Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vanderbilt's Music City Bowl victory defies logic — once again

Nobody gave Vanderbilt a chance to beat Boston College in the Music City Bowl. Well, nobody except Vanderbilt.

In fact, the Commodores were fully aware of the ESPN poll that had 90 percent of America predicting the Golden Eagles to roll on New Year's Eve.

Did Coach Bobby Johnson mention the poll to his players during their bowl practices?

"Only every day," Johnson said in the post-game press conference. "I brought up the ESPN poll every day." He added in his tongue-in-cheek way: "We just like to disappoint all those people."

Look at most of the stats alone and you'd conclude that Boston College was indeed victorious. How did the Vanderbilt offensive line handle BC's mammoth defensive front? Um, they didn't. Vanderbilt faced 3rd and 1 five times and was horrendous every time, failing to convert all five times and losing a total of 10 yards in the process. The last two times were in the fourth quarter — first, Vanderbilt could have run down the clock and either scored the winning touchdown or allowed Hahnfeldt to boot the game winner with no time left for the Eages; the last time, Vanderbilt would have run down the clock but instead gave the ball back to BC for yet another shot at winning.

Also, Vanderbilt was outgained 331 yards to 200. Chris Nickson played half the game and was zero for three passing. The offense didn't score a single point. Jared Hawkins wasn't fully healed and the ground game picked up only 79 yards on 36 carries; take away a 30-yard gain by Nickson in the third quarter and that's 49 yards on 35 carries. Oh yeah, and D.J. Moore was injured for the last three quarters of the game.

So how the heck did Vanderbilt win?

The Commodores returned to their early season formula, when they went 5-0:

• Zero turnovers, but three takeaways, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown and two interceptions.
• Zero penalties, while BC had three, including two penalties for 29 yards on Vanderbilt's game-winning drive.
• Ferocious pass defense, forcing Dominique Davis to throw 21 incompletions and two interceptions in 36 passes.
• 16 points on special teams (3 FGs, 1 TD, 1 PAT)
• Brent Upson's nine punts for a net of 42.6 yards, including three downed inside the 20 but not counting the one that was being downed right outside the goal line until true freshman Sean Richardson realized it had touched the BC return man and pushed it into the end zone for the touchdown.
• Bryant Hahnfeldt's perfect performance, including 3-3 FGs and the 45-yard game winner, and 1-1 PATs.
• Just enough offense when it mattered, like some big Larry Smith passes early to set up the two first quarter field goals, then the Nickson run at the start of the third quarter that allowed Upson to launch the punt that careened off the BC return man and rolled into the end zone, then the huge 15-yard pass from Larry Smith to George Smith late in the game to set up Hahnfeldt's winning kick.

What a game and what a great night to be a Commodore.

I'll have more on the big victory today and tomorrow, including:

• Post-game quotes
• Key plays
• Key performances
• And the answer to a question: Is there hope for our offense next season?

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