The Vanderbilt Commodores entered 2005 with 18 consecutive road losses under coach Bobby Johnson, two SEC wins in three seasons and mounds of disappointment. But there they were in the northeast corner of Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night, wildly celebrating a 24-21 win while dejected Arkansas players walked with their heads bowed to the home locker room.
The Commodores pulled a stunning upset against the Razorbacks in front of 68,215, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter to erase an 11-point deficit. The game-winning blow came with 26 seconds left, when senior quarterback Jay Cutler tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marlon White.
Vanderbilt, which knocked off Wake Forest 24-20 with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter on Sept. 1, jumped out to its first 2-0 start since 1988. It also earned back-to-back road wins for the first time since 1999 and opened the SEC slate 1-0 for the first time since 1990.
"In the past, we haven't had that mentality that we can win these games in the fourth quarter," said Vanderbilt cornerback Andrew Pace. "But this team believed and had confidence we could win in the fourth quarter.
"This feeling will never get old, winning games on the road against such a good team like Arkansas."
The loss was a heartbreaker for the Razorbacks, who jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first half, held a 24-13 advantage in the fourth quarter and were seconds short of a 2-0 start of their own. Tailback De'Arrius Howard rushed for a career-high 139 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Robert Johnson turned in a solid performance (17 of 28 for 204 yards, 2 touchdown, 1 interception) and the defense limited Cutler and the Commodores offense throughout the first three quarters.
But the fourth quarter was one they'd like to forget.
"This is a tough one to swallow," said Arkansas safety Vickiel Vaughn. "Maybe the toughest since I've been here."
Arkansas, which trailed 13-10 early in the second half, put together two touchdown drives and held its largest lead of the game at the end of the third quarter. Johnson threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marcus Monk and tailback Peyton Hillis caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-13.
But Cutler, who completed 23 of 45 passes for 278 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, led the late charge for Vanderbilt. The veteran, who started his 35th game Saturday night, showed off his poise down the stretch.
He hooked up with White for the first of two scores with a 20-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to pull the Commodores to within 24-21. Cutler also put them in position to tie the score later, but placekicker Bryant Hanfeldt missed a 43-yard attempt with 2:46 left in the game.
Arkansas, which put together just 11 yards of offense in the fourth quarter quickly went three plays and out. Vanderbilt had the ball 24 seconds later.
Vanderbilt picked up a first down on the second play of its game-winning drive after cornerback Darius Vinnett was flagged for holding. After that, Cutler threw three incomplete passes to bring up fourth-and-10 at its own 34. But he found his favorite target, Erik Davis, for a 19-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Cutler completed his next three passes and moved the Commodores to Arkansas' 19 with less than a minute remaining. On second-and-10, Arkansas safety Randy Kelly was penalized for pass interference on a play intended for White and gave Vanderbilt a first-and-goal at Arkansas' 6.
Cutler found White on the next play, beating cornerback Michael Coe for the score.
"Our team didn't give up," Cutler said. "After the missed field goal, our defense gave us another chance and we took advantage."
Johnson tried to lead Arkansas downfield for a game-tying field goal attempt. But his second pass was intercepted by linebacker Moses Osemwegie at Arkansas' 40.
"We were just trying to make a play (on the interception) by getting the ball down the field," Johnson said. "It just didn't go our way. They didn't really ever stop us.
"We just stopped ourselves there late in the game."
Arkansas struggled in the fourth quarter, managing just 11 yards on eight plays.
The defense fared no better, allowing Vanderbilt to pound out 180 of its 408 yards in the fourth quarter.
"It's very disappointing," Hillis said. "We felt like we had them beat for most of the game. And then all of a sudden they're coming back and they're beating us."
It was a complete role reversal from the first quarter.
Johnson, who was making his second career start completed 7 of 9 passes for 94 yards in the first 15 minutes. The defense harassed Cutler in the early going, limiting the Commodores to 10 yards in the first quarter.
Howard outraced the Vanderbilt defense to score a 39-yard touchdown on Arkansas' first possession to give Arkansas a 7-0 lead. Placekicker Chris Balseiro added a 37-yarder early in the second quarter to boost it to 10-0.
The only thing that went wrong was a missed opportunity.
Leading 7-0, Arkansas moved the ball from its own 10 to the Vanderbilt 1, but couldn't get into the end zone. Tailback Peyton Hillis was stuffed short of the goal line on two straight plays, leaving the Hogs with a fourth-and-one. Coach Houston Nutt opted to hand the ball to Hillis one more time, but the sophomore couldn't get into the end zone and Arkansas came away empty handed.
"I never thought they were going to be able to stop us on the one-foot line," Nutt said. "I wish we would've gone up 14-0 there."
It left the door open for the Commodores in the second quarter.
Vanderbilt shook out of its first-quarter funk and scored the next 10 points on Cutler's one-yard touchdown run and Hahnfeldt's 23-yard field goal.
They grabbed their first lead shortly after halftime on Hanfeldt's 28-yard field goal, giving the Commodores' a 13-10 advantage.
"This was a disappointing loss," Nutt said. "We had our chances but let some opportunities slip away. I did think we played extremely hard. We knew we would be playing against a top-notch quarterback. We got some pressure on him and hit him hard. The just made some great plays.
"We let one slip."
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