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Vandy caps best season in century at Music City

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Vandy caps best season in century at Music City

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt coach James Franklin kept rattling off how his Commodores had just posted the program's best season in nearly a century by finishing on a seven-game win streak capped by a victory in the Music City Bowl.

Yes, Vanderbilt now wins at football and wins big.

And Franklin says everybody better get used to it because this is just a taste of more to come from the smallest and only private university in the SEC.

``We're not going anywhere,'' an emotional Franklin said.

Jordan Rodgers threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, and the defense forced a season-high five turnovers Monday as the Commodores beat North Carolina State 38-24. At 9-4, it's their best record since going 9-1 in 1915, and it's only the third time Vanderbilt has won as many as nine games in a season.

Vandy's winning streak, currently the best in the Southeastern Conference, is its longest since an eight-game run in 1948, and its 15 wins over the past two seasons is the program's best total since 1926 and 1927. Franklin said those dates mean it's been a very long time since the Commodores had won.

He credited the school for the program's success, citing the support he received in turning around the former SEC doormat.

``It's the university deciding to hire some psycho that nobody ever heard of and gave him a chance and an unbelievable group of guys that bought in and believed in everything that we asked them to do,'' Franklin said.

The Commodores matched the most points they'd ever scored in any of their previous five bowls by halftime with a 28-14 lead, and they turned those turnovers into 17 points. Rodgers threw for only 108 yards and ran four times, but he credited the defense for most of the hard work.

``The way our running game was going, the way our offensive line was blocking, didn't need me to do much,'' Rodgers said. ``And I think I lined up at receiver almost as much as I did at quarterback, and that's because we had the numbers.''

Interim coach Dana Bible ran N.C. State (7-6) after Tom O'Brien was fired at the end of the regular season. It was the Wolfpack's fifth game of the season with at least four turnovers, and it helped wipe out a 424-225 advantage in total offense.

Bible took the blame for two of the interceptions for being aggressive.

``We took the other approach,'' Bible said. ``Again a Southeast Conference team, Southeast Conference talent, those type things. We weren't going to play it safe. We weren't going to play back on this team. We were going to be attacking on it, and if they made a play on it, more power to them.''

This was the 27th bowl for N.C. State, which had won its last two postseason games. But they couldn't overcome mistakes that included a bad shotgun snap that cost the Wolfpack 21 yards on the opening drive.

The Commodores took control from the opening drive, moving 65 yards for a touchdown that put them ahead to stay. Officials initially called Chris Boyd out of bounds, but the video review showed the sophomore got the toes of his right foot down on a 5-yard TD pass from Rodgers.

Rodgers also found Jordan Matthews on a screen the receiver took 18 yards for a TD, while Stacy and Wesley Tate each scored TDs out of the wildcat. Carey Spear added a 30-yard field goal, and Rodgers capped Vanderbilt's scoring with a 15-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Commodores safety Kenny Ladler had the first interception and also recovered a fumble.

``It wasn't about going three-and-out,'' N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon said of the Wolfpack's struggles. ``It was just a matter of turning the ball over.''

Tony Creecy scored on a 1-yard TD run for the Wolfpack, Tobias Palmer returned a kickoff 94 yards for a TD, and Glennon connected with Rashard Smith on a 19-yard TD with 2:06 left.

``They were better today,'' N.C. State safety Earl Wolff said.

The game was so in control that even when something went wrong for Vanderbilt it didn't cost as so many mistakes in the past did. Trey Wilson picked off a Glennon pass on the opening drive of the third quarter only to be stopped by his own teammate, tackle Jared Morse, at the N.C. State 35.

Franklin immediately ran up to Morse yelling at the junior, making it clear that's not how it's done at Vandy these days.

``I'm sure there will be some pictures of that over the Internet,'' Morse said.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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