading rusher, scored on a 6-yard run with 10:08 left.
Tony Creecy responded with a 1-yard TD run for the Wolfpack. But Vanderbilt stuck with the wildcat, and Wesley Tate scored on a 7-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead with 3:47 left in the second.
Tobias Palmer, who struggled catching the ball on his first two kickoff returns, caught the next cleanly and ran untouched 94 yards for a TD that made it 21-14.
Rodgers tossed his second TD pass, a screen that Matthews took 18 yards to the end zone, to restore the 14-point lead and make it 28-14 at the break. That matched the most points the Commodores had scored in any of their five previous bowl games. Rodgers ran for a 15-yard TD with 5:11 left that sealed the victory.
“They were better today,” N.C. State safety Earl Wolff said.
Trey Wilson picked off a Glennon pass intended for tight end Charlie Hegedus in the end zone on the opening drive of the third quarter only to be stopped by his own teammate, tackle Jared Morse, at the N.C. State 35. It was the kind of mistake that cost Vandy in years past.
Franklin immediately ran up to Morse yelling at the junior, making it clear that’s not allowed at Vandy these days.
“I’m sure there will be some pictures of that over the Internet,” Morse said.