It was a good day. pic.twitter.com/URuBvKgfUq
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) October 3, 2021
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Here we go again.
Those may have been the echoes of the thoughts coursing through the minds of the home fans inside Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday.
The Commodores had let a 27-16 lead slip away to visiting and winless Connecticut in the fourth quarter. There was only 67 seconds on the clock. Another night in Nashville on the short end of the stick looked certain.
But there was plenty of time for the Vanderbilt players on the sidelines and on the field to quiet the voices of doubt in their own heads, those voices of the past, and go win a football game.
So 64 seconds later, kicker Joseph Bulovas trotted onto the field and waited through three UConn timeouts called in an attempt to ice the senior and Alabama transfer. The tactic did not work. The kick was true.
The Commodores had won 30-28.
“His name is ‘Big Leg Joe.’ He’s going to make it every time,” Vanderbilt safety Maxwell Worship said. “He’s built for those moments.”
Bulovas’ kick was the second game-winner of his young Vanderbilt career. He made a 38-yarder at Colorado State with 19 seconds remaining to secure a 24-21 victory in September.
The former kick snapped a 10-game losing streak. Saturday’s make ended an eight-game skid at home. Both helped the Commodores continue to grow their belief that better days are ahead.
“What we’re doing is we’re shedding the past, right? We’re shedding the past and we’re stepping into the future here,” Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea said. “That’s painful. That’s hard and that’s painful. And yet we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it as we find our identity here just as competitors and as we find that rhythm that takes us into our future here as a program.
“I’m just happy for our guys. I’m happy for the fact that they can celebrate.”
Vanderbilt, however, was on the verge of being very unhappy once again walking off Dudley Field.
After grinding through a scoreless third quarter, the Commodores scored 10 points in less than two minutes to go up 27-16. They had finally found that separation they had been looking for all evening.
The Huskies, which have not won a game since Oct. 26, 2019, refused to tuck their tails and go quietly into the night. Backup quarterback Steven Krajewski threw an 8-yard touchdown pass with 5:21 to go and ran in a 17-yard score with 1:07 left giving UConn an unlikely 28-27 lead.
Vandy had two timeouts starting at its own 40 to try to get in position for the win.
“It was the offense’s night to finish. And they did,” Lea said. “We’ll take an ugly win any day knowing that we have a long way to go and that hasn’t changed. And we have a lot to learn from tonight and we will do that but we’ll enjoy doing it after a good result.
“What we needed was for (quarterback Ken Seals) to step up and play with confidence. Going out on that drive he had a look in his eye that he was determined to get it done. He stepped up in a big moment for us and I want to celebrate that.”
The Commodores (2-3) got the victory despite allowing 515 yards and 6.4 yards per play. But Lea pointed out that his defensive group’s resiliency in forcing a missed field goal and standing tall on a fourth-down stop in the third quarter kept Vandy in the ball game to begin with.
And cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally’s interception in the fourth quarter changed momentum and indirectly led to Vandy’s final offensive touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter.
Vanderbilt also had two 100-yard receivers (Will Sheppard and Chris Pierce) and got 77 yards rushing out of Rocko Griffin. Seals rebounded from a poor interception to throw for 333 yards on 27 of 40 passing and connected on two touchdown throws.
Like Bulovas, Seals was right in the thick of a second game-winning drive of the season. He led his offense 47 yards to the UConn 13 to set up the final play.
“Every week we go through two-minute drills and drills like that to prepare us for situations like that,” Sheppard said. “So I think as a team we are prepared. We all just looked at each other in the eyes and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We just did what we did to set up the field goal.”
Vanderbilt now shifts focus to a run of seven straight games against SEC opponents. That stretch begins at 11 a.m. CT Saturday at No. 10 Florida (3-2, 1-2 SEC) in a venue where Vandy hasn’t won since 2013.
But it will go there with the possibility of starting a winning streak. That’s thanks to belief and to Bulovas.
“My job is to make the field goal, make the extra point whenever my number is called. I was grateful to get that opportunity,” Bulovas said. “The offense did a great job of getting me in position and the coaching staff did a great job tonight. It wasn’t pretty all the time but it was a Vanderbilt win and we’re proud of that.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.