Vanderbilt pulls out victory over pesky UMass

Vanderbilt’s senior quarterback had that message in mind and delivered it clearly during his postgame press appearance Saturday.

“I’m sick of being overly critical after a win. You know? We won,” Carta-Samuels said after a 24-7 victory over winless Massachusetts, a game in which the Commodores led by three points after three quarters.

“It could have been prettier than 10-7. But at the same time, we responded in the second half, came back, scored 14 points, got out of here with a 17-point victory, and that’s what’s important. I feel like because there’s so much expectation now on our team — and we hold ourselves to a high standard as well — we’re being extremely nitpicky of everything that goes on in the game.”

If Carta-Samuels wanted to nitpick, there was ample opportunity. Vanderbilt arrived in Massachusetts as a 29½-point favorite but found itself in a matchup it hadn’t bargained for with one quarter to play.

A smattering of 16,419 announced fans inside Gillette Stadium, the mostly empty home of the New England Patriots, saw the Commodores (2-2) finally establish some breathing room with 13:44 to play. Jordan Matthews’ 11-yard touchdown reception — the 20th of his career — provided a 17-7 cushion.

After Carta-Samuels (18-of-27, 219 yards, 2 TDs, interception) eluded a sack, Matthews reeled in a short pass and reversed direction, avoiding two tackles and hurdling a defender on his way to the end zone.

“We didn’t have a track team back when I was in high school, but we did play basketball, so that’s probably where I got my hops from,” Matthews said. “I just saw a black (uniform) under my feet, so I was like, ‘Might as well jump.’ ”

Running back Jerron Seymour delivered the knockout punch with a 1-yard touchdown run at the 4:41 mark of the fourth quarter, capping a 14-play, 89-yard drive that saw a tiring UMass defense cave.

The Minutemen (0-4) tested the Commodores after rolling over 49-7 last season in Nashville. A pair of Vanderbilt first-half turnovers and trouble completing early drives kept an ugly and lengthy game tight for most of the way.

“Prettiest win I’ve seen because we got the ‘W’ and that’s all that matters,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “If we can get as many ugly wins as we possibly can get as people describe them, I describe that as a pretty win. We find a way to get it done. We’ve got some adjustment that we’ve got to make.”

Vanderbilt, which hosts UAB next weekend, outgained UMass 406-248 overall and 225-85 in the second half.

Senior Jonathan Krause enjoyed the first 100-yard receiving day of his Vanderbilt career with six catches for 105 yards. Matthews had eight catches for 76 yards. Wesley Tate (64 yards) and Seymour (56) paced the Commodores’ running game.

The first half was a comedy of errors and missed opportunities because of several reviewed plays and UMass’ hurry-up offense.

“I’ve never been in a game with so many stoppages of play,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said.

“It has to drive the fans batty. It seemed like every major play was reviewed for at least three quarters. It really hurt the momentum.”

Vanderbilt struck for its first touchdown in the first quarter this season when Carta-Samuels dropped a 42-yard pass into Krause’s hands on a post route for the first touchdown reception of his career.

But that score came after Carta-Samuels underthrew Krause and was intercepted on the game’s third play, and after Tate was stopped inches shy of a first down on a fourth-and-1 run from the UMass 36 on Vanderbilt’s second series.

The Minutemen answered with their longest scoring drive of the year during a 14-play, 75-yard march that took 6:23 off the clock. A.J. Doyle’s 4-yard completion to Tajae Sharpe on third-and-goal knotted the score at 7.

Doyle’s dink-and-dunk strategy kept the chains moving, and UMass’ uptempo offense had frustrated Vanderbilt defenders standing with their hands on their hips throughout the drive.

Carey Spear’s 32-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the half put the Commodores in front to stay.

Doyle, who exited the game briefly in the second half with a left leg injury, was 20-of-28 passing for 133 yards after connecting on 17 of his first 19 attempts.

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