WINSTON-SALEM -- Jeff Jennings scored a 10-yard touchdown with 1:48 to play to give Vanderbilt a 24-20 lead, and the VU defense thwarted a last-minute Wake Forest comeback as the visiting Commodores won their season opener for the first time since 1997.
Jennings run over left tackle capped a four-play, 49-yard drive highlighted by Jay Cutler's 28-yard pass to true freshman Earl Bennett with 3:02 to play.
Cutler then hit George Smith with a seven-yard slant on VU's next play to take Vandy to the Wake 14 yard line, and then Jennings rushed for nine yards over the middle the play before his game-winning touchdown.
The Deacons nearly answered when quarterback Ben Mauk led the Deacons from their own 31 yard line down to the Vandy 30 with under a minute to play.
But on second-and-ten play from there, Mauk was swarmed by a blitzing Vandy defense and sacked by defensive end Herdley Harrison. Two plays later, Mauk's desperation heave down the left sideline was tipped and nearly corralled by Chris Davis just outside Vanderbilt's goal line.
The ball appeared to hit the ground, and two officials both ruled an incomplete pass. The ACC's new instant replay rule, a review of the play was requested from the press box. However, officials quickly affirmed the call on the field, and the Commodores left North Carolina with their fourth straight win over Wake when Cutler took a knee at the Vandy 48.
Cutler's play kept Vandy in control for most of the evening. The senior quarterback, a preseason All-SEC selection, set a career-high with 365 yards of total offense, including a 20-yard touchdown strike to Marlon White early in the second quarter. His play overshadowed an outstanding effort by Wake tailback Micah Andrews, who torched Vandy with 292 yards of total offense.
"They're never easy, I'll guarantee that," remarked Vandy coach Bobby Johnson after the game. "We're very proud of the way our guys played, in the fourth quarter especially. It was a tough game against a tough team. They ran the ball down our throat and somehow we found a way to win the football game. I'm proud of our guys."
Vandy's win was their first victory in a road opener since 1993, which also came in Winston-Salem against the Deacons. The Commodores' win was their fourth straight over Wake Forest in the series.
Vanderbilt travels to face Arkansas next week before returning home for five straight home games.