JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt seniors played big part in transition - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt seniors played big part in transition

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Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin gets a lion's share of the credit for what he has done to transform the Commodores' culture into a program that will be going to its third consecutive postseason bowl game.

That will be the first time in school history it has been accomplished. That dates back to 1890.

But what Franklin has accomplished would not have been possible without an extraordinary senior class that was recruited by former coaches Bobby Johnson and Robbie Caldwell.

The 23-21 win Saturday over Wake Forest is a perfect example.

Vanderbilt senior Fitz Lassing started the scoring with a seven-yard touchdown reception from senior transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels. Lassing was a lightly recruited multiple-position player at Montgomery Bell Academy, who played as a true freshman and settled in as a fullback who opened holes for others.

Senior place-kicker/punter Casey Spear finished Wake off when he kicked a game-winning 38-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining.
 
Defensive end Walker May is a redshirt senior, who was playing his final regular season game. With Wake Forest driving in the final seconds, May managed to sack Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price on the Commodores' 44 yard line leaving only one second and a incomplete Hail Mary pass remaining.

And what else can be said about two wide receivers that came here as unheralded, overlooked recruits? That would be seniors Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause.

I remember the first day I saw them. It was one of the first fall practices that included freshmen. Both of them caught my eye. Matthews was 6-3 and out of Madison Academy in tiny Madison, Ala.
Told by Robbie Caldwell that future Pro Hall of Famer Jerry Rice was a relative of Matthews, I followed his career.

Krause had more speed, was a solid 5-11 and 192 pounds and split time as a punt and kick receiver as well as a wide receiver. He had 63 receiving yards against Kentucky as a freshman. He could also run reverses for positive yardage.

Even as freshmen, they looked like SEC players.

I think it's safe to say Matthews will be the most difficult player for Franklin to replace. He leaves as the SEC's most productive wide receiver in history. He has multiple Vanderbilt's receiving records.

With 11 receptions for 126 yards Saturday, Matthews finished the regular season with 257 career catches for 3,616 yards. This season he had 96 catches for 1,209 yards, becoming the first player in SEC history to have back-to-back 90-plus receptions and also the first SEC player to have more than 100 receptions in a season, as he finished with 107.

This season's production by Matthews was even more impressive when you consider their second leading receiver, Chris Boyd, was dismissed from the team Aug. 16 and Matthews often drew double coverage.

But it was a 25-yard reception with two Wake defenders smothering Matthews on a fourth quarter, fourth-and-11 pass that kept the winning drive alive.

"I still don't know how Jordan Matthews made that catch. We probably shouldn't have thrown it, he probably shouldn't have caught it,'' Franklin said. "But that's who he is. Jordan coming back (for his senior season) was good for him and good for us.''

Wake Forest Coach Jim Grobe knew his team did all it could to prevent the completion.

"I thought we had good coverage, but it was a nice play by him,'' Grobe said. "He's done that all year for them. It was a very nice catch.''

So while Franklin has received, deservedly so, most of the credit for these past three seasons, it was a senior class recruited by former coaches Bobby Johnson and Robbie Caldwell that stayed and played significant parts in changing what had been an all-too long losing tradition.

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.   

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