DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Freshman quarterback AJ Swann threw four touchdown passes and Vanderbilt rallied to a 38-28 non-conference victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday.
Swann, making his third appearance and first career start, engineered a comeback from a two-touchdown deficit as the Commodores (3-1) scored 24 unanswered points in the second half. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 255 yards and the four scores.
Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said he decided at midweek to start Swann over veteran Mike Wright.
“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 command of an offense. I’m pleased that he was able to show up today.”
Northern Illinois (1-2) suffered its second straight loss as starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi left the game in the second quarter with an unspecified injury.
Trailing by two touchdowns in the third quarter, Swann cut the margin to 28-21 with 6:44 left as he scrambled to find running back Ray Davis on fourth down for a 21-yard score.
Vanderbilt then forced a 28-28 deadlock with Swann’s 31-yard TD pass to Will Sheppard with 4:36 showing. Swann and Sheppard combined again on a 13-yard strike and a 35-28 lead with 1:11 left in the quarter.
Kicker Joseph Bulovas made it 38-28 with his 35-yard field goal early in the fourth.
Sheppard closed with 10 receptions for 171 yards.
Vanderbilt improved to 5-0 all-time against Northern Illinois.
Huskies backup quarterback Ethan Hampton, who went 12 of 19 for 124 yards and two touchdowns, combined with wide receiver Tucker Cole on a 70-yard touchdown pass for a 28-14 lead in the third quarter but the Huskies were shut out the rest of the way.
“I thought he (Hampton) handled it well,” Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock said. “I thought he was prepared and he’s taken a lot of snaps. Obviously he’s played just one game of football for us but he came in and was able to execute the offense. But when your backup quarterback comes in everybody else around him has to play better.”
Vanderbilt: Swann relieved Wright late in last week’s 45-25 loss to Wake Forest and earned the start this week. He went 8 of 11 for 146 yards and two touchdowns against the Demon Deacons.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies celebrated the 10th anniversary of their 2012-13 Orange Bowl season on Saturday, welcoming nearly 40 players back from a 12-2 team that suffered a 31-10 bowl loss to Florida State.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores travel to No. 2 Alabama, the reigning SEC champions, in a conference opener on Saturday.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies close their non-conference season against another SEC foe, at No. 9 Kentucky on Saturday.
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