NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt's football team concluded its spring practice on Saturday as Black defeated Gold, 33-0, in the annual Black and Gold Spring Game at Vanderbilt Stadium.
"I thought the scrimmage went well, thought spring ball went well," Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin said. "Most importantly, we stayed healthy."
Team Black, comprised mostly of first-teamers dominated the pass-heavy game on both sides of the ball, but it was the play of junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews and redshirt freshman wide receiver Josh Grady that the 8,500 in attendance will remember most.
Playing for Team Black, the duo combined to score three of Vanderbilt's touchdowns, including the final score of the game when Grady took a direct snap and found Matthews, who bobbled the pass a few times before hauling it in and racing down the field for a 54-yard score with 1:34 to play.
"We had run the play three or four times," said Grady, "and after one of them, Jordan Matthews came up to me and said, `Josh you don't always have to throw it in the flat; I'm going to be wide open.' I said, `OK.' Next time we came out and Austin Monahan did a great job of sealing the edge. I saw Jordan, got it to him and he did the rest."
Matthews had scored earlier on a 17-yard strike from starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers in the second quarter and Grady rushed for an eight-yard touchdown out of the Wildcat formation in the third quarter.
Matthews finished with seven catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Grady did not catch a pass, but carried the ball three times for 35 yards and a score, and completed both of his passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Saturday was the first real public glimpse at what Grady can do on the field after redshirting last season, and he did not disappoint.
"Last year, we did (the Wildcat) with Zac Stacy, who did some nice things, but he also made (poor) decisions throwing," Franklin said. "With a guy (Josh Grady) that has played quarterback, I think that's going to help. He can run the ball and he's a legitimate threat to throw the ball. I think that's going to help us."
Franklin had emphasized the importance of improving the passing game throughout the spring and Saturday his emphasis was evident in the play calling. Both teams combined for just 19 rushing attempts by non-quarterbacks compared to 57 pass attempts.
"We're putting an emphasis this spring on the passing game (because) we're a little dependent on running the ball," Franklin said. "There are going to be times (in the SEC) where you're not going to be able to run the ball and you're going to have to be able to throw the ball for a higher percentage."
Rodgers led Team Black through the air, completing 14-of-29 passes for 126 yards and touchdown passes to Matthews and tight end Austin Monahan. Rodgers' pass to Monahan was the first touchdown of the game, coming with 13:34 to play in the second quarter.
The first points of the game came off the foot of kicker Ryan Fowler, who made a 40-yard field goal with 11:19 to play in the first quarter. Fowler's field goal was setup after Austyn Carta-Samuels, the starting quarterback for Team Gold, had his pass attempt intercepted by Steven Clarke.
Team Black scored two more points on an errant snap by Team Gold that resulted in a safety with 7:25 to play in the fourth quarter after Carta-Samuels lost his footing in the end zone after scooping up the ball.
Carta-Samuels saw the bulk of the snaps for Team Gold and finished 6-of-12 passing for 47 yards. Patton Robinette went 3-for-9 for 24 yards for Team Gold, which struggled to move the ball for much of the game.
Senior running back Zac Stacy, the SEC's leading returning rusher, carried the ball just two times for one yard for Team Black. Grady led all ball carriers with 35 yards on three carries. Fitz Lassing carried the ball four times for 21 yards for Team Black.
The leading rusher for Team Gold was Robinette, who had 19 yards on four carries. Hasan Clayton led all ball carriers with five attempts, gaining just six yards for Team Gold.
Defensively, Eddie Foster paced Team Gold with a game-high eight tackles, including one for a loss, three pass breakups and one interception. Freshman Darreon Herring added a sack of Rodgers to go with five tackles. Team Black was led by Archibald Barnes, who had six tackles. Colt Nichter also added a sack.
The first quarter featured regularly timed possessions. In the second quarter, the game shifted to a running clock for the remainder of the game. The crowd in attendance was also treated to a postgame fireworks display on what turned out to be a day of excellent weather with temperatures in the 70s throughout the game.
Saturday was the final game played on natural grass inside the stadium for the foreseeable future. The Commodores will install a new artificial surface this summer and will move the existing grass to a field a recreational field on campus.
The game was televised on a tape-delayed basis by CSS and will air on Sunday at 5 p.m. CT. A replay will also air at 2 p.m. CT on April 19 and April 27.
