Tuesday, September 30, 2008


People love an underdog, and lots of people are saying Vanderbilt has a good shot at Auburn this week. But the last time the Commodores were 4-0 and the nation was singing their praises, in 2005, they played at home and lost to MTSU. (Thankfully, the GameDay crew wasn't there.)

Vanderbilt people know how dangerous this Auburn team is. Yes, we believe we can win, but we also know our history and know we could lose 35-7 too.

Coach Bobby Johnson certainly gets it. When asked how he's keeping his team grounded with all the talk of national rankings and bowl bids, he said, "You throw on that Auburn film." That's exactly right. You show them the guy who took preseason All-American Tray Blackmon's place this week and won CBS' player of the game.

Everybody's talking about Auburn's unbelievable third down defense and how all Vanderbilt has to do is move the ball on first and second down. But Johnson says: "They're very good on first and second down, too."

This is not a coach poor-mouthing his team and praising another team, a la Vince Dooley or Lou Holtz. Vanderbilt may be just a handful of spots below the Tigers in the polls, but the Commodores, whose success depends on their running game, will be outmanned on Saturday and in need of some big breaks and hometown magic.


And that's a good thing. Could Saban win at Vanderbilt? Not like he's doing right now at Bama.

But like good coaches, both Bobby Johnson and Nick Saban are downplaying the success of their teams. They just have different ways of doing it.

Yesterday, Saban stared down reporters, acted like he had no idea he coached the No. 2 team in the nation, and declared that nobody remembered who was ranked No. 1 this time last year. (Actually, it was LSU.)

Like Steve Martin, the man he resembles, Bobby Johnson has a sense of humor. When asked yesterday in his weekly press conference about Vanderbilt's No. 19 ranking and undefeated record, Johnson said, "Well, I do realize it's better than 0-4."

Then he said, "I'm very pleased with what we're doing, I just want to do more of it."

Amen, brother.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


It was 1955, in the Gator Bowl. Vanderbilt won 25-13.

Since then, the two teams have played 13 times with Auburn winning every time, by an average score of 36-12.


In fact, Auburn is the only SEC team the Commodores have failed to beat since the magical Hall of Fame Bowl season of 1982.

Here's the breakdown:


Alabama: (1) 1984
Arkansas: (1) 2005
Auburn: NONE
Georgia: (3) 1991, 1994, 2006
Florida: (1) 1988
Kentucky: (9) 1985, 1987, 1991-1995, 2000, 2003
LSU: (1) 1990
Ole Miss: (7) 1984, 1991-1992, 1999, 2005, 2007-2008
Miss State: (2) 1988, 2004
South Carolina: (4) 1998-1999, 2007-2008
Tennessee: (1) 2005


Just watch: Vanderbilt will be a trendy pick against Auburn on Saturday in Nashville. And it makes sense, too. So far this season, the Commodores have sported a big-play defense, a steady offense that steps up when it counts, and opportunistic special teams. And the Tigers have had sketchy quarterback play and a shoot-themselves-in-the-foot offense, but also one of the nation's toughest defenses.

Don't be so sure. Historically, this is the time of year that the Tigers turn their season around. Take a look at the Tuberville era:

2000: Auburn destroys Vanderbilt 33-0 on the Plains en route to a berth in the SEC Championship game.

2001: Coming off a humiliating loss at Syracuse, the Tigers couldn't stop Lew Thomas but slipped past Vanderbilt 24-21 in Nashville thanks to an unsuccessful fake field goal late in the game that involved the holder running the option and pitching to the kicker. Auburn won four straight, including a victory over No. 1 Florida and Steve Spurrier.

2002: In Bobby Johnson's first season, the Tigers rebounded from a loss to USC by pounding Vandy 31-6 on the Plains.

2003: After failing to score against USC and Georgia Tech, a winless Auburn team went to Nashville and found just what the doctor ordered: A 45-7 victory.

2007: A shaky Auburn team with a record of 3-2 hosted Vanderbilt and won 35-7.


OK, so maybe the RedHawks and the Owls are nothing to write home about.

But what about South Carolina and Ole Miss?


Remember how, on the eve of the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game, Lou "Doctor of Something" Holtz was talking about how the No. 25 Gamecocks had one of the best defenses in the nation?

Sure looked like it against Vanderbilt. Those guys were fast and tough, and it was a credit to the Commodore players and fans that they rang up 24 points on the ’Cocks.

But after game Holtz said he was all wrong about the Gamecocks. Seems they couldn't have a good defense if they gave up points to Vanderbilt.

But what happened the next week? South Carolina brought the same stiff defense to the Georgia game and held the No. 1 Bulldogs to 14 points (Now No. 2 Alabama yielded 30 points to the Dawgs). So because Georgia had scored 14 points against a defense that had given up 24 to Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs dropped to No. 3 after that game.

I contend the Gamecocks defense is for real and that Spurrier will be taking his team to a better bowl than the so-called experts are pegging him for.


So, Ole Miss must not be very good because they lost to Vanderbilt, right?

Anybody who saw the Commodores play in Oxford knows how talented the Rebels are.

And then they shock Florida on Saturday. Now everybody's talking about how poorly Tebow played and how the Gators underestimated the Rebels, who must not have been very good because they lost to Vanderbilt.

I contend the Rebels are for real — on offense and defense — and that Houston Nutt's Rebels will see the Top 25 before the season's over. Heck, with a narrow loss to Wake Forest and Vanderbilt, they should be in the Top 25 right now.

Why can't Vanderbilt's victories over these two teams reflect credit on the Commodores without detracting from those teams?


As you know, Vanderbilt is 4-0. But did you know — or remember — that the Commodores have been underdogs in three of those games.

Sure, they were outmanned, at least on paper, against South Carolina and Ole Miss. But what in the name of Cornelius Vanderbilt were the Commodores doing as underdogs in their season opener at Miami of Ohio?

That game was a blowout, and the rest is history.

Expect the Commodores to be underdogs in their games against Georgia in Athens, Florida and Tennessee in Nashville and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, and maybe even Kentucky in Lexington. I'm assuming they'll be favored against Miss State in Starkville and Duke in Nashville, but you never know.

So there's a chance Vanderbilt could be the underdog in eight games this season.


After I check the new polls on Sunday, I like to go over to espn.com and read Mark Schlabach's and Bruce Feldman's bowl predictions.

This week, Schlabach has Vanderbilt playing Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl, and Feldman has the Commodores battling Kansas State in the Independence Bowl.

Here's where they put the rest of the SEC, and yes, they've both jumped feet-first onto the Bama bandwagon:

ALABAMA: BCS (Opponent: Oklahoma) (Schlabach); BCS (Missouri) (Feldman)

LSU: Sugar (BYU); Capital One (Ohio State)

GEORGIA: Capital One (Wisconsin); Cotton (Texas Tech)

FLORIDA: Outback (Michigan State); Sugar (South Florida)

AUBURN: Cotton (Texas); Outback (Wisconsin)

KENTUCKY: Music City (Clemson); PapaJohns.com (Pittsburgh)

OLE MISS: Chick-Fil-A (Maryland); Chick-Fil-A (Maryland)

SOUTH CAROLINA: Independence (Kansas State); Music City (Georgia Tech)

TENNESSEE: PapaJohns.com (UConn); Liberty (Marshall)




So I called the Vanderbilt ticket office this week to check on things. No surprise: All the home SEC games sold out, plenty of tickets left for the Duke game.

I was about to hang up but then I just had to ask:

What about bowl tickets? I mean, if Vanderbilt does happen to go to a bowl game this year and all that?

I felt embarrassed to have even asked such a thing. And my ticket representative appeared a bit startled by the question. Then she hollered out to another ticket representative who told her that if the Commodores do get a bowl bid then the tickets would first be offered to the National Commodore Club.

Let's put it this way: If Vanderbilt does go bowling, I think you'll be able to get a ticket if you want to pay for one, even if every single Commodore ticket holder and booster buys tickets. Vanderbilt's stadium seats far less than any bowl stadium in which the Commodores would be playing.


Ah, this is how you do it. The Commodores have a bye week and move up to No. 19 in both polls — up two slots in the AP and one space in the USA Today poll.

