If this was James Franklin's last game as Vanderbilt's head coach, he'll get to end his tenure with a victory.
Vanderbilt nearly choked away a 24-0 halftime lead, but Franklin's Commodores recovered in time to beat Houston and bring a second-straight bowl win back to Nashville as Vandy won the BBVA Compass Bowl, 41-24. It was the 'Dores second-straight nine-win season and another resume-building victory for one of the hottest coaches in college football. Franklin's name has been brought up in relation to coaching vacancies from Texas to Cleveland.
The BBVA Compass Bowl sent a remarkable class of seniors out with a win, but it wasn't easy.
Vanderbilt took an early lead behind a smothering defense and the playmaking ability of Jordan Matthews. The senior All-American had a pair of 50-yard receiving touchdowns that gave him the BBVA Compass Bowl receiving record about 20 minutes into this game. That effort was buttressed by a defense that held the Cougars to just 22 yards of total offense in the first half by pressuring Houston QB John O'Korn into sacks, scrambles, and other mistakes that led to a handful of early three-and-outs.
The Commodores let off the gas late in the first half when Patton Robinette was picked off by Zachary McMillan in the Houston end zone. While the Vandy defense held strong on the ensuing drive, the turnover set off a chain of lackluster Vanderbilt possessions that allowed the Cougars to get back into this game.
The 'Dores held Houston without a point after driving to the VU six-yard line early in the second half, but a Robinette fumble gave the Cougars new life and sparked a huge rally that tied this game at 24-24 late in the period. Kenneth Farrow scored from six yards n\out on the next play, and then added another touchdown after Vanderbilt went three-and-out on the ensuing possession. Houston used that momentum to add 10 more points in the third, tying the game on a 67-yard touchdown pass to All-AAC receiver Deontay Greenberry that silenced a crowd made up of mostly Commodore boosters.
Vandy was able to turn the tide in the fourth quarter behind an unlikely source. Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow bolstered an 82-yard touchdown drive on the ground after the 'Dores had failed to create any meaningful run offense all day. Kimbrow capped off the drive with a 21-yard dash up the left side to make it 31-24 with 9:28 to play.
That charged up the Vanderbilt defense, who rose up to pressure O'Korn into a bad interception that allowed Vandy to kick a 35-yard field goal three plays later. Houston threatened after Demarcus Ayers returned the kickoff that followed to the VU 40, but the Commodore defense bowed up once again to force a turnover on downs. The Cougars got one last chance to mount a comeback with 3:17 left in the game, but Andre Hal intercepted O'Korn on third down to close the door on this one. His return set up Seymour's two-yard touchdown to give Vandy the 41-24 win.
Houston put together an impressive comeback, but ultimately Vanderbilt's ability to create an effective running game was the difference in this game. Kimbrow and Seymour combined for 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
The game was the final black and gold appearance for stalwarts like Matthews, Chase Garnham, Andre Hal, Kenny Ladler, Walker May, Jonathan Krause, Wesley Johnson, Karl Butler, and others. They'll leave Vanderbilt as the winningest class in the school's modern era.