NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Luckily for Zac Stacy, he won't be remembered for his last carry on a record-setting day.
Vanderbilt overcame a fourth-quarter fumble by its senior running back, who rushed for 169 yards and a go-ahead touchdown in a 17-13 victory over Auburn on Saturday.
Stacy had 27 carries but coughed up the ball just five plays after becoming the school's all-time leading rusher. The Tigers (1-6, 0-5 Southeastern Conference) took over at their 32-yard line with 2:24 left. Vanderbilt (3-4, 2-3) responded by smothering the SEC's worst-scoring offense. Clint Moseley overshot an open Sammie Coates on fourth-and-13 with 52 seconds remaining.
"The defense had my back on that costly fumble," Stacy said. "That can't happen, but at the same time, as a senior captain on this team, you just have to stay positive. I had very good confidence in my defense to get a stop and get the win."
The Commodores tied the game at 10 on Carey Spear's 30-yard field goal at the end of the first half. They regained the lead on their first drive of the second half on Stacy's 2-yard touchdown with 7:34 left in the third quarter.
His 27-yard sprint in the fourth quarter — his first of six straight runs — broke Frank Mordica's previous school mark of 2,632 rushing yards from 1976-79. Stacy, who also holds the Commodores' single-season rushing record, now has 2,670 yards.
"I didn't go into the game thinking about the record. I came into the game trying to get a 'W,'" Stacy said. "I'm very honored to break the record, but that's really just a reflection of the offensive line."
The Tigers are off to their worst start since losing six of their first seven in 1952 in Shug Jordan's second year as coach. Auburn is the first team to start 1-6 within two years of finishing first in The Associated Press rankings since the poll began in 1936.
For the first time since 1996, a sellout crowd of 40,350 filled Vanderbilt Stadium in consecutive games. They saw the Commodores persevere despite three fumbles and overambitious play-calling that went awry at times.
"I do think you make progress when you don't play your best football and you still find a way to win a game against an SEC opponent," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "Our kids need to learn how to finish and win tough games. ... It's why we have to keep winning ugly against the top 25, against the top 5, against the top 122. We just need to win."
The Commodores gambled on fourth down five times, converting two that led to their first score. But they also botched a fake punt and halfback pass — both involving Stacy.
They benefited from rolling the dice twice on their opening drive, converting two short fourth downs. Three plays after Wesley Tate moved the chains on fourth-and-2, the Vanderbilt tailback took a direct snap and burst 7 yards into the end zone for a 7-0. The score capped the Commodores' longest drive of the season — a 16-play, 75-yard march that lasted 8:25.
"We did it in the first quarter, we converted, went down and scored, everybody says great decision," Franklin said. "We go for it later in the game, it doesn't work out, bad decision. The coach is an idiot. I'll live with that. Like I've told you guys before, we're going to play aggressive around here. We're going to take some calculated risks."
Auburn's offense sputtered on its first two drives with just one first down and three negative yardage plays. But Vanderbilt offered the Tigers a gift on fourth-and-9 at its own 43 early in the second quarter. Tate took a direct snap and misfired on an option pitch to Stacy, who lined up as the punter.
Auburn's Ashton Richardson recovered the fumble at the 36. Eight plays later, Cody Parkey kicked a 27-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
"Our execution was not what we wanted. ... We had the look," Franklin said. "The pitch wasn't good. We need to get better."
The Tigers capitalized on another short field when Vanderbilt gambled again on fourth-and-inches at the Auburn 48. Stacy lost a yard, turning the ball over on downs.
With plenty of protection for the first time, Moseley connected with Emory Blake twice for 35 yards to put the Tigers in the red zone. Tre Mason gave Auburn a 10-7 lead on a 2-yard run with 1:21 to go in the half. Vanderbilt answered by marching 65 yards in 11 plays to set up Spear's game-tying kick.
Auburn failed to sustain drives by converting 2 of 15 third downs. Moseley was sacked five times and had just 98 yards on 14-of-20 passing. The Tigers finished with just 212 yards of offense.
Still, they trailed just 17-13 after Parkey's 39-yard field goal with 9:55 left.
On Vanderbilt's ensuing drive, instead of attempting a long field goal on fourth-and-3 at Auburn's 31, Franklin gambled again.
He put the ball in Stacy's hands — to throw. The halfback pass was squashed as Stacy was sacked. Auburn, however, stalled once again and was forced to punt. The Tigers have gone eight straight games without a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"This was another example of us having a chance at the end of the game to win the game and we couldn't close the door on it," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "Again, we fell short. . At some point in time we're going to have to figure out how to get the game at that point and win it, and we're obviously struggling with that."
Stacy leads Vandy past Auburn, 17-13
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