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October 4, 2008

Vanderbilt upsets Auburn

Vanderbilt, welcome to the big time.

Mackenzi Adams came off the bench and threw for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 19 Vanderbilt beat 13th-ranked Auburn 14-13 Saturday night to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1943.

The Commodores also improved to 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference for only the third time ever - the first since 1950. This win keeps them undefeated atop the SEC East while also snapping a 13-game skid to Auburn (4-2, 2-2). It was Vandy's first win in the series since the 1955 Gator Bowl.

Trying to preserve a one-point lead, Vandy had to punt the ball back to Auburn one last time with 2:16 left, but Brett Upson kicked it 55 yards and Alan Strong downed it at the Tigers 3. On the next play, Myron Lewis intercepted Chris Todd's pass intended for Rod Smith.

All that was left was for Adams to take a knee a couple of times and the part was on. Fans poured on to the field to celebrate one of the biggest wins in the history of a program that's perennially been the doormat of the SEC.

The SEC's smallest school, and only private university, is known more for its academics than its football. Fans were celebrating the Commodores first appearance in the Top 25 since 1984 even before the game started, sporting signs that boasted geeks rule.

Then the Commodores - whose last winning season was in 1982 - went out and backed it up by pushing around Auburn.

The difference in the game was Wes Byrum's missed extra point in the first quarter, but Vandy outgained the Tigers on offense 263-208, and a defense that had led the SEC in sacks coming in added five more by five different Commodores. Vandy sacked Todd twice inside the final 4 minutes to force the Tigers to punt away with 2:51 left.

Ben Tate ran for 108 yards, and the Tigers scored 13 points in 60 seconds in the first quarter. That was it against a Vandy defense that had been the SEC's worst in yards allowed, giving up 364.3 per game.

Quarterback Chris Nickson started the game for Vanderbilt but aggravated an injured right shoulder he hurt two weeks ago at Mississippi. Adams came in cold.

But the Commodores held Auburn to a mere 25 yards in the second quarter. They stopped Tate on two carries for losses, and D.J. Moore nearly picked off a Todd pass. That forced Clinton Durst to punt from his own end zone, and Moore caught the ball near midfield and ran it back 25 yards to the Auburn 30.

Adams completed all four of his passes for 41 yards, the last a 15-yarder to Justin Wheeler for a touchdown with 39 seconds left in the first half for a TD - the first allowed in the first half this season by Auburn. Bryant Hahnfeldt added the extra point to pull Vandy within 13-7, and Adams, who held for the kick, jumped up and down as he ran off the field.

Auburn opened the third quarter by trying to throw and went three-and-out on its first three possessions. Vandy missed a 40-yard field goal on its opening drive, but Adams drove the Commodores 68 yards in eight plays helped by a couple Auburn mistakes with a defensive pass interference and a face mask.

Adams found Brandon Barden on a 1-yard TD pass to tie the game, and Hahnfeldt's extra point made it 14-13 with 7:09 left in the third.

Vandy got greedy and tried a 50-yard field goal, and Jake Ricks blocked it for the Tigers. Kodi Burns came in for Todd, and he found Mario Fannin for a 24-yard pass down to the Vandy 29. But the Tigers were called for holding, then illegal touching by Montez Billings of a pass after going out of bounds and Burns was incomplete on his next two passes.


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