No. 13 Alabama 36, Vanderbilt 26
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ Vanderbilt scared another ranked opponent Saturday, but No. 13 Alabama used big defensive plays and a 21-point outburst over three minutes of the third quarter for a 36-26 victory.
Quarterback Freddie Kitchens ran 15 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-2, safety Kevin Jackson scored on a 44-yard interception return and the Crimson Tide converted a fumble recovery into a TD to give Alabama a 36-18 lead late in the third period.
Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) then withstood Alvin Duke’s 88-yard punt return for a touchdown and the boos of the home crowd to hold onto the win over the Commodores (0-2, 0-1).
Vanderbilt led 18-15 early in the third quarter thanks in part to a series of big plays, including punter Bill Marinangel’s 81-yard touchdown run off a fake.
The second-quarter play was the most telling in a marked change of strategy from Commodores coach Rod Dowhower. In a 14-7 loss to Notre Dame last week, Dowhower chose to grind it out in hopes of staying close and pulling one out at the end.
He abandoned that plan against Alabama, throwing a series of risky flanker screens, running a fake reverse on a kickoff and even trying an unsuccessful onside kick to start the second half.
The biggest shocker was Marinangel’s weaving run on a fourth-and-5 that gave Vandy a 15-9 lead with 3:49 to go in the half.
The punter took the snap and watched as the middle of Alabama’s return team raced downfield to block. Marinangel followed them, got about 30 yards before anyone noticed, then broke one tackle and sprinted untouched the last 40 yards for the score.
It was the longest rush in Vanderbilt history, breaking the 80-yard mark held by three players and most recently set in 1979 by Van Heflin against Air Force.
Minutes later, the Tide made it into the end zone for the first time in four tries inside Vanderbilt’s 20 by converting Reggie Grimes’ fumble recovery into a TD to tie the score at 15 by the half.
But it didn’t appear to bother Vanderbilt, which got a 44-yard interception return from DeReal Finklin to set up the go-ahead field goal with 10:38 left in the third.
Alabama answered with its onslaught and put Vanderbilt away.
The first TD came when Kitchens ran the option and picked through the defense for the go-ahead score.
The next five plays from scrimmage included Jackson’s TD and a Cedric Samuel fumble recovery that set up Curtis Alexander’s 1-yard TD run.
That gave the Tide a 36-18 lead and Alabama’s defense held through a sloppy fourth quarter in which Kitchens threw two interceptions and Vandy used a 38-yard pass from Damian Allen to Billy Miller to move to the Alabama 4.
Dwayne Rudd intercepted Allen two plays later to end the threat and Vanderbilt’s chances.
Jackson got another interception later, his fourth of the season, as Allen finished 11-of-21 for 139 yards and three interceptions.
Kitchens was 16-of-27 for 209 yards, one TD and three interceptions.