Three Keys Revisited - Vandy vs Houston

In one of the more confusing bowls of the season Vanderbilt built a huge first half lead, proceeded to throw it all away in the third quarter, then somehow regain momentum to finish strong and blow Houston away in the final period. The game featured a huge performance from the Commodores biggest star in his swansong and a stifling outing from the defense for three quarters of the game.

In one of the more confusing bowls of the season Vanderbilt built a huge first half lead, proceeded to throw it all away in the third quarter, then somehow regain momentum to finish strong and blow Houston away in the final period. The game featured a huge performance from the Commodores biggest star in his swansong and a stifling outing from the defense for three quarters of the game. The win completed the first back to back nine win seasons in school history and with five victories in a row the momentum is strong heading into the recruiting period.

Here is a look back on the last three keys of the football season.

1) Slow down the Houston passing game - Pass

John O'Korn may have led the high tempo Houston passing attack to 26 touchdowns through the air coming into this game, but for the first half it was the speed and violent nature of the Vanderbilt defense which was the story of the game. The ‘Dores were everywhere on defense with linebacker Chase Garnham leading the way, shutting down everything the Cougars were attempting to do. It wasn't until seven minutes remained in the first half when Houston got their initial first down of the game, and even that came at the hands of backup quarterback Greg Ward, Jr.

To O'Korn's credit he did rebound in the third quarter when, after some much needed half time adjustments, the Houston passing attack got going. You can make the argument that the Houston comeback had as much to do with Commodore mistakes as anything else. The 67-yard touchdown pass to Deontay Greenberry, for example, was one of the more horrific blown coverages you will ever see, but O'Korn was finding his targets and making his throws at this point in the contest. The fourth quarter though was a different story and proved that when the game was on the line this Vanderbilt defense could stand up and be counted.

2) Get Jordan Matthews his catches - Pass

Jordan Matthews had an epic first half in Birmingham, cementing his legacy as one of the best wide receivers in the history of the SEC. Matthews had five catches for 143 yards and a pair of 50 yard touchdowns, all in the first thirty minutes of the game. The problem for Matthews, whose five catches represented all but one of the six completed passes on the day, was that Patton Robinette struggled mightily to move the ball in the second half. That fact took James Franklin into full on conservation mode, especially when the ‘Dores took back the lead in the fourth quarter. I guess if you are only going to have the opportunity to make five catches on the day then you had better make the most of them and that is something Matthews certainly did on Saturday afternoon.

3) Win the turnover battle - Pass

This battle was tied on Saturday with both teams ending the game with three basic turnovers. Each had one fumble recovery and two interceptions, but the Vanderbilt defense stood up in a big way in the fourth quarter where they also forced Houston to turn the ball over on downs twice. This, plus a turnover on downs in the third quarter, means that when adjusted the ‘Dores actually won the turnover battle 6-3.

The most important factor of the turnovers on Saturday was when and where they happened. After the Commodores had blown such a big lead it would have been easy for the defense to collapse. Instead after the Brian Kimbrow touchdown run which put the Commodores up 31-24 a pick from Jahmel McIntosh gave Vandy the ball back at the Houston 18. We have talked all season about how takeaways which yield positive field position are the most important and you could feel the whole Cougar sideline deflate as the ball was intercepted. The 10 point lead that was established after a Carey Spear field goal left Houston in chase mode and the victory was sealed with an Andre Hal interception with just over two minutes to play.

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