Here's how the SEC breaks down:

1. LSU (No. 3 AP, No. 2 USA Today)
2. Alabama (2/4)
3. Georgia (11/10)
4. Florida (12/13)
5. Auburn (13/14)
6. Vanderbilt (19/19)
7. Kentucky (28/28)
8. Ole Miss (36/43)

12. South Carolina
12. Tennessee
12. Miss State
12. Arkansas

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Here's where the rest of the SEC has been projected to go bowling, according to Mark Schlabach and Bruce Feldman of ESPN:

• Preseason: BCS Championship Game (Schlabach); Cotton Bowl (Feldman)
• This week: Sugar Bowl; Cotton Bowl

• Preseason: Sugar Bowl; Sugar Bowl
• This week: Capital One Bowl; Sugar Bowl

• Preseason: Cotton Bowl; Capital One Bowl
• This week: Capital One Bowl; Orange Bowl

• Preseason: Papa John's Bowl; Chick-Fil-A Bowl
• This week: Cotton Bowl; Capital One Bowl

• Preseason: Fiesta Bowl; Capital One Bowl
• This week: Outback Bowl; Outback Bowl

• Preseason: Independence Bowl; no bowl
• This week: Independence Bowl; Papa John's Bowl

• Preseason: Outback Bowl; Music City Bowl
• This week: Papa John's Bowl; Music City Bowl

• Preseason: Chick-Fil-A Bowl; Outback Bowl
• This week: Chick-Fil-A Bowl; Chick-Fil-A Bowl

• Preseason: Music City Bowl; Independence Bowl
• This week: No bowl; no bowl

• Preseason: Liberty Bowl; Liberty Bowl
• This week: Music City Bowl; Liberty Bowl

• Preseason: No bowl; Papa John's Bowl
• This week: No bowl; no bowl

Here's a link to the complete projections:



Sure, it's way too early to be talking about bowls, but that doesn't mean everybody's not doing it. I've been tracking ESPN's bowl projections since the start of the season, and each of their so-called experts have listed 10 SEC teams from the get-go.

Of course, Vanderbilt was nowhere to be seen in the beginning. Here's how the Commodores have progressed in the eyes of Mark Schlabach and Bruce Feldman:

• Preseason: No bowl (Schlabach); no bowl (Feldman)

• After we beat Miami(O) 38-13: No bowl; no bowl

• After we beat South Carolina 24-17: Music City Bowl; no bowl

• After we beat Rice 38-21: Music City Bowl; no bowl

• After we beat Ole Miss 23-17: Liberty Bowl; Independence Bowl

Ah, Shreveport. We can only hope.

Here are the complete projections:



*Or you're on drugs.

Could anybody in college football possibly have done more to help his team win on Saturday than Ryan Hamilton?

I'll answer that: No.

Here's what the 6-2, 210-pound (his neck weighs 50 pounds, look at the photo) junior from Pennsylvania did for the Commodores in their 23-17 win over Ole Miss:

• Had three interceptions and 103 return yards. He returned the first pick in the first quarter — with the Rebels leading 10-0 after two Vandy fumbles and deep in Commodore territory — 79 yards for a touchdown. He returned the second interception, also in the first half, for 23 yards. His third interception, deep in Rebel territory, sealed the game for the Commodores.

• Had 6 tackles, including a huge fourth-down tackle to finish off a goal line stand for the Commodores early in the third quarter.

• Four plays later, with the Commodores losing the battle of field position and punting deep out of their own end zone, Hamilton raced down to cover the punt and recovered a fumble.

After the game, Hamilton said in the press conference what you'd expect him to: "I am pretty happy. It's a team sport; you saw the plays everybody else was making. Nothing would have happened without everybody doing their part."

OK, it's a team sport, and I'm glad Ryan Hamilton's on our team.


Here's how Vanderbilt stacks up against the rest of the SEC in this week's polls.

1. Georgia (3 AP/3 USA Today)
2. Florida (4/4)
3. LSU (5/6)
4. Alabama (8/10)
5. Auburn (15/16)
6. Vanderbilt (21/25)
7. Kentucky (36/32)
8. South Carolina (39/NR)
9. Arkansas (NR/NR)
9. Ole Miss (NR/NR)
9. Miss State (NR/NR)
9. Tennessee (NR/NR)


The Commodores are in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1984 (not to be confused with the magical Hall of Fame Bowl season of 1982).

In the Associated Press poll, just released, the Commodores are ranked No. 21. They come in at No. 25 in the USA Today poll.

In 1984, the Commodores reached No. 19 after defeating Alabama 30-21 on the road. Earlier that season, they had gone on the road and defeated Maryland 23-14; it was the same Terrapin team that would erase a 31-0 deficit to defeat the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes, led by Bernie Kosar. Vanderbilt had also won home games against two bad teams that would later turn their fortunes around — Kansas State (26-14) and Kansas (41-6).

The 1984 ranking lasted one week. The Commodores lost at home to lowly Tulane, then lost a close one to LSU in Baton Rouge and a blowout to Georgia in Athens. Their only victory the rest of the season was at home against Ole Miss, and they finished the season 5-6. Sound familiar?

I don't bring all this up to ruin the celebration. What were the odds that this team — returning only two offensive starters, none on the offensive line — would make the Top 25 at any point this season? Not good. This is a monumental achievement for Coach Bobby Johnson. But it certainly doesn't mean the Commodores are a lock to have a winning season and go to a bowl.

"Our guys are pretty smart," Johnson told the AP today when notified of his team's ranking. "They realize it won't help you win games."

We've been here before. We were 4-0 during Jay Cutler's senior season and we finished 5-6. Do I think we can do it? Absolutely. But we're in unchartered waters, and with Auburn, Georgia and Florida looming on the schedule, the potential for moral victories remains.

Right now, though, we've got zero moral victories... and four real ones.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

WE'RE 4-0

We kick. To Wallace. What? Are we nuts?

23 seconds and 53 yards to go.

Snead runs. 14 seconds and 46 yards to go.

Snead throws. Incomplete. We're still rushing the passer. 8 seconds and 46 yards to go.




Can you believe it? The Rebels haven't scored since the first quarter.

And now we're winning 20-17 with 1:22 to play. Adams up to the 23 and it's fourth and long. Now we're going to run down the

We've been outgained by the Rebels 378 yards to 202 yards. I can't believe we're this close. Now it looks like Hahnfeldt's going to attempt a 40-yard field goal.

It's good! We're leading 23-17 with 31 seconds left.

Let's forget about last year. Hahnfeldt is the man.


Now the fans are throwing stuff on the field.

And now MacKenzie keeps the ball for 17 yards and a first down.

And now Jared Hawkins is trucking down the sideline with one man to beat and gets tripped up. 1st & 10 on the Rebel 23 and some Ole Miss fans are headed back to the Grove to drown their sorrows. But this one's not over yet.


D.J. Moore's jumping up and down. The Rebels' McCluster apparently fumbled the ball into the end zone and out of the back of it and now it looks like we've got the ball on the 20. Chris Marve stripped the ball. Now the referees are reviewing it:

• Was McCluster down?
• Did he score?
• Was the ball live when it went out of the end zone?
• Do we have the lead and the ball?
• Or are we losing?




• Stone throws a Rebel for a loss. 2nd & 12.
• Incomplete pass. 3rd & 12. This is a huge play right here. 4:26 to play.
• Sweet! The Rebels burn up a timeout because the play clock runs down. That sums up this game: We're in the lead and we're leaving too much time on the play clock when we snap the ball and they're losing and they're running down the clock.
• 3rd & 12 on the 11. Snead throws to McCluster on the UM 33. McCluster's a great athlete, the featured guy in their Wild Rebel formation; Darren McFadden was the inspiration behind Nutt's Wild Hawg.
• Benoit, bad hand and all, drills a Rebel. 2nd & 5 on the UM38. 3:35 to play.
• Snead from the gun. On the move. Busted coverage and McCluster snags it and flies down to the VU7. We're in trouble.


Second and inches inside the Rebel 40. Hawkins doesn't get it. He's having trouble against these guys.

Why aren't we letting the play clock run down? Hawkins stuffed again and there's a penalty against us for illegal shift.

Second and inches and now we're forced to punt? That's weak. I don't care how tough the Rebels are. South Carolina was tougher and we moved the ball on them.

