What in the world got into Vanderbilt?
Thursday, October 06, 2005
By Scooter Hobbs
Baton Rouge — It was oddly reassuring to see Vanderbilt cough up a 17-15 loss to Middle Tennessee last Saturday.
It wasn’t so much that Vanderbilt had nestled in at 4-0, it was that the Commodores had every logical reason to believe they would be 5-0 and full-blown national darlings by the time LSU hit Nashville this Saturday night.
No, upon further review, it wasn’t even that.
Logic is usually on spring break where the Commodores are concerned anyway.
You could huff and snuff at the competition of Vandy’s 4-0 start, even the 2-0 mark in the SEC, which is somehow still intact and — though no one is taking it quite as seriously anymore — technically tied with Georgia atop the SEC East.
(Georgia, no doubt, is trying to keep a straight face about the whole thing.)
Over the years Vanderbilt has invented more creative ways to manufacture defeat from a dead-lock cinch victory than even your beloved San Antonio Saints.
It’s part of the Commodores’ charm, along with their SAT scores and, even rarer among their SEC brethren, the use of locker room trigonometry to explain how another one slipped away.
Never mind that it was only Wake Forest that the Commodores opened the season with — Vandy drove the length of the field and got the game-winning touchdown in just under the final gun. Dramatic stuff, there.
And never mind that Arkansas hasn’t done much before or since except hold Southern Cal to just over a point-a-minute since losing to Vandy when the Commodores came up with similar late-drive heroics.
But really and truly never mind that against Ole Miss the Commodores led throughout and somehow held off a late charge only because the Rebels basically out-Vanderbilted Vanderbilt.
That’s how Vandy usually manages to never win SEC games and yet somehow did in this case.
The Commodores were clinging to a 23-22 lead when they found themselves first-and-goal at the Rebel 1-yard line with just under a minute to play and Ole Miss fresh out of timeouts.
Only Vanderbilt could screw up by scoring, but if you think about it, that’s what the Commodores did.
Ole Miss’ only chance at that point was to let the Commodores score to get the ball back, hoping they could march down for a touchdown and a 2-pointer to force overtime. Believe me, stranger things have happened to Vanderbilt.
All Vandy had to do, on the other hand, was have a seat and the Rebels never see the ball again.
I was thinking, this is going to be hilarious stuff, even ESPY material — Ole Miss’ defense is going to hit the deck like an air raid siren went off and Vandy is going to take a knee two or three times.
Knowing Vandy’s luck, I was half expecting the Rebels to do their belly-flop and have a sudden gust of wind blow a Commodore into the end zone, the one time in his life he didn’t want to be there.
Instead, the Commodores scored honestly and with real effort and with plenty of time in Vandy years for a Reb comeback.
It made you think, as watching Vanderbilt play football often does, that the SAT is way over-rated.
Sure enough, the Rebels drove smartly deep into Commodore territory and the familiar script was playing out again when ... Ole Miss fumbled and lost it.
Finally, a different ending. It was so mind-boggling to see Vanderbilt win with such a legitimate chance to lose another heartbreaker that it made the following week’s 37-13 win over Richmond seem somewhat anti-climactic. As it should be for an SEC team but rarely is with Vanderbilt.
But the Nashville earth returned to its strange black-and-gold orbit last week when the Commodores not only lost to a directional Sun Belt team, but did it, following yet another heroic last-minute drive, by having a point-blank field goal blocked on the final play of the game.
That is the Vanderbilt we all know and love.
It was reminiscent of the time the Commodores, trailing 16-14 in the final seconds, found themselves first-and-goal against Curley Hallman’s (0-2) first LSU team in 1991.
Trying a safe run to set up the ball in the middle of the field, the Commodores promptly fumbled it away, else Hallman might never have won a game at LSU.
Or take the last time LSU was in Nashville, when the Commodores scored on the game’s final play to pull within 7-6. They were going for two — and given the momentum shift and total confusion in the Tiger secondary at the time, would surely have made it — until back-to-back delay of game penalties pushed them back and allowed LSU to (as you already guessed) block the extra point.
It was reassuring tall tales like this, no doubt, that helped lure new LSU head coach Les Miles into what is otherwise a dangerous minefield known as the Southeastern Conference.
Several of the LSU lads have analyzed last week’s head-scratcher and have decided the Commodores were merely looking ahead with anticipation to the Tigers’ arrival and lost track of Middle Tennessee.
That’s highly possible, but the Commodores can usually come up with a better excuse than that old standby for its various setbacks.
The real question is, given their un-Vandy like behavior earlier, can you really trust them anymore?