WHO: 8-4 Vanderbilt (SEC) vs. 8-4 Houston (AAC)
WHAT: BBVA Compass Bowl (8th year)
WHERE: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
WHEN: Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
WHY: For Vanderbilt, this bowl business is suddenly becoming old hat. The Commodores are in their third consecutive bowl after making it just four previous times in their history. This is the first time Vandy — winner of five of its last six to close out the regular season — will be playing in a bowl after Jan. 1.
The Cougars, meanwhile, are looking for their first bowl victory since 2009 and are trying to snap out of a late-season funk that saw them lose three of their last four.
Vandy doesn’t shine in any particular area. Its offense is ranked 94th in yards per game and is 66th in points per game, but the Commodores are opportunistic, play tough defense (24th nationally in total defense) and don’t hurt themselves. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels has 2,268 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions and has also rushed for five scores. His main target is all-star wide out Jordan Matthews, who has 107 catches for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. He catches everything he touches. Leading rusher Jerron Seymour has 635 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Houston is led by freshman quarterback John O’Korn, who has 2,889 passing yards with 26 TDs and just eight picks. Many of his passes went to wide out Deontay Greenberry, who caught 76 balls for 1,106 yards and 10 scores. But the calling card for these Cougars is a stingy scoring defense. Houston is 13th in scoring defense (20 ppg) despite finishing next-to-last in the American Athletic Conference in total yards allowed. Junior linebacker Efrem Oliphant leads the team with 123 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss while linebacker Derrick Matthews has 12 tackles for loss and a team-leading seven sacks.
With a victory over Houston, Vandy can tie its program record for most wins in a season. However, a win for the Cougars over an SEC team would be a great way to cap their season. Look for the Commodores to be their usual scrappy selves and pull this one out.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 27, Houston 20
Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will miss the BBVA Compass Bowl. Head coach James Franklin confirmed Carta-Samuels suffered a torn ACL in a game against Georgia in October and underwent surgery at the end of November. Freshman Patton Robinette will take over under center for the bowl game.
“That guy made the ultimate commitment to his team,” Franklin said, according to the Associated Press. “He’s had his surgery and will be back for pro day.”
Carta-Samuels played in 10 games this season, completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 2,268 yards with 11 touchdowns. His leadership on Vanderbilt’s roster was never in doubt and he was one of the most respected players on his team.
Carta-Samuels actually returned to the team for the final three games of the year with a brace on his knee. Franklin said a discussion about holding off on the surgery until after the bowl game against Houston could be possible, but doctors informed them that would require Carta-Samuels to miss out on potential pro workouts. Looking for a more long-term solution, it was decided it would be best for Carta-Samuels to have the surgery at the end of the regular season to allow for more rehab time to be in the bets shape possible when the NFL scouts start taking looks for potential draft picks.
Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand shared a message of support for Carta-Samuels on Twitter…
Robinette appeared in nine games this season. He completed 58 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions and 488 yards. He also rushed for 177 yards and six touchdowns, so he should be capable of giving Vanderbilt some production on offense against Houston on January 4, 2014.
With starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels injured, Vanderbilt will turn to freshman Patton Robinette to lead the Commodores against Texas A&M.
The starting quarterback news was confirmed Thursday by a Vanderbilt athletics department spokesperson and first reported by The Tennesseean.
“Austyn is out and Patton is our starter until we feel like there is a chance where Austyn may be able to come back later in the season,” Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said. Franklin also said Carta-Samiels, a senior, was seeking a second opinion on his injury, but remains hopeful he will be able to return to the field before the end of the season.
“I was told Austyn was getting a second opinion, and I didn’t have the information (Wednesday) night,” Franklin said. “I’m not going to get into the details or specifics of the injury because I don’t do that.”
Carta-Smauels suffered an ankle injury in Vanderbilt’s upset victory over injury-riddle Georgia last weekend. He was replaced by Robinette, who came in to the game to complete nine of 15 pass attempts for 107 yards and was intercepted once. Last week was just the second game the freshman attempted a pass this season.