Now Upson boots another punt into the end zone. About five minutes left in the game. Our offense has done nothing to help us in this game and our D has stepped up time after time. Can they do it again?


We need a turnover down here in Rebel territory.

• Eason picks up 5 yards. 2nd & 5 on the UM15.
• Snead incomplete. He's having communication problems with his receivers. 3rd & 5. This is big.
• Snead out of the shotgun, fires a pass to McCluster at the UM30. Can you imagine if the Rebels score and we have to respond by driving the length of the field? Don't know that we could do it against these guys.
• Enrique Davis hauls the rock up to the UM37. That dog can hunt. 2nd & 3.
• We're offsides but they decline because Davis picks up the first. 1st & 10 at the UM42.


The Rebels just missed a field goal that would have tied the game. Now Adams is back in the game at quarterback. We need to run down the clock — oh, and a touchdown would be nice.

• Adams to Wheeler, just short of the first down.
• Hawkins rips off a first down up to the VU42.
• Adams holds the ball for only a couple. Man, the Rebels D is tough.
• 2nd and 8. Graham loses yards on a run.
• 3rd and 10. Adams gets crushed back at the 36 by Greg Hardy.
• Nine minutes left and we're punting.
• Great punt and a block in the back on the return. Ole Miss starts the drive on their own 10. (8:51)


Adams chunks the ball out of the end zone. Walker reeled it in but was out of bounds.

Hahnfeldt boots the field goal and at last we're winning, 20-17.


Man, it's great having a backup quarterback like MacKenzie Adams. He led us down the field and then kept his composure down on the UM 09 during a busted play. When the fourth quarter begins, it'll be third and goal on the Rebel 13 yard line.

We've been hanging tough and now we're in a position to take the lead. Stay tuned.


Chris Nickson and D.J. Moore are the two guys we can least afford to lose. Moore's hobbled with a hip pointer and Nickson just ran into the locker room with a hurt shoulder.

But we just forced the Rebels to punt again. That Broderick Stewart can fly.

Now Ole Miss shanks the punt. It's there for us if we want to take it.


Nickson comes up hobbling. MacKenzie Adams replaces him and runs a draw play and now we're punting again. The Rebels have completely shut down our run game.

Upson's punt rolls into the end zone.


Remember what I said about how we needed to hang tough like we did against the Gamecocks and wait for a big special teams play?

Well, how ’bout this:

• We pull of a spectacular goal line stand but get the ball on our own half-yard line. Upson has to punt deep out of the end zone.

• He boots a nice punt that rolls to about the 50.

• Then the Rebel return man fumbles the ball and — who else? — Ryan Hamilton recovers the ball. Now we've got the ball inside Ole Miss territory.


Third and 9 inside the VU2. What do we do?

Quarterback draw. Now Upson's punting out of our end zone.


Ole Miss comes out of the locker room and goes trucking down the field, converting three straight third-and-longs. Man, their tailbacks are talented.

First and goal at the VU9.

• We stop Bolden for no gain running out of the Wild Rebel formation. Tackled by Marve. Second and goal on the 9.
• Snead throws to Wallace at the VU1. Did I mention Mike Wallace is killing us? Third and goal at the VU1.
• Marve tackles Bolden 6 inches from the goal line. Fourth and goal at the one-half line.

• GOAL LINE STAND, BABY! Theron Khadri and Ryan Hamilton keep a diving Cordera Eason out of the end zone.

But now we're deep in our own end zone.


Mike Wallace, the football player not the guy on 60 Minutes, is killing us. He scored a 97 yard kickoff return in the first quarter and then just stole an interception from our defensive back Josh Allen.



Player of the first half:
Safety Ryan Hamilton, who had a pair of interceptions and 103 return yards.

Play of the first half: Trailing 10-0 and losing a fumble in their second straight drive, the Commodores were in trouble. Then Hamilton picked off a Jevin Snead pass and raced 79 yards to make it 10-7.

The good:

• When Nickson had to throw, he was on the money with five completions and one touchdown on six attempts.

• Pass defense: Snead threw for only 49 yards in nine attempts, with two interceptions.

• The Rebels offense couldn't score a touchdown against the Commodore D.

The bad and the ugly:

• Our ground game: Vandy picked up only 55 yards on 20 carries, a 2.8-yard average, and lost two fumbles in their first three drives.

• Our run defense: Take away two losses by Snead, and the Rebels had 18 carries for 132 yards.

• Injuries: D.J. Moore is struggling with a hip pointer. Outside of Nickson, he's the one player we can't afford to lose.


On third and short, we go to Gaston Miller, who fumbles the pitch from Nickson, falls on it, and now we've got to punt. And now Miller and Nickson are woofing at each other. We needed to move ball and score some points on this drive. This is turning out to be a wild one.


Jared Hawkins just took a pass from Nickson and rumbled into the end zone. At the end of the first quarter, Vanderbilt trails 17-14. D.J. Moore's back in the game but appears to be favoring his hip.


We're down 17-7 with about 4 minutes left in the first quarter. Believe it or not, 24 points have been scored within the last minute. No kidding.

Here's how it happened:

• The Rebels kicked a field goal to go up 3-0.

• Then QB Chris Nickson fumbles and Rebel tackle Peria Jerry picks up the ball and rumbles to the end zone. Rebels up 10-0.

• Ryan Hamilton picks off a Jevan Snead pass and sprints 79 yards for a touchdown. Rebels still up 10-7.

• Rebels return the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. It's Rebels 17-7.

And to make matters worse, D.J. Moore is in the locker room with an injury.


For the first time in many, many years, the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game will not be televised. Up to today, it's always been the noon SEC game on Lincoln Jefferson National Pilot or whatever network happens to be televising the No. 3 game of that particular Saturday.

But not today. Nope. Raycom, who's now handling the telecasts, selected the Alabama-Arkansas game instead. Zzzzzz. That one just ended, and the score was 49-14 Crimson Tide.

Ole Miss and Vanderbilt always play each other close, and I promise you the margin in tonight's game won't be 35 points. Or more.

Raycom's ACC game of the week was Miss State at Georgia Tech, in which the Jackets took the Bulldogs to the woodshed, 38-7.

Friday, September 19, 2008


VANDERBILT (3-0, 1-0 SEC) vs. OLE MISS (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
6 p.m. CT Saturday, Sept. 20, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.

In Vanderbilt's favor:
• Pass defense: You know Houston Nutt wants his blue-chip backs to grind it out behind his mammoth offensive line. But Ole Miss is going to have to pass to win, and the Vandy D got a tuneup in that department last week against Rice. Rebel QB Jevan Snead hasn't been sacked yet, but I say that changes Saturday night.
• Special teams: Special teams were the difference in the South Carolina game, when Vandy played solid defense, tried its best to move the ball and hung around until a blocked field goal and a fumbled punt gave them a second wind. And if D.J. Moore gets near the end zone, he's going in.
• Likes to travel: The Commodores play better on the road than they do at home. And they almost always play well in Oxford.

In Ole Miss's favor:
• Balanced attack: Vandy's opponent last week, Rice, could pass. The Rebels can pass and run.
• Defensive reinforcements: DE Greg Hardy, who was supposed to be out until the end of the month with a foot injury, practiced this week and will likely play Saturday. DTs Peria Jerry and Ted Laurent are back in the lineup, too. Hardy and Jerry are sure-fire NFL draft picks. Their presence poses a problem for Vanderbilt's running game.
• The Grove: The Rebels gush about the wonderful game-day atmosphere in Oxford, and Houston Nutt talks about the great championship tradition at Ole Miss, which is evidence that he's old. These guys like playing at home.

As with South Carolina, the Rebels will look fast and powerful, especially their lines on both sides of the ball. But I see the Commodores hanging tough, sticking around, and making a big play when they have to. I think special teams will be the difference in this one.

