NASHVILLE -- Sophomore D.J. Moore kick-started Vanderbilt's win over Mississippi with a 33-yard kickoff return, leading to a touchdown run by Chris Nickson minutes later for an upper hand the Commodores would never relinquish. It was their first opening-drive touchdown since last October.
The win snapped a four-game Southeastern Conference losing streak for the Black and Gold dating back to last Oct. 14.
Moore continued his stellar play with an interception at the Mississippi 28-yard line to halt a drive and turn the ball back over to his offense, which took it into the end zone four plays later on a 9-yard run by Cassen Jackson-Garrison.
Moore is no surprise to Vanderbilt fans. He has quietly made a name for himself within the SEC after playing in every game and starting in nine straight at cornerback last year as a true freshman.
The South Carolina native is a former two-time All-State wide receiver out of Broome High and was the Region 2-2A Player of the Year.
He hasn't missed a beat playing in arguably the toughest conference in college football and is a big reason why the Commodores are considered to have their most talented team in many years.
Moore finished 2006 ranking among the Commodores' top 10 with 27 solo tackles and 37 total tackles. He shared the SEC and team lead with three fumble recoveries with teammate Curtis Gatewood, culminating with his selection to the SEC All-Freshman team as selected by coaches.
"I think I've gotten a little better at the fundamentals this year," Moore said. "I'm a better tackler and I'm smarter after having gotten to play last year. I didn't really expect to be playing to the extent I'm playing now this early in my career."
While coach Bobby Johnson has noticed the improvement in skills, he also admires the way Moore goes about his business on the field.
"He's just sort of a sponge right now," Johnson said. "He's trying to do it all and we're trying to give him the opportunity to do it. He studies things and he's a smart kid.
"Obviously he's a great talent, loves to play the game, and we're very pleased with D.J. He has a lot of fun playing and we want to put him in situations that he can make some big plays."
"Wherever they put me," Moore said. "I just want to play wherever I can get on the field. If they want to put me on offense, I'll play that too. I just want to be on the field at all times."
No problem there, DJ.
Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer.