Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stallings sticks with his lineup — and Dolla Beal sticks the three

Just got back from Auburn — the loveliest village on the Plains, etc. — where Vanderbilt picked up an 82-75 victory over the Tigers.

It was a big, big win for Vanderbilt because we need all the SEC road wins we can get, our young guys only get more confident and more dangerous when they win on the road, and we were on the verge of a full-blown collapse.

I think Stallings is a very good coach when the hour seems darkest, and he's turned the season around on numerous occasions when things looked bleak. After the South Carolina loss, which gave him a personal worst 1-5 SEC record, he was talking about how bad he felt for his players because they were working hard and doing what he asked and showing great attitude and character.

Anyway, Auburn is an athletic, physical team that before the Vanderbilt game hadn't given up more than 81 points all season. Last week, the Tigers pounded Arkansas 73-51 in Fayetteville. Based on that game alone, I expected us to lose today.

Auburn's also the kind of team that either gets hot and wins big or runs cold and loses. Today they got hot, with senior guard Rasheem Barrett stepping up and hitting five treys — and Lucas Hargrove and Tay Waller combining for another five down the stretch. I really like Korvotney Barber, their 6-7 senior forward who's a tough defender, quick leaper and trash scorer and would be incredible as a power forward for a college team like North Carolina that has a legitimate big man.

Auburn fans didn't seem too torn up about the loss. The loudest moment during the game was when new football coach Gene Chizik strolled out to midcourt during a timeout. The place went nuts. Imagine what they would have done if he'd won more than five games in two years at Iowa State.

Anyway, back to Stallings' lineup. Instead of the crazy fruit-basket turnover substitutions he's used most of this season, Stallings settled on this lineup, with these results:

• BEAL: 37 minutes, 7-8 three-pointers, 21 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
• TINSLEY: 35 minutes, 13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal
• TAYLOR: 34 minutes, 6-7 field goals, 14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal
• DRAKE + MCCLELLAN: 40 minutes, 5-7 field goals, 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 9 fouls
• OGILVY + EZELI: 40 minutes, 21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 fouls

It worked very well. When A.J. got in foul trouble or needed a breather, Festus came in and played his position. When George got in foul trouble or needed a breather, Darshawn came in and played his position.

Beal and Tinsley handled the ball against the break and at least one of them was in the game for its entirety. Taylor played under control and knew when he was expected to go one-on-one and score some points and when he was supposed to set up somebody else — he had five assists.

When Beal, Tinsley or Taylor left the game, they were replaced by either Lance Goulbourne or Steve Tchiengang. Meld them together into one super sub and you've got Leve Goulgang or Stance Tchienbourne.

Both Goulbourne and Tchiengang are good-looking players who can do some things that nobody else on the team can. But what matters now, I think, is that Stallings has chosen his starters and now the guys know which position they'll be playing and what their role will be.

I could see that today: A bunch of guys who knew their roles and played together as a team.

The highlight was obviously Beal's three-point shooting. He was 7-8. Also, Tinsley was 3-6. When those guys hit their threes, it frees up Ogilvy down low and Taylor on the wing and it makes us a tough, tough team. We beat a physical Auburn team that was burning up the nets and getting some highly dubious calls from the refs, including a walking call on Ogilvy when he was pivoting late in the game and some no-calls when he was getting hacked inside by Barber.

Other high points:

• Ogilvy had five assists.
• Taylor had five assists, too, pulled down nine rebounds and showed the quickness and athleticism to shoot 6 for 7 inside and mid-range against a tight defense.

Some low points:
• Ogilvy had five turnovers, but I attribute most of them to no-calls when guys were grabbing his arms or smacking him upside the head. One of them, though, was an awful outlet pass on a rebound that hit an Auburn player on the numbers.
• Horrible free-throw shooting — 16-31 — including 3-8 from McClellan. But Auburn went 7-15 from the charity stripe.

All in all, a great effort. Like I've been saying, these young guys will come together before the season's over — and that may have started today.

By the way, don't expect this sort of analysis after every game. I was there today and thought what the heck.

Have a good Saturday night.

The scariest in-bounds play ever

You knew it was going to happen.

All during the Auburn game, when in-bounding the ball under their own basket, the Commodores would lob the ball to Jeff Taylor out in three-point land and he would catch the ball over his shoulder. They did that with George Drake too. You know, let our athletes go mano-a-mano for the ball because we know we'll win.

