Two close losses two games into the season have left the Commodores searching for answers, if not words. They dropped another close one, this time losing to Northwestern on Saturday night after falling to South Carolina in the opener.
They watched as Venric Mark ran for 123 yards with a late touchdown and Tyler Scott forced a key fumble to lift the Wildcats to a 23-13 victory over Vanderbilt.
"It wasn't anything they were doing. We were beating ourselves," receiver Chris Boyd said. "They're a good team, but we beat ourselves tonight."
The defense did its job for most of the game, but linebacker Chase Garnham said, "They made plays at the right time."
Northwestern (2-0) didn't score a touchdown in the first three quarters but managed 17 points in the fourth to come away with another dramatic win after beating Syracuse 42-41 in the opener.
The Wildcats finally found the end zone when Mark ran it in from the 7 to give them a short-lived 13-10 lead with 9:28 left in the game. Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy then turned a short swing pass into a 55-yard gain that put the ball on the 14, but instead of a touchdown, the Commodores had to settle for a tying 26-yard field goal by Carey Spear.
Northwestern caught a break on the next drive when Trevor Siemian's 34-yard pass to Rashad Lawrence along the left sideline was ruled a completion even though he fumbled the ball as he went out of bounds.
The call was upheld after a lengthy review, putting the ball on the Vanderbilt 22, and Jeff Budzien kicked an 18-yarder with 2:01 remaining to break the tie.
"I didn't think he held onto it, to be honest with you," Siemian said.
But he also said Lawrence was confident it was a catch.
"He said he caught it," Siemian said. "He doesn't know how many steps he had, but he caught it. He said he didn't tuck it, but he said he thought he had it."
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin declined comment, saying, "I'm not allowed to talk about that."
Scott then forced a fumble when he sacked Jordan Rodgers on Vanderbilt's next play from scrimmage, and Dean Lowry recovered the ball. That led to a 29-yard TD run by Kain Colter, sending Vanderbilt (0-2) to another difficult loss.
Mark, a junior, came up big again after tying a personal best with 281 all-purpose yards in the opener.
Colter looked fine physically Saturday night after pulling himself out of the game in the closing minutes of last week's contest because his bruised ribs made it too painful to throw. He managed to throw for 42 yards and run for 66 against Vanderbilt.
Siemian completed 10 of 16 passes for 91 yards Saturday after throwing the winning TD last week.
Rodgers threw for 217 yards for Vanderbilt. Boyd had 76 yards receiving and Jordan Matthews added 75 with a TD catch on the game's opening drive. Despite all that, the Commodores fell again after dropping the opener by four to South Carolina.
"I know we're a hungry team. We're really hungry for success," Boyd said.
Suffering two losses to begin this season isn't the start Vanderbilt envisioned after going 6-7 in 2011 and playing in only the program's fifth bowl game ever in Franklin's debut season. The Commodores get a breather next week against Presbyterian before a gauntlet the following few weeks which begins with trips to Georgia and Missouri before home games against Florida and Auburn.
They led 10-3 at halftime, but it might have been more had they converted two chances in the second quarter.
Archibald Barnes couldn't hang onto the ball on a likely touchdown return when he tipped a pass at the line by Siemian.
Later, Northwestern's Quentin Williams knocked the ball out of Rodger's arms at the end of an 8-yard run, and the Wildcats' David Nwabuisi recovered at his own 11 with 40 seconds left in the half, denying Vanderbilt.
Northwestern, meanwhile, lost cornerback Nick VanHoose on the game's second play from scrimmage when he twisted his lower back as he hit intended receiver Jonathan Krause while breaking up the pass. He walked off the field after being tended to for a few minutes, and coach Pat Fitzgerald said he was on the sideline at the end of the game but had few details.
"I think he'll be back sooner than later," Fitzgerald said.
Vanderbilt falls at Northwestern
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