Thursday, January 1, 2009

These Music City Bowl plays made the difference for Vanderbilt

Remember Vanderbilt's victories earlier in the season over South Carolina, Ole Miss and Auburn? Each of those games had a bunch of plays that decided the game for the Commodores — take any of those plays away and Vanderbilt loses, maybe even by a couple of touchdowns.

Add the Music City Bowl to these games. Here are 10 huge plays that won it for the Dores:

1. SMITH GOES DEEP TO WALKER (first quarter): On Vanderbilt's second drive of the game, surprise starter Larry Smith fires a 51-yard pass to Sean Walker, showing that the previous scoring drive wasn't a fluke. Though Smith is once again replaced by Nickson and the offense once again breaks down in the red zone, the pass ultimately leads to another Hahnfeldt field goal and a 6-0 lead.

2. WELCH'S GRAB (first quarter): With Vanderbilt winning 6-0 and facing third and one on their own 34 yard line, Smith takes a vicious shot and the ball sails into the air. Right tackle Thomas Welch, a former tight end, snatches the fumble like it's a short pass play. Vanderbilt won't have a turnover all day.

3. NICKSON'S BIG RUN (third quarter): On the Commodores' first drive of the second half, Smith heads to the bench once again in favor of Nickson. The partisan crowd starts to boo the move until Nickson breaks free for a 30-yard run that will constitute about 40 percent of the team's rushing yards for the whole game. Though Vanderbilt can't convert on third down and has to punt, Nickson's run sets up...

4. THE INCREDIBLE BOUNCING PUNT (third quarter): Brett Upson (see above) launches another rolling rugby punt that bounces straight for the return man, grazing his leg and continuing on toward the goal line. While the punt coverage team, unaware of the ball's live status, is waiting to down it on the one yard line, true freshman Sean Richardson knocks the ball into the end zone and falls on it. After some confusion, the referees signals touchdown. It's the miracle touchdown that Vanderbilt needs. After the PAT, Commodores leads 13-7. In the post-game press conference, the Tennessean's Joe Biddle would tell Upson, "Take us through that punt where you aimed it at the BC player's foot. That’s pretty good."

5. ANOTHER UPSON BEAUTY (third quarter): Late in the third quarter, Upson booms a 43-yard punt that pins the Eagles back on their three yard line. In all, he'll place three punts inside the 20 yard line, have a 42.7 yard net average for the game, and be named Most Valuable Player of the Music City Bowl.

6. THE FACE MASK PENALTY (fourth quarter): Suddenly trailing 14-13 late in the fourth quarter and deep in Commodore territory, Larry Smith runs a draw play and a Golden Eagle player grabs his face mask for only the second penalty of the game. Vanderbilt moves up to its own 44.

7. THE ROUGHING THE PASSER PENALTY (fourth quarter): On a crucial third and two, Mackenzi Adams enters the game for what will be his only play of the day. His pass falls incomplete, but BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, the ACC defensive player of the year, hits Adams. A flag flies and the ball moves to the BC 34. Herzlich later says he wasn't trying to hit Adams late. No matter.

8. SMITH TO SMITH (fourth quarter): After another backward running play backs up Vanderbilt to the BC 40, freshman Larry Smith hits fifth-year senior George Smith for a 15-yard pass that puts the ball on the BC 25 and the Commodores into field goal range.

9. HAHNFELDT NAILS IT (fourth quarter): Late in the fourth quarter, Bryant Hahnfeldt, the same guy who missed a couple of short field goals against Duke, nails a 45-yard field goal and gives Vanderbilt a 16-14 lead.

10. LEWIS REDEEMS HIMSELF (fourth quarter): Myron Lewis, the same guy who was burned minutes earlier on a 55-yard up-and-out pass play that gave BC the lead, floats in front of a BC receiver, picks off a Dominique Davis pass and gets his feet in bounds in front of a jubilant Commodore bench. Game over. Lewis also iced the Auburn victory with an interception.

Note: The last five of these plays happened at the end of the game, in a span of five minutes.

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