Scores
AutoZone LIBERTY BOWL

Final

Cincinnati 31

(10-3, 5-2 American)

Vanderbilt 24

(6-7, 2-6 SEC)

Coverage: ABC

3:30 PM ET, December 31, 2011

Liberty Bowl, MEMPHIS, TN

1 2 3 4 T
CIN 0 14 0 1731
VAN 7 0 7 1024

Top Performers

Passing: L. Smith (VAN) - 142 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: I. Pead (CIN) - 28 CAR, 149 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: C. Boyd (VAN) - 2 REC, 69 YDS, 1 TD

Kickoff return TD sparks Cincinnati past Vanderbilt in Liberty Bowl

Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Cincinnati coach Butch Jones rang the bell on the AutoZone Liberty Bowl trophy, eager to get the Bearcats' party started.

And he knew just the place to celebrate in Memphis.

"We officially get to ring in the new year on Beale Street," Jones yelled.

Isaiah Pead ran for 149 yards and a touchdown, and Ralph David Abernathy IV's 90-yard kickoff return early in the fourth quarter put Cincinnati ahead to stay as the Bearcats edged Vanderbilt 31-24 on Saturday.

The Bearcats (10-3) capped the season with their third straight victory by snapping a two-game skid in bowl games. It was their first bowl win since downing Southern Miss in the 2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl. They also notched their fourth 10-win season in the past five years, bouncing back from 4-8 in 2010 during Jones' first season.

"A 10-win season is very hard to do in college football," Jones said.

But the co-Big East Conference champs had to work to put away Vanderbilt (6-7), a team that tied for fourth in the Southeastern Conference's East Division, despite forcing three turnovers and coming up with two sacks. The Commodores led 21-17 when Abernathy became the first Cincinnati player to return a kickoff for a TD in the program's 13 bowl appearances.

Abernathy is the grandson of the civil rights leader who was in Memphis with Martin Luther King when he was assassinated in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, a few miles away from the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward called the return a dagger, and Jones called it very fitting for the Abernathy family.

"He really provided a spark for us on that kickoff return. We challenged our kickoff return," Jones said. "We've been close all year, and we told them that today was the day we were going to get one. And obviously, they responded."

Vandy's Archibald Barnes blocked Tony Miliano's 39-yard field goal with 3:58 left, giving the Commodores the ball with plenty of time to go ahead. Nick Temple picked off Larry Smith's pass with 3:15 remaining, and Pead sealed the victory with a 12-yard TD run with 1:52 left.

Pead was the game's MVP, and the senior finally got to celebrate a bowl win.

"It was just a huge burden off of our backs," Pead said.

Vanderbilt kicked a 35-yard field goal with 35 seconds left, but the Bearcats recovered the onside kick to kneel down for the victory.

"It got exciting in the second half," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "It was fairly ugly in the in the first half from our perspective. But we did come out and make it a more exciting game."

George Winn also scored on a 69-yard TD run when he replaced Pead, while the Big East Offensive Player of the Year got his helmet fix. Jones credited the equipment manager as an unsung hero with Winn scoring on the longest run of his career.

Zach Collaros, playing for the first time since breaking his right ankle Nov. 12, threw a touchdown pass but was intercepted twice. He was just 12 of 29 for 80 yards passing, though he moved around well. Pead was just happy to have Collaros back.

"We have all the faith in the world in Munchie (Legaux)," Pead said. "But to have not only your captain and the heart of the team, he was the heartbeat. He was our brother."

Vanderbilt missed notching only its second winning record since 1982 with the loss.

This was only the fifth bowl for the SEC's only private university yet the second in four seasons. But the Commodores had trouble getting their offense going to match a defense that came up with three sacks and two interceptions -- both by Casey Hayward.

Smith replaced Jordan Rodgers at quarterback in the third quarter, and he threw for a season-high 142 yards, including a short pass to Chris Boyd that the receiver took 68 yards up the right sideline before pulling up lame and diving into the end zone for a 21-17 lead with 14:03 left that lasted only as long as Abernathy could sprint down field after the kickoff.

The Bearcats led 14-7 at halftime and couldn't take advantage of two Vanderbilt turnovers in the third quarter.

The Commodores first muffed the opening kickoff before Rodgers was intercepted by Camerron Cheatham. Rodgers, the younger brother of NFL Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, didn't play after that. Franklin turned to Smith, who started the Commodores' Music City Bowl win in 2008.

Rodgers was 4 of 14 for 26 yards passing and ran for 33 yards. The Commodores had 106 yards total offense in the first half but finished with 295.

"Did you watch the first half?" Franklin said when asked about the change. "It wasn't a whole lot of fun. We weren't doing the things we were supposed to do. I don't mean just Jordan, it was everybody."

Smith nearly pulled it off. He drove the Commodores 52 yards with a couple of key passes to set up Jerron Seymour's 5-yard TD run with 3:53 left in the quarter to tie it up at 14-all.

Zac Stacy also ran for a TD.

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Team Stat Comparison

 
CIN
VAN
1st Downs2014
Total Yards301295
Passing80168
Rushing221127
Penalties5-556-39
3rd Down Conversions4-156-19
4th Down Conversions0-01-2
Turnovers23
Possession30:4629:14

Passing Leaders

CincinnatiC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Collaros12/29802.812
VanderbiltC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Smith8/191427.511

Rushing Leaders

CincinnatiCARYDSAVGTDLG
Pead281495.3118
Winn67813.0169
VanderbiltCARYDSAVGTDLG
Stacy18573.2111
Rodgers9333.7010

Receiving Leaders

CincinnatiRECYDSAVGTDLG
Kelce3299.7013
Robinson4164.007
VanderbiltRECYDSAVGTDLG
Boyd26934.5168
Matthews45614.0024

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERCINVAN
TD07:34Zac Stacy 7 Yd Run (Ryan Fowler Kick) 07
SECOND QUARTERCINVAN
TD14:17George Winn 69 Yd Run (Tony Miliano Kick) 77
TD00:12Anthony McClung 8 Yd Pass From Zach Collaros (Tony Miliano Kick) 147
THIRD QUARTERCINVAN
TD03:53Jerron Seymour 5 Yd Run (Ryan Fowler Kick) 1414
FOURTH QUARTERCINVAN
FG14:41Tony Miliano 44 Yd 1714
TD14:03Chris Boyd 68 Yd Pass From Larry Smith (Ryan Fowler Kick) 1721
TD13:51Ralph Abernathy 90 Yd Kickoff Return (Tony Miliano Kick) 2421
TD01:52Isaiah Pead 12 Yd Run (Tony Miliano Kick) 3121
FG00:24Ryan Fowler 35 Yd 3124