Sure, I'll take Taylor over any athlete on the floor, but the play is still awfully dangerous.

And don't you know it, with 9 minutes left in the game and Vanderbilt up by four, we ran that in-bounds play and Auburn senior point guard Quantez Robertson made a beautiful cut inside to strip the ball from Taylor (see photo above) and then take it coast to coast for the layup — and the foul on Taylor. Fortunately, Robertson bricked the charity shot and 30 seconds later Taylor was ramming the ball through the hoop to put the Dores back up by four.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Commodores five days away from signing day

A day ago, the top guy still considering Vanderbilt, at least according to ESPN's ratings, was Justin Jones, a 6-7 tight end from Florida. Jones has since verbally committed to East Carolina.

To me, the ratings seem more in line with scouts from the big universities. For example, our signee safety Jay Fullam gets two stars from rivals and chose us over Air Force, but ESPN's got him rated higher than these three-star guys we signed:

• Charlie Goro, Parade All-American, who chose us over Illinois.
• Warren Norman, who chose us over Georgia Tech
• Brady Brown, who chose us over Nebraska
• Thad McHaney, who chose us over Oklahoma and Tennessee
• Blake Southerland, who chose us over Maryland
• Trey Wilson, who chose us over TCU
• Eddie Foster, who chose us over Utah

Here are the 3-star guys (and one 4-star) still considering Vanderbilt:

• QB Barrett Bailey, Louisiana
• RB Wesley Tate, Tennessee
• RB Branden Oliver, Florida
• RB Jerrell Greene, Kentucky
• DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois (4 stars)
• DT Tyrone Dixon, Florida
• CB Jonathan Edwards, Alabama
• ATH LaQuan James, Virginia
• CB D'Andre Wood, Mississippi

Wish there were some receivers and O-linemen on that list.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Vanderbilt blog should be about winning and losing — especially losing

Sure, outside it's cold and dark and wet and nobody wants to do anything. Especially post blogs about a crappy team.

So it's no huge surprise that most Vanderbilt fan blogs are in silent funks.

Most Vanderbilt fans in cyberspace act genuinely shocked and angry when the Commodores lose. This fall, the Tennessean's comment board featured some hilarious posts from so-called longtime Vanderbilt football fans who were giving up on the team after the Duke loss. Giving up in November while we still have a winning record? What, were you in a coma during the Watson Brown years?

If you're a Vanderbilt fan so you can go online and gloat to Tennessee fans, then you're pulling for the wrong school.

Tennessee should always have a better record than us in football. Kentucky should always have a better record than us in basketball. Yeah, it's great when that doesn't happen and certainly Vanderbilt fans can and should have a little fun. But then those schools are going to fire their coaches and summon a fleet of Brinks trucks and we're not going to be beating them anymore.

We are losers. Spectacular losers. We've made losing an art form, at least in football.

Humorist Roy Blount Jr. has said that attending Vanderbilt cured him of following college football.

I understand completely. In August, I decided to start this blog and follow the football team as something of an intellectual exercise. The blog would be called Moral Victory! and it would chronicle losing, and learning to be a loser, and learning to recognize little victories when you're getting your butt handed to you.

So what happened? The Commodores had a winning season and won their first bowl since 1955. But along the way, they drove their fans to over-confidence, then fear and trembling and impending doom, and then tears of relief.

Now the football team is having its best recruiting year perhaps ever, but is still ranked last in the SEC in recruiting and No. 66 in the nation.

Oh yeah, and right now the basketball team — traditionally scrappy and competitive, at least when playing in its weird and charming old gym — is really, really bad.

Which means that unlike other Vandy blogs, Moral Victory! is not in a silent funk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stallings off to worst conference start ever

Just lost to the Gamecocks 86-76. I'm kind of surprised we only lost by 10. Commodores now 1-5 in the SEC, Stallings' worst start ever.

Clearly, A.J. Ogilvy isn't himself. Played 21 minutes without a field goal. Needs to sit out until that heel heals. Taylor went off and scored 23 points. I didn't see the game and I'm glad. But I don't think the end is here or anything like that. This is a rebuilding year and I believe we'll finish strong. We clearly lack shooters.

I'll be at the Auburn game Saturday and expect another beat-down. The Tiger's are a strong, physical team that can run hot and cold. Hopefully they'll run cold.

