EVANSTON-Northwestern proved last week that it could win a shootout. On Saturday night, much to the surprise of many observers, the Wildcats proved they could win a low-scoring, defensive affair.
Northwestern's defense turned in an impressive second-half performance and Trevor Siemian once again came off the bench for some fourth-quarter heroics to lead the Wildcats to a come-from-behind 23-13 win over Vanderbilt at Ryan Field.
Northwestern had just two field goals and trailed 10-6 when Siemian replaced a struggling Kain Colter for the first drive of the fourth quarter. Siemian promptly hit 5-fot-6 passes on an 11-play, 86-yard march that ended with a 7-yard Venric Mark run for a touchdown. The key play was a 34-yard completion to Rashad Lawrence that was upheld after a review showed that Lawrence caught the ball before fumbling it out of bounds.
The score gave Northwestern its first lead of the game, but Vanderbilt answered with a field goal to tie it at 13.
Siemian again led the Wildcats down the field before stalling inside the Vandy 5. The Wildcats had to settle for an 18-yard Jeff Budzien field goal and a 16-13 lead.
The defense then came up with a big play to help seal the win. Tyler Scott sacked quarterback Jordan Rodgers, whose fumble at the 20 was recovered by Dean Lowry.
Two plays later, Colter scored on a 29-yard run to drive the final nail in the Commodores' coffin.
It was the second straight week that Siemian led a rally in the fourth quarter for the win. He came off the bench last week to lead the Wildcats to the game-winning score against Syracuse with less than a minute left.
Northwestern's much maligned defense, which was shredded for almost 600 yards by Syracuse, held Vanderbilt to just a field goal and 86 yards in the second half. The Commodores punted on four consecutive possessions in the half, including three straight three-and-outs.
Siemian finished 10-of-16 passing for 91 yards. Colter was 7-of-15 for 42 yards passing, and he rushed for 66 yards.
Mark rushed for a game-high 123 yards on 24 carries, including 78 in the second half.
Vanderbilt dominated play in the first half, holding a 232-85 edge in yards, but miscues in the red zone limited the Commodores to just a 10-3 lead.
The game began ominously when Northwestern cornerback Nick VanHoose went down with a back injury on the second play of the game and did not return.
Vanderbilt took advantage of the much maligned Northwestern pass defense on the opening drive, as Rodgers completed five passes and capped the 13-play, 77-yard march with a 22-yard touchdown strike to a wide open Jordan Matthews.
Northwestern answered with a 40-yard Jeff Budzien field goal.
Vanderbilt drove into Northwestern's red zone two more times but came away with just a 32-yard Carey Spear field goal to show for it. The Commodores had an 11-play drive end at the Northwestern 11 right before the half, when a Rodgers fumble was recovered by David Nwabuisi.
Rodgers finished 17-of-33 passing for 217 yards and one score, and he led the Commodores with 79 yards rushing.