Vanderbilt rallies in fourth to put away UConn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Carey Spear kicked a 31-yard field goal with 2:56 left, and the Vanderbilt Commodores rallied from 21-14 down in the fourth quarter and beat the Connecticut Huskies 24-21 Saturday night.

The victory gives new coach James Franklin a 2-0 start and Vanderbilt's first winning streak since 2008.

Tim Fugger had two of Vanderbilt's five sacks, and the Commodores forced four turnovers, all by Johnny McEntee. Senior Casey Hayward picked off a McEntee pass at midfield, then weaved his way back across the field to finish off a 50-yard return. His first career interception return for a TD tied it at 21 apiece with 6:45 left.

UConn (1-1) lost its second straight road opener despite the defense sacking Larry Smith seven times and forcing two turnovers.

The Huskies had one last chance to try and tie the game, but Rob Lohr sacked McEntee on third down. McEntee overthrew Isiah Moore on fourth down, giving the ball back to Vandy to run out the clock and start celebrating a rare winning start.

Franklin surprised his Commodores with black helmets after pregame warm-ups, putting them in all black. The Commodores hadn't used black helmets since 1990, and they came out fired up in what turned into a defensive slugfest with 12 combined sacks, two returns for TDs and a blocked punt for a TD.

UConn took the opening kickoff and rotated three players at quarterback. Lyle McCombs picked up where he left off last week, when he rushed for 141 yards, but he couldn't do it all. He ran 10 times for 74 yards in the first quarter only to finish with 118 yards on 27 carries. Dave Teggert kicked two field goals, and Byron Jones blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a TD.

Huskies linebacker Sio Moore had 3 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble that Yawin Smallwood picked up and returned 64 yards for a touchdown that put UConn up 21-14 after McEntee found Ryan Griffin for the 2-point conversion with 10:34 left.

UConn hit Smith repeatedly and even knocked him out of the game briefly. But the senior kept returning, and he threw for 140 yards and one TD. He also had only two turnovers as Vandy outgained UConn 259-193 in total offense.

Safety Kenny Ladler set up Vandy's first TD, diving in front of Kashif Moore to pick off a pass by McEntee at the Huskies 42. Vanderbilt went for the end zone on the next play with Smith finding Chris Boyd in stride for a 42-yard TD pass down the left sideline for a 7-3 lead with 5:54 left.

The Commodores drove 80 yards on their next drive with Smith connecting with John Cole for a 31-yard completion on third-and-11 at the Vandy 19. Freshman Jerron Seymour capped the drive running 40 yards for a TD even as UConn was flagged for having a 12th man on the field in a substitution penalty for a 14-3 lead at halftime.

UConn's best chance to score came in the third when Vandy linebacker Chris Marve knocked a McEntee pass away from Griffin at the back of the end zone.

The Huskies seemed to turn the game in the second half as they hit Smith so hard he left the game for a few plays, replaced by Jordan Rodgers. That helped back Vanderbilt up near its own goal line, and Jones blocked Richard Kent's punt and recovered it in the end zone for the touchdown that pulled UConn within 14-13 midway through the third quarter. It was the first blocked punt for a TD by the Huskies since 2002.