Jordan Rodgers wrote his own history as a Vanderbilt quarterback Saturday night. The beleaguered senior came through with his best performance as a Commodore in a 27-26 upset win at Ole Miss.
Jordan Matthews continued his assault on the SEC, but it was Chris Boyd's 26-yard touchdown catch that carried Vanderbilt to their fourth SEC win and back-to-back seasons with bowl eligibility for the first time in school history. The 'Dores erased a 23-6 second half deficit to beat the Rebels for the third straight year.
Rodgers started slowly, but he responded with what may become the defining drive of his career as a Commodore. He passed for 77 yards in a game-winning drive that turned a six-point deficit into a one-point lead with under a minute to play on the road. He finished with 267 passing yards and two touchdowns in a performance that secured his spot as the best Vandy quarterback since Jay Cutler roamed Natchez Trace.
Vanderbilt got their worst news in the first quarter, however. The 'Dores lost star tailback Zac Stacy to a knee injury early in the game. While the team did not release any specifics on the injury, Stacy didn't re-enter the game and appeared to be seriously injured. He may miss significant time, if not the rest of the season, if it turns out he has severe ligament damage.
The Commodore defense was equal parts frustrating and inspiring on Saturday night. The team got gashed for first-down conversions in situations where Ole Miss faced third-and-29, third-and-14, and third-and-21, but the 'Dores did a good job of limiting Mississippi to field goal attempts throughout the game. While Wallace was able to rally his troops down the field, he was only able to finish one drive that started in Rebel territory on the night.
That gave Vanderbilt hope as time wound down. The 'Dores had two chances to turn an Ole Miss three-point lead into a Commodore advantage, but punted in each instance. Ole Miss appeared to be trapped deep in their own zone when they faced a 3rd-and-21, but Wallace escaped pressure to create a first down, allowing the Rebels to drive for a field goal that made it 26-20 with under three minutes to play.
That left a big opportunity for the senior Rodgers, who had his NFL MVP older brother in the stands cheering him on. Rodgers found his reliable targets Matthews and Boyd to get the ball to the shallow end of Vanderbilt territory. After a tense fourth-and-two went Vandy's way behind a Rodgers's run, he found Kris Kentera for a 21-yard gain to the Ole Miss 26 yard line. One play later, he found Boyd for the biggest touchdown of his career - a 26 yard strike.
Ole Miss had the chance to pull off a miracle comeback, but turned the ball over on downs with 14 seconds left. The 27-26 win improved Vandy to 6-4 on the season and 4-3 in the SEC. That secures a bowl bid for the Commodores and ensures a non-losing season in conference play for the first time since 2008. The 'Dores will now head home to host Tennessee in a rivalry game that could keep the Volunteers from going bowling while enhancing Vandy's postseason stock. That'll be a big one, so stay tuned - especially if Jordan Rodgers can tap into the hero mode that he found to drive Vandy to their biggest win of the season on Saturday.