Vanderbilt gets football recruits coveted by Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee — and one under the radar

As Feb. 4 signing day rapidly approaches, let's take a look at who else offered scholarships to the guys who eventually chose us — and will hopefully back up their verbal commitment when it's time to put pen to paper. Forget stars and rankings — if Oklahoma or Florida want a guy, that means he's good.

So which of our commitments got the most love from the powerhouse schools?

• TE/DE Thad McHaney: Offers from No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 10 Oregon, No. 14 Ole Miss and four other SEC schools, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and Auburn

• DT Darius McMullin: Offers from No. 1 Florida, as well as SEC bowl victors No. 14 Ole Miss and Kentucky.

• CB Eddie Foster: Offers from No. 2 Utah, No. 11 Boise State, No. 14 Ole Miss and No. 17 Cincinnati

• OL Wes Johnson: Offers from No. 22 Georgia Tech, plus SEC teams Auburn and Kentucky

• CB Trey Wilson: Offers from No. 7 TCU and traditional powerhouse Nebraska

• WR Brady Brown: Offers from No. 20 Iowa and traditional powerhouse Nebraska

• RB Warren Norman: Offer from No. 22 Georgia Tech

• TE Mason Johnston: Offer from No. 24 Michigan State

One guy who didn't get any other offers? Eric Samuels, a three-star athlete who flew under the radar and committed to Vanderbilt in June before he got his stars. Now he's rated ahead of fellow running back commitments Warren Norman and Zac Stacy.

Samuels (photo above) has told Bobby Johnson he wants to play running back and the coach says he'll give him a look there. He's big and fast, and we certainly need a power running back. Even though some experts project Samuels to play in the secondary, Vanderbilt's always been good about giving coveted athletes a chance to try offense — remember a certain safety prospect from Santa Claus, Ind.? Then again, Johnson also knows when to move guys to defense — three-fourths of the Commodores' stellar secondary last season came to Vanderbilt listed as offensive players (WRs Myron Lewis and D.J. Moore and FB Reshard Langford).

Here are all the schools that made offers to Vanderbilt commitments:

Three players: Ole Miss, Duke, Northwestern, Iowa State, Air Force, Kentucky, UAB

Two players: Nebraska, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Stanford, Maryland, Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, Tulane, Florida International, Miami-Ohio

One player: Cincinnati, Utah, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA, TCU, Virginia, Michigan State, North Carolina State, Rice, Iowa, Kansas, Purdue, Louisville, Western Kentucky, Army, Navy, Louisiana Monroe, SMU, Ball State, Boise State, New Mexico, Central Michigan, Ohio, Eastern Illinois, MTSU, Memphis, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Marshall

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vanderbilt's 1-4 SEC record could be shades of 2003

So Vanderbilt has a 1-4 conference record. Kevin Stallings has been here before.

In 2003, Stallings and the Commodores started the SEC season losing at Auburn, beating Bama at home and then dropping their next three games, at home against Kentucky and on the road at Tennessee and Florida.

But a Stallings-coached team has never gone 1-5. In 2003, his next game was at home against Georgia, and the Dores, whose captain was Darius Coulibaly, won 94-91. They won only one regular season conference game the rest of the year, finishing on a nine game skid, at 3-13 in the conference. They did upset Bama in the SEC tourney before getting bounced out by Kentucky to finish with an overall record of 11-18.

Unfortunately, this 1-4 team doesn't host Georgia. It travels to South Carolina, where the ’Cocks beat Florida last week. That would be the same Florida team that, if you have selective memory, beat the black and gold out of Vanderbilt on Sunday on national television.

By the way, whatever happened to Darius Coulibaly? According to the Vanderbilt media guide, he lives in Fredericksburg, Va., where he's a special education teacher at Chandler High School and the founder of Empowering the Poor Inc.

So he's a winner off the court, that's for sure.

Monday, January 26, 2009

SEC leads the nation in football recruiting — by a long shot

While Vanderbilt fans are rejoicing in what's shaping up to be a stellar recruiting class, they should also realize that every other team in the SEC is reloading, too.

In fact, a whopping nine SEC teams rank in the Top 25 in recruiting, according to The Big 12 and Big 10 tied for second with four teams in the Top 25.