If Carta-Samuels can not return in the regular season the injury could turn out to be career-ending. Vanderbilt is currently 4-3, putting the Commodores just two wins shy of becoming eligible for a bowl game, but upcoming games against Texas A&M and Florida could Vanderbilt in a tough situation. The Commodores do play Kentucky and Wake Forest before the end of the season, and should have a decent shot against Tennessee as well.
With Carta-Samuels out and Robinette getting the starting job, sophomore Josh Grady will serve as the team’s back-up quarterback.
As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.
For those looking for a slate of games that would really shake the hell out of things, Week 8 would certainly be a good start. No. 3 Clemson falls from the ranks of the unbeaten. No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 Louisville and No. 9 UCLA stumbled mightily, the latter two suffering their first losses of the season. And that’s without even mentioning the utter chaos from the preseason favorites in the SEC East. When the polls are released later today, there should be an entirely new and utterly strange feel to the middle to the latter half of the Top 10. Alabama and Oregon, of course, will remain 1-2. Florida State will likely take over Clemson’s spot in the No. 3 hole, leapfrogging No. 4 Ohio State. After that? How about No. 10 Miami or No. 12 Baylor or No. 14 Missouri climbing into the Top Five? Or Fresno State and Texas Tech moving into the Top 10? Of course, all of this chaos occurs on the eve of the first release of the BCS standings… and with still seven weeks until the final rankings set the two teams that will play in the title game. This is going to be one helluva ride over the next month and a half. Color me giddy over the prospects.
No stage too big, no light too bright
If you saw Jameis Winston walking into the Tigers’ den known as Death Valley, you never would’ve guessed he’s in his first year as a starter and about to play in the biggest game of his life. If you saw him in the pregame locker room video clip shown on the broadcast, you never would’ve guessed he had just five starts under his belt. If you saw him on the field against the Tigers? You knew you were looking at a redshirt freshman who was the most talented player on a field full of them and one who could very well be the Heisman front-runner when it’s all said and done. The 444 yards and three touchdowns he put on Clemson in the 51-14 waxing only told part of the story; at no point during the game, even after his lone interception, did you get the sense Winston was not in complete and total control of both himself and his team. The coolness he displays, the grip he has on whatever the situation may be, would be stunning for a 10-year NFL vet let alone a “kid” a year and a half removed from high school. If there’s such a thing as “it,” Winston has it.
What a turnaround they have going on down on The Plains. Exactly one year ago today, Auburn was sitting at 1-6 and was a week away from a 42-point woodshedding at the hands of Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel. Fast forward 365 days, and the Tigers are sitting at 6-1… with a huge revenge win over Texas A&M stuffed firmly into its résumé. The difference between last year and this one, and between Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn, is stunning in its starkness. In 2012, AU was winless in SEC play; this year, the Tigers are alone at 3-1 and behind only in-state rival Alabama in the SEC West. If you’re looking for one of the midseason front-runners for Coach of the Year, look no further than Malzahn. Not only has he brought hope for a bright future to the Tigers, he’s brought results in the here and now. Just absolutely brilliant, what Malzahn is doing with what’s essentially Chizik’s players.
A day that began looking up for Vanderbilt has taken a decidedly downward turn for the Commodores.
Vandy took a 14-10 lead into the middle of the second quarter when an ill-advised play call turned into a Georgia touchdown, with Shaq Wiggins intercepting an Austyn Carta-Samuels pass and taking it 39 yards for the score to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead.
On the ensuing series, Carta-Samuels suffered some type of lower-leg injury on a sack and left the game. After the initial sideline report had the quarterback laying on a training table in tears as he was tended to by the Vandy medical staff, he was later seen (somewhat gingerly) jogging on the sidelines toward the locker room.
There’s been no official word from Vandy as to Carta-Samuel’s status for the second half. With :25 left in the half, though, Patton Robinette came out for the final series of the second quarter.
Prior to that, Georgia extended its lead to 24-14 on an Aaron Murray two-yard touchdown run with :27 left until halftime.
Speaking of Murray, he set an SEC record for most career yards of total offense, breaking the mark of 12,232 yards previously held by Florida’s Tim Tebow.
UPDATED 2:29 p.m. ET: Head coach James Franklin confirmed that Carta-Samuels will not return to the game due to injury.