By Will Martin
Vanderbilt Commodores vs Houston Cougars
Saturday – January 4 – 12:00 PM
Legion Field – Birmingham
Talk about a story of feast and famine. The Commodores make their third visit in a row to a bowl game after having reach only four total previously if you go all the way back to 1890.
Not since 1927 and 1928 has Vandy posted back to back eight win seasons and…not since 1915 have the Commodores reached the nine win total. Put differently Babe Ruth was the man when Vandy football was relevant…
Sadly a torn ACL to starting quarterback Austyn Carta Samuels at season’s end keeps him out of the bowl action for the Commodores. Samuels threw for 2,268 yards in the air while tossing 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. In his place will be Patton Robinette who saw limited action in a loss to Texas A&M.
Injuries notwithstanding there is no undermining the amount of transition the Vanderbilt program has overcome according to the Vandy coach.
“It’s dramatic,” coach James Franklin said of the program. “From a cultural standpoint, from an expectations standpoint, it’s a 360-degree difference. We still have a long ways to go, as a whole organization and program. But to think that we have a chance to go to our third straight bowl game, got a chance to have another nine-win season.
“We just need to keep building. It allows us to continue to change perception about Vanderbilt football, and who and what we are.”
When Robinette seeks an outlet for relief from the Cougar rush look for that person to come in the name of Jordan Matthews. Your all time leader in the SEC for yards and receptions. 107 catches and 1,334 yards in receptions.
Matthews being from Alabama has an added incentive to be playing so close to home.
“Being from that state, I get to bring a lot of my teammates and this family to my home state to show them around. I think it will be a good trip,” Matthews said. “Even the stuff outside the bowl games, not just the team accomplishments and the individual accomplishments, everything (the seniors) have come in and said we we’re going to do, we were able to turn it around and do it. Now we have one more test, to be able to go down to Birmingham and get a win.”
Vanderbilt gets to deal with a high octane Houston offense and freshman quarterback John O’Korn. Averaging 34 points a game, O’Korn fired 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions with an equally explosive receiver in Deontay Greenberry. 76 catches 1,106 yards and ten touchdowns.
With apologies to Drew Rosenhaus…Next Question?
It goes without saying that the Cougars program is equally excited about the prospect of playing this late into a new year.
“We are very excited about our bowl game for a number of reasons,” coach Tony Levine said. “In no particular order: To play in a January bowl game is certainly an honor, to play a program such as Vanderbilt with coach Franklin and their staff, great respect for them, the job they’ve done and are doing, and certainly a member of the Southeastern Conference. It will be fun for us to go against Vanderbilt.”
For Houston fans, expectations are high for a program centered around a frosh who was third in touchdown passes amongst his peers. How does John O’Korn feel about his first go-around?
“It was just an amazing experience and such a blessing to start as a true freshman for the majority of the season,” O’Korn said. “Going into the season, our motto was ‘Something to Prove’ and I think we proved a lot, as coach preached by our entire body of work. Those close to the program know we haven’t even reached our full potential yet, so we are really excited about this coming game obviously and next season moving forward.”
These two programs have never met before. Houston is 1-1 all time against the SEC. Make it 2-1 as the pieces are in place for something as high caliber as what Duke and Texas A&M provided.
Houston 49-45. Be sure to set your DVRs as this looks like a classic in the making.