By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Vanderbilt Head Coach Clark Lea did make a QB switch Saturday, and the move led to the Commodores overcoming a 14-point deficit on the road and defeating Northern Illinois 38-28. A. J. Swann, who had looked good in late action during the Wake Forest defeat, led Vanderbilt to 24 unanswered second half points. It’s the first time since 2017 that Vanderbilt has won three of its first four games, two of them as the visiting team.
Swann completed 18 of 28 passes for 258 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Lea told ESPN. com that he’d made the decision to change QBs at the midweek point, though his earlier statements had indicated that Mike Wright would remain the starter. “We weren’t playing well enough on offense (in previous games) to not look at what we could do to move forward,” Lea said. “We knew we had to open up and see if there was an answer for us. We’ve seen (AJ) in practice. He’s been a consistent playmaker for us in practice and a guy that has shown consistent command of an offense. I’m pleased that he was able to show up today.”
The offense helped bolster a defense that held Northern Illinois scoreless for the final quarter. Northern Illinois lost their starting QB to injury in the second quarter as Michael Lombardi was knocked out of the game. The backup Ethan Hampton was 12 of 19 for 124 yards and two touchdowns, but the Northern Illinois offense did nothing down the stretch.
The other star for the Commodores was wide receiver Will Sheppard, who had 10 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He leads all FBS receivers after three games with seven touchdown catches. Joseph Bulova also had a 35-yard field goal to complete the scoring.
Vanderbilt now has three straight games against ranked SEC opponents, starting Saturday on the road against number two Alabama.