The Moral Victory prediction: VANDERBILT 21, OLE MISS 20

Moral Victory Meter: Zero

We've beaten Ole Miss too many times to get moral victories against them. Unlike in the MiamiO and Rice games, we could lose this one and still salvage the season. I think Houston Nutt has already turned the Rebels around and they could be bowl-bound, but this one is far more obtainable than the Auburn game week after next.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


When you play a team from another state, it never hurts to have players on your team from that state. Remember in 1994 when Vanderbilt had Georgia natives Ronnie Gordon and Jermaine Johnson? Seems they grew up wanting to be Bulldogs, but the Dawgs didn't want them. So they went down to Athens on homecoming and hammered Terrell Davis, Hines Ward and Randall Godfrey by a score of 43-30.

This year, we used three Ohioans to beat Miami, five South Carolinians to beat South Carolina, and eight Texans to beat Rice.

Later this season, we'll deploy 12 Alabamians against Auburn, a whopping 21 Georgians against Georgia, 10 Floridians against Florida, one Kentuckian against Kentucky, and two North Carolinians against Duke and Wake Forest.

But when we go to Oxford this week to play Ole Miss and to Starkville next month to play Miss State, we'll be taking along zero Mississippians.

As far as I can tell, nobody on the team has Mississippi ties. Quarterbacks Coach Jimmy Kiser coached at Memphis for one year, and Memphis is often considered to be part of Mississippi, but of course that's a stretch.

On the other hand, Ole Miss has 13 players from Tennessee.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


So what's the point in showing — ad nauseum — that Vanderbilt doesn't get the athletes that other SEC teams do?

I think it's important to be realistic. When fellow Vanderbilt fans deride me for talking about moral victories and say I'm not proud of my team, I have to laugh. These well-meaning fans say we've proven we can compete with anybody in the SEC and that moral victories are a thing of the past. What, because in the past four years we've beaten Tennessee once, Georgia once, Arkansas once, South Carolina twice and we took Florida to double overtime before losing?

Those victories were all pleasant surprises. Even the narrow loss to Florida was a pleasant surprise, a moral victory if you will. But let's face it — those teams are stacked, and we're not.

I'll stop talking about moral victories when we have a winning season and go to a bowl. For now, narrow losses to the following teams will still be moral victories: Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Alabama and even Tennessee. That's half the conference. With Arkansas and South Carolina, it depends on the year. And we'll always have a shot, or think we have a shot, against Kentucky and the teams from Mississippi, because their talent levels are closer to ours.

Am I bad-mouthing my team? Heck no. We have good kids — smart kids who attend one of the 20 toughest universities in the nation and unlike the kids at Georgia even manage to stay out of jail — and when our kids go to Athens or Knoxville or Columbia and win, or even to Tuscaloosa or Gainesville and almost win, it's a credit to them, their mamas and daddies, their head coach Bobby Johnson, their assistant coaches, their strength coaches, their trainers, their cooks, their professors, their spiritual advisors, their... You get the idea.

I'm proud of the Commodores. Especially because our players look better on the field than they look on paper.


So yesterday we broke down the total number of prized recruits each SEC team has signed in the past four years, including players who garnered three, four and five stars from the recruiting gurus at Rivals.Com.

Now we'll break down who gets the best of the best. Here's how many Five-Star athletes each team has gotten in the past four years. Some examples would be Florida's Tim Tebow, Tennessee's Eric Berry, Alabama's Julio Jones, Auburn's Tray Blackmon, Georgia's Matthew Stafford, Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Ole Miss freshman RB Enrique Davis.

Five-Star Recruits
1. Florida: 12
2. LSU: 7
3. Tennessee: 6
4. Alabama: 5
5. Auburn: 4
5. Georgia: 4
5. Ole Miss: 4
8. Arkansas: 2
8. South Carolina: 2
12. Kentucky: None
12. Miss State: None
12. Vanderbilt: None

Now, here's each school, ranked by number of four- and five-star recruits. Examples would be Auburn's Kodi Burns, Georgia's Knowshoun Moreno and Ole Miss' Michael Oher. Oh, and Vandy's John Stokes.

Four- and Five-Star recruits

1. Florida: 65
2. LSU: 56
3. Alabama: 50
4. Georgia: 45
5. Tennessee: 43
6. Auburn: 42
7. South Carolina: 32
8. Ole Miss: 21
9. Arkansas: 19
10. Miss State: 14
11. Kentucky: 5
12. Vanderbilt: 1


Here's how SEC teams rank in attracting recruits with a 5,4 or 3-star rating over the past four years:

1. Alabama: 103
2. Georgia: 91
3. Auburn: 90
3. Florida: 90
3. LSU: 90
3. Tennessee: 90
7. South Carolina: 89
8. Arkansas: 75
9. Ole Miss: 68
10. Miss State: 53
11. Kentucky: 36
12. Vanderbilt: 19

The top five teams listed above are currently in the AP Top 10. Tennessee began the season in the Top 10, and South Carolina was in the Top 25 before losing to Vandy. The bottom five teams have not been in the Top 25 this season.

Vanderbilt is currently No. 26.

*(Recruits listed as rated by Rivals.Com.)


In case you're wondering about Vanderbilt's so-called elite recruits, here's a breakdown:

Four-Star Recruits
• LB John Stokes (2007): Sophomore starter at inside linebacker.

Three-Star Recruits
• QB MacKenzie Adams (2005): Redshirt junior started six games last year; backs up Chris Nickson.
• WR Earl Bennett (2005): SEC's all-time leading receiver in three years, drafted by Bears.
• QB Jared Funk (2006): Redshirt sophomore battling Larry Smith for No. 3 spot.
• TE Jonathon Massey (2006): Transferred to Southern Mississippi.
• CB D.J. Moore (2006): Junior considered one of the top two underclassman cornerbacks in the nation.
• OL Adam Smotherman (2006): Moved to DT, starting as a redshirt sophomore.
• CB Alan Strong (2006): A top backup as a redshirt sophomore.
• QB Turner Wimberly (2006): Redshirt sophomore moved to wide receiver, competing for backup spot.
• TE Brandon Barden (2007): Redshirt freshman transferred from Virginia Tech, caught big touchdown against South Carolina.
• OL Kyle Fischer (2007): Redshirt freshman backs up Reilly Lauer at tackle.
• ATH Jamie Graham (2007): Redshirt freshman scored on a reverse against Rice; first SEC athlete to play football and basketball
• QB Larry Smith (2007): Redshirt freshman considered the quarterback of the future.
• WR Udom Umoh (2007): Redshirt freshman listed No. 2 on depth chart.
• RB Ryan Van Rensburg (2007): Redshirt freshman listed behind four other running backs.
• WR John Cole (2008): True freshman played in opener, but out for season with knee injury.
• ATH Casey Hayward (2008): True freshman has seen action at cornerback and is already a demon on special teams.
• LB DeAndre Jones (2008): Could see action as true freshman; possible redshirt.
• DE Taylor Loftley (2008):
Could see action as true freshman; possible redshirt.

Top Commodores not considered top recruits
• QB Chris Nickson
• OT Thomas Welch
• DE Broderick Stewart
• SS Reshard Langford
• CB Myron Lewis

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I've been saying that Ole Miss is loaded this year. Want evidence?

In the past four years, according to Rivals.Com, the Rebels have signed:
• 3 Five-Star recruits

• 18 Four-Star recruits

• 47 Three-Star recruits

By comparison, Vanderbilt has signed:

• No Five-Star recruits

• 1 Four-Star recruits
• 18 Three-Star recruits

Add it all up and Ole Miss has signed 68 elite recruits to Vanderbilt's 19.

There's no question that Ole Miss has more talent. Throw in home field advantage and a coach who's been to the SEC championship game, and the 6 1/2 point spread doesn't seem like enough, does it?

But the Commodores have a chance to win this one, just like they've beaten South Carolina the past two seasons. The Gamecocks' recruiting success? One Five-Star, 32 Four-Star and 56 Three-Star recruits in the past four years. That's 89 elite recruits to Vanderbilt's 19 (and Ole Miss' 68).

And the remainder of the Commodores' schedule:

Auburn (Oct. 4): 90 elite recruits

Miss State (Oct. 11): 53 elite recruits

Georgia (Oct. 18): 91 elite recruits
Duke (Oct. 25): 27 elite recruits
Florida (Nov. 8): 90 elite recruits
Kentucky (Nov. 15): 36 elite recruits
Tennessee (Nov. 22): 90 elite recruits
Wake Forest (Nov. 29): 25 elite recruits

Talent-wise, we're not in the same ballpark with Auburn, Georgia, Florida or Tennessee — or for that matter, with Alabama (103), LSU (90) or Arkansas (75).

