No. 13 Alabama 36, Vanderbilt 26
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ Vanderbilt’s run of big plays and tricks Saturday night brought a cascade of boos from an Alabama crowd not used to watching the Crimson Tide being upstaged.
But No. 13 Alabama (3-0) seemed to answer each Vanderbilt surprise with a touchdown of its own, including a three-TD outburst over three minutes of the third quarter, and beat the Commodores 36-26.
``Most of the games we’re in are strange,″ Alabama coach Gene Stallings said. ``I don’t know what a gentle game is.″
Even with the victory, the crowd of 70,123 at Bryant-Denny Stadium was unhappy after watching Vandy convert a fake punt into an 81-yard touchdown and score on an 88-yard punt return. They showered the team with boos through much of a fourth quarter that included two interceptions by Freddie Kitchens.
After a conservative gameplan resulted in a 14-7 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 5, Vandy coach Rod Dowhower decided to change tactics Saturday.
He used an onside kick, a fake reverse on a kickoff return, a series of risky flanker screens and the most dramatic of them all, a record-setting 81-yard TD run from punter Bill Marinangel on a fake.
It was part of an entertaining, back-and-forth contest that included eight turnovers, two special teams touchdowns and a host of tricks from Vanderbilt.
The game wasn’t settled until midway through the third quarter.
That’s when Kitchens converted a fourth-and-2 into a 15-yard TD, safety Kevin Jackson scored on a 44-yard interception return and the Crimson Tide converted a fumble recovery into a TD for a 36-18 lead.
It seemed to erase memories of the fake punt that stunned the crowd early in the second quarter.
Marinangel took the snap and watched as the middle of Alabama’s return team raced downfield to block. The punter 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.
It gave the Commodores (0-2) a 15-9 lead on a night when moving the ball in conventional fashion proved difficult. Not counting the fake punt, Vanderbilt had just 166 yards in offense and controlled the ball for only 23:47.
``I told Rod after the game that that’s what you’ve got to do sometimes,″ Stallings said. ``You’ve got to take a gamble. I anticipated something from them that would get some points because I didn’t think they would consistently move the ball.″
One of Vanderbilt’s best drives was an eight-play, 32-yard march following DeReal Franklin’s 44-yard interception return to the Vandy 47 early in the third quarter.
That led to Brett Speakman’s 32-yard field goal and gave Vanderbilt its last lead at 18-15.
Kitchens answered with a 65-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown and five plays later, the Tide was comfortably ahead thanks to the Jackson touchdown and Curtis Alexander’s 1-yard TD run after a Cedric Samuel fumble recovery.
But Vandy didn’t quit. Alvin Duke broke an 88-yard punt return for a TD and the uneasy home crowd remained that way through a fourth quarter in which Kitchens threw two interceptions and Vanderbilt quarterback Damian Allen hit Billy Miller on a 38-yard pass down to the Alabama 4.
Dwayne Rudd intercepted a pass on the next play to end Vanderbilt’s hopes and a bad day for Allen, who finished 11-of-21 for 139 yards and three interceptions.
``We learned from last week what kind of team we can be,″ Allen said. ``We didn’t have our minds on anything but beating Alabama. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get the job done.″
Kitchens was 16-of-27 for 209 yards, one TD and three interceptions.