OXFORD, Ohio - The Miami Redhawks may be considered one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference, but it was the Vanderbilt Commodores that flexed a little SEC muscle in Thursday night's match up at Yager Stadium.
Tabbed as a four-point underdog heading into the game, the Commodores used a few spectacular plays from do-everything junior D.J. Moore and a solid ball-control offensive attack directed by senior quarterback Chris Nickson to dominate the favored Redhawks and capture a 34-13 victory.
Moore, who played all three phases of the game for the Commodores, recorded the eighth interception of his career to set up one Vanderbilt score, returned a punt for 91-yards to set up another and made a key sack on a third and long situation during the first half.
Nickson, who was officially named as the starting signal caller earlier this week, accounted for 257 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the game and led a Commodore rushing attack that piled up nearly 270 yards against the Redhawks heralded defense.
Things did not initially start off well for the Commodores, as senior tailback Jeff Jennings fumbled six plays in, giving Miami great field position at the Commodore 42-yard line. The Redhawks would move the ball inside Vanderbilt's 19-yard line on the ensuing possession but had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Nate Parseghian to give Miami the early 3-0 lead.
Vanderbilt responded on its second possession with a 8-play, 71-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a four-yard strike from Nickson to senior receiver Sean Walker.
D.J. Moore then picked off Miami quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh's first pass on the Redhawks second possession to put the Commodores back in business and inside Miami's 20-yard line. Vanderbilt failed to get the ball into the end zone on the following possession and had to settled for a 42-yard field goal by senior Bryant Hahnfeldt.
Moore would set Vanderbilt up in great field position less than five minutes later, when he returned a Jason Richardson put for 91-yards before being tackled at the one-yard line. After two unsuccessful attempts, Chris Nickson was able to break the plain in the end zone for a one-yard score and give the Commodores a commanding 17-3 lead before the end of the first quarter.
Miami closed the gap to 17-10 with less than 12 minutes to go in the second quarter when Raudabaugh hit receiver Eugene Harris on a 30-yard pass play for the Redhawks only touchdown.
Nickson then dazzled the crowd with a 59-yard run on Vanderbilt's very next offensive play to put the ball inside Miami's 7-yard line. After losing seven yards on a toss play to Jeff Jennings, Nickson eluded two tacklers for a 14-yard touchdown. Bryant Hahnfeldt would connect on his second field goal attempt later on in the quarter to give the Commodores a 27-10 lead going into the half.
After a scoreless third quarter for the Commodores, Nickson and crew put the game on ice with a three-yard touchdown by junior Jared Hawkins. Hawkins, who was playing his first game since sustaining a concussion against Kentucky last season, rushed 51-yards on 13 carries. Sophomore Gaston Miller was also productive in the running game, rushing for 41 yards on 10 carries.
"It feels great. We had some typical first game errors but I thought our guys played extremely hard," said Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson after the game. "We made some big plays that got us a lead and we were able to protect it. We were very pleased with the way we played.
"We fumbled our first series and they got three points on us and we weren't pleased with that, but then our big plays started coming up. D.J. made one, Chris made one, Sean made one. It's sure a lot better than to driving the ball down the field, it's just tough. We had some trouble sustaining some drives, especially in the second half. Hopefully we can keep making those big plays during the year but we've got to get more consistent when we're trying to run the football, move the football and protect the lead."
The win marked the largest margin of victory for the Commodores in a road contest since 1991. It also marked the third season opening win for the Commodores in the past four years. The last time Vanderbilt had won three season openers in a four year period was in 1985-1988.