We're closer to Miss State and Kentucky in talent.

And we get the same kind of players that Duke and Wake Forest do — except that Wake Forest has been the model, winning the ACC two years ago.
Of course, they couldn't have won the SEC, but the Wake Forests of the world give us hope.


Ole Miss Head Coach Houston Nutt had some nice things to say about the Commodores in his weekly press conference, praising Chris Nickson, Jared Hawkins, Reshard Langford and D.J. Moore:

"Chris Nickson is the difference. He is a healthy guy that is moving around. He can escape and he can create. They have some good receivers, and then they have a running back that's really tough. He knows how to hit it up in there full speed. Defensively, they have given up very little and are very sound. They're a really hard hitting secondary, especially number 33. He will hit you. D.J. Moore, boy he's good.

So far, so good.

Then he said this:

"They've got 300-pounders in the middle up front and have 6-foot-5 guys on the edges."

OK, we've got Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone on the edges and both of them are 6-5. But where are these 300-pounders in the middle of the defense?

The defensive tackles on the depth chart are:
• Greg Billinger, 290
• T.J. Greenstone, 278
• Rob Lohr, 272
• Adam Smotherman, 285
• Colt Nichter, 285
• Greg Billinger, 290

Sure, if you've got an aunt who's 285, you might say she's 300. You might round up. But you don't round up with linemen. A 285-pound lineman is not a 300-pounder. Wish it were.

But it's not the first time a head coach exaggerated a bit when describing an upcoming opponent.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


You won't find Vanderbilt's next opponent, Ole Miss, in the "votes received" portion of the AP and USA Today ballots. That doesn't mean a thing. The Rebels are loaded with high-school All-Americans brought to Oxford by Ed Orgeron, a great recruiter and a sorry coach. Now Ole Miss has a proven coach, Houston Nutt. Remember what Nutt did with lesser talent in his first year at Arkansas?

Here's what the Rebels have done so far this season:

• Stomped the Memphis team (41-24) that nearly beat Rice last week.
• Lost to No. 18 Wake Forest 30-28 in Winston-Salem on a last-second field goal.
• Beat Samford 34-10 on Saturday.

Vanderbilt deserves to be ahead of Ole Miss right now in the polls. South Carolina is at least as tough a team as Wake Forest, Rice is obviously better than Memphis, and Miami-Ohio is stronger than Samford.

But that's on paper. Which team — Vanderbilt or Ole Miss — will prevail in Oxford on Saturday?

WE'RE NO. 26 — OR 35

The Commodores just missed making the new AP Top 25, getting the 26th most votes. In the USA Today poll, Vandy finished out at No. 35. Here's how SEC teams fared in the polls (AP/USA Today):
1. Georgia: 3/3
2. Florida: 4/4

3. LSU: 6/6

4. Auburn: 10/9
5. Alabama: 9/13

6. Vanderbilt: 26/35

7. Tennessee: 34/32

8. Kentucky: 37/30

9. South Carolina: 43/NR
10. Miss State: NR/NR
10. Ole Miss: NR/NR

10. Arkansas: NR/NR


The Commodores beat South Carolina last week, and No. 2 Georgia beat the Gamecocks this week. Considering we both just played the same opponent, how do we stack up to the star-studded Bulldogs? Glad you asked.


How the Georgia and Vanderbilt defenses compare based on their performances against South Carolina:

• Points: Dawgs 7 (Dores 17)

• First downs: Dores 18 (Dawgs 20)

• 3rd down conversion: Dores 6-15 (Dawgs 5-12)

• 4th down conversion: Dawgs 0-1 (Dores 1-1)

• Rushing yards: Dawgs 18 (Dores 92)

• Passing yards: Dores 233 (Dawgs 271)

• Total yards: Dawgs 289 (Dores 325)

• Yards per pass: Dores 6.0 (Dawgs 6.8)

• Yards per rush: Dawgs 1.1 (Dores 3.2)

• Turnovers: Dores 3 (Dawgs 2)

• Stopping QB Smelley: Dores 23-39-1, 271, 1 td (Dawgs 23-39-2, 233, 2 tds)

• Stopping RB Davis: Dawgs 12-22, 0 td, 8 long (Dores 18-80, 0 td, 15 long)

What this says about Vanderbilt's defense
: They'll give up some yards and they'll let you run a little bit and pass a little bit, but they seem to step up in the second half.

What this says about Georgia's defense
: You can't run on them. And it's mighty tough to score. Vanderbilt doesn't match up well with these guys, but then again we didn't match up well with South Carolina either.


The Commodores beat South Carolina last week, and No. 2 Georgia beat the Gamecocks this week. Considering we both just played the same opponent, how do we stack up to the star-studded Bulldogs? Glad you asked.

Comparing both teams' performances against the Gamecocks:
• Points: Dores 24 (Dawgs 14)

• First downs: Dawgs 17 (Dores 15)
• 3rd down conversion: Dawgs 5-13 (Dores 2-10)

• Rushing yards: Dores 135 (Dawgs 106)

• Passing yards: Dawgs 146 (Dores 90)

• Total yards: Dawgs 252 (Dores 225)

• Yards per pass: Dores 6.9 (Dawgs 5.8)

• Yards per rush: Dores 3.3 (Dawgs 3.0)

• Turnovers: Dawgs 0 (Dores 1)

• Penalties: Dores 4-35 (Dawgs 11-112)

• Quarterback: Dawgs' Stafford 15-25-0, 146, 0 td (Dores' Nickson Nickson 8-13-0, 90, 1 td)

• Running back: Dores' Hawkins 17-84, 1 td, 13 long (Dawgs' Moreno 20-79, 1 td, 11 long)

What this says about Vanderbilt's offense
: The Dores can grind it out, and Hawkins has developed into a tough, reliable runner. Nickson can pass when he has to. Vanderbilt gets most of its first downs by striking quick on first and second down and has trouble converting on 3rd down. A disciplined team that holds onto the ball and commits few penalties.

What this says about Georgia's offense
: For a team with the top-rated underclass quarterback and running back, the Dawgs are taking their time getting on track. Stafford missed a handful of touchdown opportunities, and Moreno's longest run was 11 yards. They hang onto the football, but the penalties on offense and defense have been alarming. This team is deep and scary and will only get better. Expect them to explode Saturday night in Tempe.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Our superstar just iced the game with an interception. The man's touched the ball 7 times tonight and picked up 206 yards. Here's the breakdown:

• 31 yards on one interception return.
• 37 yards on two runs.
• 54 yards on two kickoff returns.
• 84 yards on two punt returns.

Final: 38-21 Vanderbilt


As he did against Miami of Ohio, DJ Moore almost took a punt to the house, this one a few seconds ago against Rice. As in, he was tackled on the one yard line. After avoiding tacklers for 67 yards.

Now Nickson just punched it in, Hahnfeldt booted it over, and we're up 38-21. It'll take three scores in 10 minutes. I think Rice has established that it can be done, but I also think we're a better team than Memphis. We'll see.


Well, we didn't get that long scoring drive. It wasn't long and we didn't score. We did get two penalties, starting the drive with a big 15-yarder for a cut-block. But Upson booted a 45-yarder to their 21. Our special teams are looking good. 13 minutes left. Only 10 points ahead. You know what happened last week at the Liberty Bowl in the fourth quarter.


Down by 10 with a 4th & 1 on the VU30, Rice faked it and Casey went deep to Dillard. Incomplete. They must not have much of a kicker. A nice slow scoring drive could put this one on ice. But Vierling just got a 15-yard penalty.


We just kicked a field goal after an 11-play, 61-yard drive that began on our own 8 yard line. Would have been nice to take a two-touchdown lead, and I suppose we could second-guess our play calling after three straight incomplete passes from the Rice 31. But let's dwell on the positives so far in the second half:

• Two Rice drives and no points, thanks to two Myron Lewis sacks.
• Two Vandy drives and 10 points.
• A clutch 48-yard Bryan Hahnfeldt field goal. Let me say that again: A clutch 48-yard Bryan Hahnfeldt field goal.

