TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Vanderbilt scared another ranked opponent, but No. 13 Alabama used big defensive plays and a 21-point outburst over three minutes of the third quarter to win.
Quarterback Freddie Kitchens ran 15 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-2, safety Kevin Jackson scored on a 44-yard interception return and the Crimson Tide converted a fumble recovery into a touchdown to give Alabama a 36-18 lead late in the third.
Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) then withstood Alvin Duke's 88-yard punt return for a touchdown and the boos of its own home crowd to hold onto the win over the tough-luck Commodores (0-2, 0-1).
Vanderbilt took an 18-15 lead early in the third quarter thanks in part to a series of big plays, including punter Bill Marinangel's 81-yard touchdown run off a fake.
The second-quarter play was the most telling in a marked change of strategy from Commodores' coach Rod Dowhower. In a 14-7 loss to then-No. 6 Notre Dame last week, Dowhower chose to grind it out in hopes of staying close and pulling one out at the end.
He abandoned that plan against Alabama, throwing a series of risky flanker screens, running a fake reverse on a kickoff and even trying an unsuccessful onside kick to start the second half.
The biggest shocker was Marinangel's weaving run on a fourth-and-5 that gave Vandy a 15-9 lead with 3:49 to go in the second quarter.
The punter took the snap and watched as the middle of Alabama's return team raced downfield to block. Marinangel followed them, got about 30 yards before anyone noticed, then broke one tackle and sprinted untouched the last 40 yards for the score.
It was the longest rush in Vanderbilt history, breaking the 80-yard mark held by three players and most recently set in 1979 by Van Heflin against Air Force.
Minutes later, the Tide made it into the end zone for the first time in four tries inside Vanderbilt's 20-yard line by converting Reggie Grimes' fumble recovery into a touchdown to tie the score 15-15 at halftime.
But it didn't appear to bother Vanderbilt, which got a 44-yard interception return from DeReal Finklin to set up the go-ahead field goal with 10:38 left in the third.
Alabama answered with its onslaught and put Vanderbilt away much earlier than Notre Dame did the week before.
The first touchdown coming when Kitchens, normally a drop-and-throw quarterback, ran the option and picked through the defense for the go-ahead touchdown.
The next five plays from scrimmage included Jackson's touchdown and a Cedric Samuel fumble recovery that set up Curtis Alexander's 1-yard TD run.
That gave the Tide a 36-18 lead and Alabama's defense held through a sloppy fourth quarter in which Kitchens threw two interceptions and Vandy used a 38-yard pass from Damian Allen to Billy Miller to move to the Alabama 4-yard line.
Dwayne Rudd intercepted Allen two plays later to end the threat and Vanderbilt's chances.
Jackson got another interception later, his fourth of the season, as Allen finished 11-for-21 for 139 yards and three interceptions.
Kitchens finished 16-for-27 for 209 yards one touchdown and three interceptions.