Vanderbilt ends up as this season's best SEC finisher

After something of a rough start, Vanderbilt proved it could finish.

The Commodores concluded the regular season with back-to-back last-minute victories, the second of which was Saturday’s 23-21 triumph over Wake Forest. That followed the dramatic 14-10 win at Tennessee a week earlier.

Along the way they also put away Kentucky with a 13-0 fourth-quarter edge and Georgia with 17 unanswered points over the final 15 minutes.

“This team finds ways to get wins,” coach James Franklin said. “[I’m] really proud of them. It’s a very, very valuable component to have on your team, a very, very important aspect to have on your team – guys that find ways to win.”

How far away – in both form and function – the season-opening loss to Ole Miss now seems. Remember when Vanderbilt took the lead on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:30 to play then gave up a 75-yard touchdown run on the next offensive snap?

On one hand, players and coaches can’t help but think about what could have been had that not happened. It certainly, however, was not an indication of what was to be. Ole Miss was one of only two opponents (Alabama-Birmingham was the other) that scored more than seven fourth-quarter points against these Commodores.

For the season, which has one game remaining, Vanderbilt has scored 124 fourth-quarter points and has allowed just 50. That included a 6-0 advantage over Wake Forest courtesy of Carey Spear’s two field goals, the second (the game-winner) with 39 seconds remaining.

Both the point total and the margin in the fourth quarter lead the SEC.

FOURTH-QUARTER POINTS, SEC SCHOOLS
(Through Saturday)

Vanderbilt 124
LSU 110
Missouri 102
Georgia 102
Auburn 93
South Carolina 86
Alabama 85

 
FOURTH-QUARTER POINT DIFFERENTIAL, SEC SCHOOLS

(Through Saturday)

Vanderbilt plus-64
LSU plus-63
Missouri plus-48
Alabama plus-44
Auburn plus-35
South Carolina plus-13
Georgia even

The Commodores’ fourth-quarter point total in 2012 was 67, barely half of what they scored in the second and third quarters (132 and 124, respectively). Then, they led after three quarters in each of their first two games yet lost both (South Carolina and Northwestern).

This season was different – and at times Vanderbilt needed every point it could get. In three of its eight victories, including each of the last two, it trailed at the start of the fourth quarter but won, something it did only once last season – and oddly enough that was at Ole Miss.

“As an offense, we feel comfortable in those situations … because we know as a team we all have each other’s back,” quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said. “It’s unbelievable to have that sense of belief and feel that confidence on the sideline. … Once you build that tradition it’s something special. I think it’s started to be built and it’s going to continue to be built.”