Sure, this one ain't over. It's only 3:43 left in the third, so 18:43 left in this one. But I'd have taken this if you'd offered it to me in the first half, and I still do.


Myron Lewis has ended Rice's first two drives of the second half with sacks of Chase Clement.


Rice gets the ball first, but Clement throws two incomplete passes and then gets sacked by Myron Lewis.

Jamie Graham just scored on a 27-yard run to put us up 28-21.

Here's a breakdown of our four touchdown runs:
• Sean Walker, WR, 5 yards
• Chris Nickson, QB, 14 yards
• Jared Hawkins, RB, 7 yards
• Jamie Graham, WR, 27 yards

Whatever it takes, right?


Here's the first half in a nutshell:

Vandy wins the toss, elects to receive. Gains 4 yards in 5 plays; punts.
Rice also has 5 plays, but gets 70 yards and a touchdown.
Vandy gains five yards in three plays; punts.
Rice in hole after Upson's pooch punt to 2-yard line. Three and out; punt.
Vandy's DJ Moore plays offense; his 24-yard run puts VU deep in Rice territory and leads to 7-7 tie.
Rice's drive halted at VU28 after Brent Trice sacks Chase Clement and recovers fumble.
Vandy goes 72 yards in 7 plays. Nickson 2-2 for 25 yards, and also 3 carries for 23 yards and a TD. Tied 14-14.
Rice goes 80 yards in 12 plays, leads 21-14.
Vandy goes 60 yards in 7 plays; Hawkins scores on 7-yard run. 21-21 at halftime.

Players of the game:
• Chase Clement, Rice, 15 for 21, 207 yards, TD pass, TD run
• Brent Trice, Vanderbilt, sack and recovered fumble led to 14-14 tie instead of 21-7 deficit.

What we need to do in the second half:
• Make adjustments at halftime, then get a stop, score a touchdown and take our first lead.


Less than halfway through the second quarter, our leading tackle is our free safety, Ryan Hamilton with five. They've got 268 yards total offense with more than 8 minutes left in the second quarter.


Chris Nickson just scored on a 14-yard run to tie the game 14-14 (when you count the Hahnfeldt PAT) with 8:20 left in the half. We've got 90 yards rushing, 115 yards total offense — to Rice's 198 yards. At least we had a nice drive to eat up some clock.



The first quarter just ended, and we're losing 14-7. Clement is 11-14 for 156 yards with a touchdown in the air and a touchdown on the ground. We've given up 198 yards in the first quarter. Yikes.


Hey Commodore fans, if anybody has no business being overconfident about an upcoming opponent, it's us. These quotes should do the trick:

Rice Head Coach David Bailiff on the comeback against Memphis
: "To score 29 points in the fourth quarter is amazing. It was a great win. It's funny how it started — the offense started sluggish."

Bailiff on the Owl Offense's ability to wear down defenses
: "A lot of what we do offensively is so up-tempo it's fatiguing to defenses. You look even at last year at times, you look at the third and fourth quarter where we had most of our success. You watch the fatigue of some of the teams we play, it just wears you down. The most fatiguing thing is a pass-rush to a defensive lineman. That is a hard skill set to continue to try and do all night. It's tough on you in the fourth."

Quarterback Chase Clement on typical Rice games
: "Obviously it wouldn't be a Rice game if it didn't come down to the last two minutes."

Clement on coming from behind
: "I love it. I love being in the fourth quarter. I love the two-minute drill. I think that's where our offense is most successful. It's where we enjoy being. Unfortunately, we've actually been in the situation too many times. But when we are in that situation, that's where we like to be and where a lot of guys feel comfortable." Clement on the Commodore defense: "With them, as physical as they are, our offense is so spread out that it kind of eliminates that a little bit. Since you're able to get our guys in space and able to move them. We're not going in there playing smash-mouth football, I-back running downhill. That's what this offense does, it eliminates some of the physicality and allows you to spread it out a little bit.


Here are some quotes from a press conference earlier this week with Rice Head Coach David Bailiff (right):

On playing an SEC team

"Let me tell you this, in any game that we play we are going in there to win it. I don't care if it is the SEC — we're heading to Vanderbilt with the expectation that we are going to win. We're not going to change what we do offensively or defensively. You see what East Carolina has done: they've gone in there with a swagger, a determination that they are going to achieve something out of conference. That has to be the mindset — you can't just turn it off because we're leaving our conference and going to SEC country."

On coaching at a top academic school

"To me that's not a challenge, that's wonderful. You can take 75-percent of the recruits in the country and they can't come to Rice, and they probably can't go to Vanderbilt. It lets you narrow your focus on the ones that are great fits. I really think that's a positive and that's how we approach it here. We're going to get guys that are great fits academically and athletically. If you do your homework — you're out there [on the field]. That's why recruiting is going so well for us: because of our approach. I'll bet you that's what Bobby [Johnson] is doing too — they had seven guys last year from Vanderbilt that were either drafted or went into the NFL. That hasn't happened [by accident]. It's happening because he's embraced Vanderbilt. I think that's how you have to do it — you can't sit around and worry about it, you have to improve on what you have."


VANDERBILT (2-0) vs. RICE (2-0)
6 p.m. CT tonight (Saturday, Sept. 13) Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville

In Vanderbilt's favor:

• Athletes: Sure, this isn't the case very often for Vanderbilt. But it was proven when we played Miami of Ohio: Non-BCS teams don't have many athletes the caliber of Chris Nickson, D.J. Moore, Sean Walker, Myron Lewis, Broderick Stewart, Chris Marve, Brandon Barden and Thomas Welch. Our size, speed and depth is superior to that of the Owls.

• Something to prove: First, Vanderbilt couldn't beat a ranked team, and we beat Georgia in Athens. Then we couldn't beat a ranked team two years in a row, and we've beaten South Carolina twice in the past two season. Now Vanderbilt doesn't beat teams we should beat when we're coming off a big win (see MTSU in 2005). I think that'll be easier to accomplish than the first two, but we'll see.

• More options offensively: Last week the Gamecocks shut down Nickson on the ground, and pretty much shut down everything for the first two and a half quarters. The Commodores should discover quickly that they can move the ball against Rice.

• A good secondary: Rice has a high-flying aerial attack. But the Commodores have a hard-hitting secondary and have been putting pressure on the quarterback.

In Rice's favor:
• Nothing to lose: The Owls have a chance to beat an SEC team. Their hometown (Houston) has just been ransacked by Ike. Now they get to go out and play a game. And when you can throw it around like these guys can, you've always got a chance.

• Passing attack: Clement is an outstanding quarterback with a quick release and nimble feet, and Casey and Dillard are outstanding targets. The O-line's been together for two years now.

• The conservative factor: Vanderbilt is favored to win, as they were against — I hate to keep saying this — MTSU in 2005. Back then, the Commodores had superior firepower and tried to play a ball-control, grind-it-out game against a team with a big chip on its shoulder. Didn't work out then. I'd like to see us do what we did against the Redhawks in our opener: Put the game away. Actually, we did that against South Carolina too, and then we held on to win. And against a team that slings it around like the Owls do, we may need to hang on even if we've got a cushion early.

The Moral Victory prediction: VANDERBILT 34, RICE 24

And there will be no Moral Victory in this one. This is a game we've got to win.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


We've played great in our first two games this season.

Both of those games were on Thursday night.

Therefore, we should play all our games on Thursday night.

I don't know about you, but as a Vanderbilt fan I like to get the game out of the way and then have a leisurely Saturday and not care too much about who'll win whatever game I happen to be watching.

And people who aren't Vandy fans seem to like watching the Commodores on Thursday for precisely the same reason: It's not their team and they don't care too much but it's always fun watching the underdog and Vanderbilt's always the underdog. And Vandy's kind of like the little brother of the SEC. You like watching your little brother play his JV game on Thursday night. Yeah, everybody likes their little brother... until he beats them up.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Trying to think of something witty involving the words "fried" or "fluffy" or "a-roni." But it's a Monday.

And hey, we don't play until Saturday. We've done pretty well on Thursdays, huh?

Anyway, Rice is a scary team. No, they're not playing at home and they've never played in a conference championship game, like Miami-Ohio did. And no, they don't feature a national championship coach and a freakishly fast and powerful defense, like South Carolina did.

