Bennett catches piece of history, but Vandy win is more important
NASHVILLE (AP) — Becoming the top pass catcher in Southeastern Conference history is a special. Celebrating with a victory is even better.
Ask Earl Bennett.
The junior caught a seven-yard pass in the first quarter Saturday that tied him with former Kentucky receiver Craig Yeast for most career catches in league history, then he passed Yeast with his second reception for No. 209. Then Vanderbilt rallied and beat Miami (Ohio) 24-13.
“Right now I’m just taking it one day at a time and focusing on this season and worrying about getting us to a bowl game and helping the team the best way that I can,” Bennett said.
“Individual stats really don’t matter to me. I’m more of a team-oriented guy. I’m just delighted to be playing on a team like I am today. We have some fierce competitors on our team that go out and give it their all.”
With the victory, Vanderbilt improved to 5-3 and one victory away from bowl eligibility. The Commodores have not played in the postseason since 1982. Miami fell to 4-5.
“I just told the guys that we’re trying to win nine games, not six,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “We’ll find out at the end of the year what happens with a bowl game. Getting six wins doesn’t necessarily get you a spot in a bowl game. We’re going to get ready for Florida and heading down there.”
The highlight of the game was Bennett becoming the league’s leading receiver. He came into the game with 46 catches, second-highest in the SEC. He is trying to lead the league in catches for a third straight season. He added eight catches for 85 yards Saturday.
“It means a lot,” Bennett said. “I never thought I would be in this position.”
Johnson pointed out Bennett got the mark in less than three years.
“He’s been extremely consistent, works hard and has been a total team player. I’m happy for Earl. I’m glad to see his name at the top,” Johnson said.
Vanderbilt’s defense had to bail out the Commodores. Miami of Ohio led 13-10 in the third quarter when the Commodores shut them down and allowed only three more points and 86 total yards down the stretch. They also had five sacks.
“I love it,” Johnson said. “I’m an old defensive coach. If you can do that consistently, that’s a plus for us. Our guys are taking a lot of pride in being a defense that’s tough to score on.”
The defensive effort helped the Commodores overcome four turnovers, including three in the second quarter.
“At times, we were our own worst enemy,” Johnson said. “Overcoming adversity is a good way to put it.”
Vanderbilt took the lead for good at 17-13 with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter when reserve quarterback Chris Nickson capped a 70-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Starter Mackenzi Adams left the game with a chest injury earlier in the quarter and did not return.
With the Vanderbilt defense in control, the Commodores put the game away with 6:46 left when Jackson-Garrison scored on a 14-yard run, pushing the score to 24-13.
Vanderbilt rushed for 290 yards, its most since Sept. 22, 2002. Cassen Jackson-Garrison had a team-high 75 yards.
“For the most part we played toe-to-toe with a great Vanderbilt team,” Miami coach Shane Montgomery said. “They wore us down a little at the end, but we held our own for the most part.”
The score went up 10-7 with 6:16 left before halftime when quarterback Daniel Radabaugh connected with Jamal Rogers for a 40-yard touchdown pass on third-and-15.
Vanderbilt tied it on a 27-yard field goal by Bryant Hahnfeldt with 16 seconds left in the half.