Wake Forest can't hold on in 23-21 loss to Vandy
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe loved seeing Justin Jackson pick off a pass and return it 63 yards for a touchdown except that was the only time the Demon Deacons scored in the second half.
The Demon Deacons barely held the ball at all after halftime and failed to protect the lead Jackson's interception return gave them as they lost 23-21 to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
"The problem is you can't only rely on your defense to get points," Grobe said. "We played good on offense in the first and went flat in the second."
Tanner Price was playing without his top receiver with Michael Campanaro out since breaking his collarbone, and Wake Forest (4-8) managed to hold onto the ball for 8 minutes, 38 seconds in the second half. Vanderbilt outgained the Demon Deacons 403-266 and held the ball for more than 38 minutes overall.
The Demon Deacons did force two turnovers in the second half, the last a fumble stripped by Mike Olson with 5:07 left three plays after Price had been intercepted. Wake Forest picked up one first down before having to punt. Even after Carey Spear kicked his third field goal giving Vanderbilt the lead, the Demon Deacons had one last chance.
Defensive end Walker May sacked Price setting up a final play where Price threw deep to Tyree Harris, a pass broken up by Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler to seal the win.
"Thought it was disappointing we didn't win," Grobe said. "This would have been a nice final game for our guys. We've had some tough losses down the stretch and these guys didn't pack it in, they played really hard."
Wake Forest (4-8) lost its fifth straight overall and third straight in this series. The Demon Deacons' last win against Vandy came Nov. 27, 2010 — about three weeks before Vanderbilt hired coach James Franklin was hired.
Vanderbilt (8-4) now has consecutive eight-win seasons for the first time since 1927 and 1928. The Commodores struggled coming off a big win over in-state rival Tennessee. Jordan Matthews set another Southeastern Conference mark as the league's first receiver to top 100 catches.
Matthews' biggest came on the game-winning drive on fourth-and-11 as he hauled in a 25-yarder between two defenders hanging on him.
"I don't know how he made that catch," Franklin said. "We probably shouldn't have thrown it, we probably shouldn't have caught it, but we did."
Nikita Whitlock tipped a pass by Austyn Carta-Samuels, and Jackson grabbed the ball and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown giving Wake Forest its first lead of the game at 21-17 with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
"I'm really proud of how we played today, offensively and defensively," Whitlock said. "I wish we could have played this way all season, especially on defense, we had a lot of fire and made some plays. I'm proud of the senior class, but most of all I'm proud of the team."
Matthews finished with 11 catches for 125 yards, giving him 107 receptions this season. He got the record on his second catch of the game, a 41-yarder, giving him 98 receptions and a single-season record in the league. He topped the 97 receptions Keith Edwards had for Vanderbilt in 1983.
The Commodores switched back and forth between Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette. Carta-Samuels capped the opening drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Fitz Lassing, and Robinette ran for an 8-yard TD.
The Demon Deacons tried to take advantage of Vanderbilt being without cornerback Andre Hal with Ladler suspended for the first half after being ejected from last week's win at Tennessee for targeting.
They took lots of shots downfield but had trouble connecting. Price ran for a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter to tie the school record with his 65th career TD, a mark also held by Riley Skinner. Dominique Gibson also had a 9-yard TD run for Wake Forest.
Price finished throwing for 155 yards and running for 47 more as his team's leading rusher.