But they have a good quarterback. Did you see Chase Clement pick (above) apart SMU a couple of weeks ago, or bring the Owls — the Owls! — back to beat Memphis? At this point, he's a better quarterback than either the Redhawks' Raudabach or the Gamecocks' Smelley. He's got a great target. He looks pretty mobile, too. Don't know much about his line, though Miami and South Carolina's lines were nothing to write home about.

Smelley had a stable of great targets who'd be stars at Rice, too, and he was fairly mobile. I think we're going to put pressure on him like we've done the quarterback in our first two games, and our secondary is still the strength of our team. Lou Holtz basically downgraded the Gamecocks defense this weekend from the best in the conference to an also-ran, but that was just a knee-jerk reaction after we dealt SC a death blow on Thursday night. Believe me, it'll be a relief to our guys to face Rice's defense. We were a couple of inches away from a punt missing a Gamecock blocker's leg and us not recovering the fumble that led to Nickson's quick-strike pass that led to the blocked field goal that led to Walker's reverse that led to... you get the idea.

I think Nickson's gonna be off to the races again, and I think you're gonna see some new targets emerge, like Jamie Graham and especially Brandon Barden did last Thursday.

But it's still a scary game. Don't forget our home game with MTSU in 2005 after we'd beaten Wake Forest, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

We probably won't be underdogs, but we need to act like we are. Being underdogs has worked for us so far.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


This one had all the makings of a 24-0 loss. Man, the Gamecocks were fast and nasty on defense, and they were wearing us out. Nickson would finish with something like 17 yards on 16 carries.

But Nickson was a winner. Didn't fumble. Didn't throw any picks.

Bobby Johnson was the star of the game. The Vandy coach flat out-maneuvered Steve Spurrier. Before that punt bounced off a Gamecock's leg, we had little hope. I even joked that we should forfeit the game before all our players got hurt. But the Commodores were hanging tough. If anybody's offensive line should have fallen apart, it was ours, not theirs. But our five brand-new starters stuck together and did the job when they had to.

Carolina was trying to avoid DJ Moore, but they forgot about Dalron Spead and Reshard Langford and Ryan Hamilton and Myron Lewis, who bounced back nicely after getting toasted for a TD by the brilliant Kenny McKinley in the first quarter.

The turning point, I thought, was when Captain Munnerlyn, the freakishly talented cornerback for the Gamecocks, got two penalties in three plays and had to be pulled from the game before he had a complete meltdown.

And in the end, it was our Harry Potter look-alike running back operating behind that brand-new line that sealed the victory. Way to go, Jared Hawkins.


Score: 24-17 Commodores (0:00)
Player of the fourth quarter: Jared Hawkins;

Play of the fourth quarter: Jared Hawkins 13-yard touchdown run to give Vanderbilt a two-touchdown lead.

Notes from ninth SC drive (continued from third quarter):
• Davis is back. That acclaimed sports medicine physician Erin Andrews has declared that he has a mildly strained quad. Davis gets his sixth first down of the game.
• Benoist strips the ball from Cook. 3rd & 10.
• Delay of game. 3rd & 15. (14:27)
• Hamilton runs across the field and fells Mo Brown.
• Big, big field goal here. 48 yards. NO GOOD! That delay of game penalty was huge.
• Can we eat up the clock on these guys? Oh yeah, we've got most of the fourth quarter left.

Notes from tenth VU drive:
• Austin Monahan picks up a first down. After a slow start, our tight ends are making some big grabs and playing with confidence.
• Graham taken down after a grab. He's stepped up.
• Nickson short after a spinning, diving run but Captain Munnerlyn called for holding Walker.
• 1st & 10 on the 35.
• Huge facemask on Jared Hawkins and its not called. Horrible officiating.
• Huge interference call on the Captain on third down. That could have been a makeup call. Or maybe not. Gamecocks seem to be losing their cool. The Captain is on the sideline cooling off.
• Hawkins picks up eight yards. 2nd & 2 on the 13. (9:40)
• Chris Reinart looks like he broke his leg. Now he's pumping up the crowd while he gets taken off the field on a John Deere. Tough kid.
• JARED HAWKINS! JARED HAWKINS! 13-yard run! He doesn't look like Harry Potter now!

Notes from tenth SC drive:
• Squib kick and long return puts Gamecocks on SC 45.
• Plenty of time left for the Gamecocks. 1st & 10 on the 40.
• Holding on Gamecocks. Now it's 1st & 20 on the 50.
• Smelley almost sacked and then scrambles for 25 yards. That could be the play of the game. Let's hope not.
• 1st & 10 on the 25.
• Cook gets 9 yards and we knock his helmet off. Cook's got 7 catches for 103.
• Big catch by Mo Brown. DJ was going for the pick. 1st & goal on the 5. (7:42)
• Touchdown. Our secondary looks whipped.

Notes from eleventh VU drive:
• We can't turn the ball over.
• Nickson knocked to the ground. 2nd & 10. We've got to get a first down. Our defense is worn out.
• Hawkins breaks five tackles, picks up two yards.
• 3rd & 9. Whoops. Snap infraction on the center. 3rd & 14.
• Man, we're deep in our own territory.
• Graham gets another screen. He's not a burner, though. We gotta punt. Go clock, go.

Notes from eleventh SC drive:
• 1st & 10 on the VU 48. LeCorn gets 5 yards.
• Man, they're moving the ball. Smelley is in a rhythm. 35 yard line. First down.
• Smelley incomplete. That breaks a string of seven in a row. (3:52)
• Huge sack by Billinger. He knocked Smelley off his feet. That could be the play of the game if we pull this out.
• 3rd & 16. Steven Stone gets a sack! 4th & 18. They're punting. That's a smart move on their part.

Notes from twelfth VU drive:
• 1st & 10 on the VU5. Nice run by Hawkins, 7 yards. Gamecocks have two timeouts left.
• 2nd & 3. FIRST DOWN, HAWKINS! (1:42)
• Hawkins picks up three. Gamecocks out of timeouts. (1:37)
• Hawkins gets a yard and the clock is ticking, ticking.


Score: 17-10 Commodores (0:00)
Player of the third quarter: The whole Vanderbilt offense

Play of the third quarter: Commodores recovered fumbled punt, then Nickson 31-yard pass to TE Brandon Barden (10:14); Stokes blocked punt followed by Walker reverse, Hawkins run, Nickson TD.

Notes from seventh SC drive:
• We hold and they're punting into the wind.
• Our defensive line looks pretty good against the run.

Notes from seventh VU drive:
• Offside on Gamecocks. We need to hang in there.
• Nickson 11 carries, 13 yards.
• Nice strong throw to Wheeler. First down.
• Nickson picks up 8 yards.
• Our TEs who looked so good last week can't hold onto the ball.
• 3rd & 5 on the VU 45. Another sack of Nickson. We need to hang in there.
• Actually, our D needs to score.
• Or the ball needs to bounce off a punt blocker and into our hands, and that's what happens. We've got the ball in Gamecock territory!

Notes from eighth VU drive:
• Nickson fires to Barden. TOUCHDOWN!

Notes from eighth SC drive:
• Big third down coming up. Davis is close and gets it. 1st & 10 on 19.
• Davis gets 5.
• Cook is a stallion. Big catch up near the 50.
• We've got to put pressure on Smelley.
• Looks like interference on Fagan, but the ball is ruled uncatchable.
• Myron Lewis is leaving the stadium. Yikes!
• Davis breaks a run up to the 37.
• Another first down for Davis. We're wearing down.
• Spead is out for the game and Lewis is in the locker room. Let's forfeit the game and save our players for the next one. Just kidding!
• Big stuff of Davis. T.J. Greenstone is a player!
• Stokes blocks a field goal and we've got the ball near midfield.

Notes from ninth VU drive:
• Jamie Graham is quietly having a big game, nice catch for first down.
• Sean Walker goes 29 yards on a reverse. 1st & 10 on the 13.
• Hawkins down to the goal line. On the inch line.
• TOUCHDOWN! Nickson on the plunge!