3rd Qtr: BLACK: 1:06 Josh Grady 8-yard run (Fowler)
4th Qtr: BLACK: 7:25 Team Safety BLACK: 1:34 Matthews 54-yard pass from Grady (Fowler)
Series I (Carta-Samuels QB) Starting at its 20-yard line, the Gold gets a quick first down but turns the ball over in its own territory when cornerback Steven Clarke picks off a Carta-Samuels pass.
Series II (Rodgers QB) Black offense forced to try a field goal after following pair of Rodgers' incompletions. Cornerback Eddie Foster contributes a jarring hit on Chris Boyd. Ryan Fowler gives the Black a 3-0 advantage by converting from 40 yards.
Series III (Carta-Samuels QB) Carta-Samuels connects with Gold receivers Jacquese Kirk and Trent Pruitt for first downs, then hits Pruitt for another 8-yard catch before Black linebacker Chase Garnham blasts running back Hasan Clayton for no gain. After moving the ball to the Black 36-yard line, the Gold drive stalls on fourth down when Carta-Samuels and Kirk fell to hook up on deep sideline route.
Series IV (Rodgers QB) Getting assistance from wildcat QB Josh Grady, who rushes for 14 yards and a first down, the Black puts together a solid drive into Gold territory. After hitting Jordan Matthews for 10 yards, the Black turns the ball over when Rodgers and Matthews connect on a 7-yard pass when the offense facing 4th-and-10.
Series V (Robinette QB) True freshman Patton Robinette sees first action at quarterback and rushes for six yards to set up a 3rd-and-3, which is stymied when safety Karl Butler gets a tackle for loss. Garnham misses chance at apparent touchdown when he is unable to haul in pass deflection.
Series VI (Rodgers QB) Another Black drive ends with a quick punting situation when a deep connection between Rodgers and Grady is ruled out of bounds. Foster makes another superb play, blowing up a Rodgers-to-Matthews attempt in the drive.
Series VII (Robinette QB) Starting deep in their own territory, the Gold gets a quick first down on Robinette's 8-yard pass to goes five yards, then hits Pruitt for eight yards.
Series VIII (Rodgers QB) After a physical pass breakup by safety Jahmel McIntosh on H-back Kris Kentera, Rodgers puts the first touchdown on the scoreboard by hitting Austin Monahan over the middle for a 20-yard score.
Series IX (Carta-Samuels QB) A quick Gold possession turns into a punting situation with a pair of incompletions.
Series X (Rodgers QB) The Gold defense forces a quick 3-and-out by the Black offense.
Series XI (Robinette QB) After a delay pitch by Robinette to Kirk gains 16 yards, Black defensive tackle Jared Morse forces a fumble on the next play that results in a turnover when recovered by Black end Johnell Thomas.
Series XII (Rodgers QB) After a couple of short gains, Rodgers connects with Matthews on a 17-yard TD to up the Black lead to 17-0.
Series XIII (Carta-Samuels QB) The Black defense gets an athletic pass deflection by safety Karl Butler on third down to force another Gold punt.
Series XIV (Rodgers QB) On 3rd-and-5, Foster makes yet another defensive play for the Gold squad, picking off a Rodgers pass at the 30 yard line.
Series XV (Carta-Samuels QB) Carta-Samuels and Pruitt hook up for 17 yards to the Black 10-yard line, but the Black defense stiffens with tackle Colt Nichter contributing a key quarterback sack on second down. The Gold is unable to convert on fourth down.
Series XVI (Rodgers QB) After Rodgers rushes for a first down, the Black squad drives the length of the field to go up 24-0. Key plays include an 18-yard screen to Fitz Lassing and a 23-yard pass to Kentera. Grady caps the possession with an 8-yard rush as a wildcat QB. Gold defensive end Jimmy Stewart makes an impressive individual tackle during the drive.
Series XVII (Robinette QB) The Gold produce a first down after Robinette hits tight end Dillon van der Wal on a sideline pattern, but the drive quickly ends in a punting situation.
Series XVIII (Townsley QB) The Black squad fails to convert a field goal after another fine defensive play by Foster.
Series XIX (Carta-Samuels QB) After an impressive Carta-Samuels connection to van der Wal, a bad snap to the quarterback results in a safety for the Black unit when defensive end Walker May tackles Carta-Samuels in the end zone.
Series XX (Robinette QB) The Gold offense can't convert on third down resulting in another punting situation.
Series XXI (Grady QB) Using Grady in the wildcat, the Black caps the scoring when Grady connects with Matthews on a 54-yard touchdown.