Notes from ninth SC drive:
• First down on the ground. Our defense has been on the field an awfully long time, but our offense has to score fast to get any points; you can't grind it out against these guys.
• Yeah, stick with the little white running back instead of Davis!
• False start, the second on the young left tackle for the Gamecocks. Broderick Stewart is a force.
• Third and two. Lewis is back in the game. Smelley falls forward for the first.
• Is Davis hurt?
• Jared Cook is burning us. That's one freaking athletic tight end.
• We stuff the little white guy. Third down.


Score: 10-3 Gamecocks (0:00)
Player of the second quarter: Darlron Spead
Player of the half: Gamecock defense

Play of the quarter: Darlron Spead's interception and 41-yard return. (10:15)
Play of the half: Vandy fumble recovered by Gamecocks in first quarter leads to TD.

Notes from fourth SC drive:
• Wind is really blowing. Smelley not accurate. Smelley's accuracy smells.
• Davis just picks up a first down on 3rd and 10. Kid is tough.
• Dang it. Langford tips and dives for the near pick. He's a player. He almost gets balls he should have no business even touching. (14:12)
• VU's defensive line playing well.
• Big stop by VU defense. Punt and ball on 20.

Notes from fifth VU drive:
• Nickson getting shut down. Loss of four. 2nd and 14.
• Gamecock defense way too fast for Nickson to break free on corners.
• Nickson goes down. 4th and 19. The offensive line is folding. We're in trouble.

Notes from fifth SC drive:
• Great field position for Gamecocks again.
• TE Cook is killing our linebackers.
• Just when it looked like Gamecocks are dealing a deathblow, Darlron Spead has a huge pick and 41-yard return. It's the fifth pick and longest return of his career.

Notes from sixth VU drive:
• Beautiful fake and nine yard run by Nickson.
• Nice little run by Gaston Miller for first down. We're on the 15. This drive is huge.
• Miller gets a couple. But can we throw the ball?
• Nickson gets three on the keeper. Now 3rd & 4 on the 9.
• Jamie Graham gets a first down on the reverse. 1st & goal on the 5.
• Hawkins gets a couple. But I don't think we can muscle it in.
• Nickson up to the 3.
• Monahan bobbles a shovel pass.
• We score on a Hahnfeldt FG.
• Our red zone offense looked shaky against MiaO. Gamecocks are way, way better.

Notes from seventh SC drive:
• We give up huge kick return to the 50.
• Davis gets 9 yards to VU 41.
• A big stop on Mike Davis.
• Another stop. Fourth and 1. Marve is a man.
• Fake punt. Didn't fool us, but they needed a yard and got it.
• Obscene diving catch by Dion LeCorn. (That's French for "The Corn.")
• Not to act excited or anything but KENNY MCKINLEY IS OUT FOR THE GAME!
• Benoist gets a big sack. 3rd & 16 on 31.
• Field goal attempt at end of half. It's good.


Score: 7-0 Gamecocks (0:00)
Player of the quarter so far:
South Carolina WR Kenny McKinley
Play of the quarter: Gamecocks recover fumble on the VU 20. (8:17 1st)

Notes from the first VU drive:
• We elected to receive the ball first. I like it.
• Hawkins picks up 6 yards on his first carry, then gets a first down on his second carry. Wow.
• Jamie Graham takes the pitch on a double reverse and gets another 6 yards.
• Hawkins is a machine. Another first down. (13:00)
• Brandon Barden just dropped a pass on third down.
• Bad bounce on the punt (11:05)

Notes from first SC drive:
• We look good. Good pass defense, good run defense, and pressure on the QB.
• Broderick Stewart is on a brand new left tackle for the Gamecocks.

Notes from second VU drive:
• Man, Chris Nickson is quick. Just evaded the rush and hit Gaston for a short pass. (9:07)
• False start on TE Monahan. We can't do stuff like that.
• Gaston Miller gets stuck and fumbles. Gamecocks have ball on 20 (8:17).

Notes from second SC drive:
• Davis is a tough runner for the Gamecocks. 2nd and goal at the 5. (7:02)
• Huge sack on Smelley by Greg Billinger. Back to the 10. 3rd down.
• False start on the tight end. Spurrier true to his word and pulls the kid from the game.
• Kenny McKinley takes Myron Lewis to school in the end zone.

Notes from third VU drive:
• Nickson outruns three tacklers... and picks up three yards.
• Three and out.

Notes from third SC drive:
• VU losing the field position battle. Gamecocks start on their 40.
• Chris Marve hammers Davis.
• Just got burned on third down. Cook is a heck of an athletic tight end.
• Spurrier going for the knockout. 14-0 would be almost insurmountable.
• Myron Lewis denies McKinley of a first down reception.
• Another false start for the SC left tackle. Spurrier not pulling him.
• Huge interception by Reshard Langford with a long return to about the SC45.

Notes from fourth VU drive:
• Horrible pass by Nickson but SC's Jasper Brinkley can't catch it.
• Nickson isn't going to get 166 yards in this one. Man, the Gamecocks are fast.
• Great catch by Wheeler but fourth down.
• Penalty on punt. 15 yards against VU. (0:09)


Hey, how come I didn't get to run out of the helmet when I was a freshman at Vanderbilt? Besides the fact we had no giant helmet?

Lou Holtz just said that the Gamecocks have the best defense in the SEC. Could be true.

Keys for the Commodores:

• Can the offensive line hold back the SC defensive front (without holding)?
• Can Nickson keep his composure?
• Can the Dores D stop the run and put pressure on Smelley (or whoever it is)?

We'll see.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Just heard some Gamecock fans whooping and hollering about trying to knock Chris Nickson out of the game. Wouldn't be good. But they're forgetting how MacKenzie Adams (right) torched ’em for 17 points in the first quarter last year.

Anyway, Spurrier doesn't lose early in the season unless he's playing LSU. His players are fresh and he hasn't started messing with his quarterbacks' minds yet. Heck, Mark Richt is scared to play South Carolina in September, and for good reason.

I think this one is close. We believe we can beat Spurrier now, which is a start. But outside of Nickson, we can't run the ball consistently, and the Gamecock defense is awfully, awfully tough. Would I be surprised if we won? Well, yeah. Would I be surprised if we lost on a last-second field goal — say, 17-14? No. Would I be surprised if we lost 28-0? No.

So I'll average those two scores and say we lose 17-7.

Last week was a huge game. We lose that one and our season is cooked.

This week we're supposed to lose. I'm telling ya, the Gamecock defense is tough and we're gonna have a hard time moving the ball. We could get smacked in the mouth and still get the magic six wins.

And if you think we're gonna win, I hope you can say, "I told you so" about midnight Thursday.


South Carolina fans are the greatest. Remember how they used to win one or two games a season and still sell out an 80,000-seat stadium?

We go over to Columbia last season and whip the Gamecocks 17-6 when they're the No. 6 team in the nation. (At right, Spurrier can't stand the sight of homestate boy D.J. Moore intercepting another pass.) This year, they're No. 25. So what are their fans predicting? I just visited a couple of Gamecock fan sites and I think the closest score was 31-0 SC. I'm not kidding. No respect for the Commodores.

Which is exactly how we want it, right? We want to sneak up on people.


Here's a string of quotations from a recent press conference with the Ol' Ballcoach:

"You talk about losing some heartbreakers. They’ve lost more than we have. Vandy's been a good team. They've been there with a lot of teams without winning a lot. They’re very capable. Hopefully, they’ll get started in about two weeks. I think we all admire Bobby Johnson and the coaches and Vanderbilt. Their players, I don’t think they get in trouble very much. They're student athletes. They do it the way you're supposed to do it."

Just from those 10 sentences, I've gotten some slogans for the season:

• "Vanderbilt football: Talk about losing some heartbreakers."
• "Vanderbilt
football: We've lost more than you have."
• "Vanderbilt
football: We've been there a lot without winning a lot."
• "Vanderbilt
football: We're very capable."
• "Vanderbilt
football: Hopefully we'll get started in about two weeks."
• "Vanderbilt
football: Our players don't get in trouble very much."
• "Vanderbilt
football: We do it the way you're supposed to do it."

Oh, and here's one based on a Spurrier quote from the Woody Widenhofer era:
• "Vanderbilt football: We don't have a talent problem, we have a winning problem."

Thanks, Coach.