Here's where SEC teams stand:
1. LSU
4. Alabama
7. Georgia
10. Florida
12. South Carolina
15. Tennessee
16. Arkansas
22. Miss State
24. Auburn
41. Kentucky
48. Ole Miss
66. Vanderbilt

So we rank 66th out of 119 teams. Wish our offense had ranked 66 last season. By my count, we're ahead of only eight BCS-conference teams: UConn, Purdue, K-State, Louisville, Iowa State, Washington, Washington State and Syracuse.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

One of Vanderbilt's football recruits makes Parade All-American

Quick, guess which Vanderbilt football recruit was named to the latest Parade All-American High School Football Team.

Nope, you're wrong. It wasn't Eric Samuels or Darrius McMullin or Wes Johnson or Eddie Foster or Thad McHaney or any of the other players you picked.

It was Charlie Goro of Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Ill. Goro was one of only seven quarterbacks to make the Parade team. According to ESPN, he ranks last among Vanderbilt's 17 verbal commitments, with a rating of 64. All those Vanderbilt recruits listed above were rated in the mid-to-high 70s.

Goro — who received offers from Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Air Force and Ohio — was ranked No. 171 among quarterbacks by ESPN and was unranked by, though he did rate three stars from them.

The other quarterbacks who made the Parade team were:

• Russell Shepard (LSU): 5 stars, No. 1 Dual QB in nation (rivals); No. 1 athlete (ESPN)
• Aaron Murray (Georgia): 4 stars, No. 3 Pro QB (rivals); No. 3 QB (ESPN)
• Tyrik Rollison (Auburn leads): 4 stars, No. 2 Dual QB (rivals); No. 27 QB (ESPN)
• Eugene Smith (WV): 4 stars, No. 3 Dual (rivals); No. 8 QB (ESPN)
• Garrett Gilbert (Texas): 5 stars, No. 2 Pro (rivals); No. 2 QB (ESPN)
• Tyler Russell (Miss State): 4 stars, No. 12 Pro (rivals); No. 38 QB (ESPN)

Interesting, huh?

Memorial Magic worth 25 points — or is that 25 cents?

Good thing we had Memorial Magic today or we'd have lost by 50. Instead, we lose by 25. Final score was 94-69. When things are this bad, we've got no choice but to blame A.J. Ogilvy's foot. And talk about how good Jeff Taylor's going to be. And say crazy things like, "Just wait till football season."

Just wait till football season.

Hoop Dores look sloppy, sloppy, sloppy

With seven minutes left in the half, the Commodores are down by 12 to Florida. Same old story:

• Sloppy, sloppy ballhandling
• Lots of brick-laying

Hang on. They'll turn the ship around eventually, though probably not today.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Trey Wilson can't turn down a free trip to Texas

It's been a busy week for Trey Wilson (photo), the three-star cornerback from Louisiana. Wilson made his official visit to Nashville last weekend, then gave the Commodores a solid verbal commitment on Monday. But, according to, he's in Fort Worth right now visiting TCU. Order a big steak, Trey. Then come on back to Music City.

Speaking of verbal commitments, another three-star guy, defensive tackle Darrius McMullin from Alabama, made a soft one to the Commodores in the summer. And while Trey Wilson and a bunch of other guys who've committed to Vanderbilt made official visits to Nashville last weekend, McMullin was visiting Kentucky and still hasn't made his trip to Vanderbilt. Here's hoping he's a man of his word, even if his word was soft. But anybody who makes a soft commitment sounds like he's leaving himself open to other options. And he does have an offer in his pocket from the national championship Florida Gators. Come to Nashville and play right away, Darrius.

Vanderbilt 2009 football opponents getting lots of Top 10 love

Yeah, we're all excited about our Music Bowl championship team that's returning 19 starters*. Tony Barnhart at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has even picked the Commodores No. 25 in his early pre-season Top 25. Mention us losing D.J. but finding our quarterback in Larry Smith.

That's great and I hope he's right. But I was just flipping through some magazines at the library, and Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News both have Ole Miss in their Top 10. Whoa. Of course, Florida is everybody's No. 1. And SI's got LSU in their Top 10, while TSN's got Georgia Tech in theirs.

So that means we're facing:
• Four possible Top 10 teams (LSU and Ole Miss back-to-back early in the season and Georgia Tech and Florida back-to-back late in the season)
• A sure-fire Top 25 team in Georgia, at home
• Two tough SEC East opponents, Tennessee and South Carolina, on the road
• Two teams that won bowls last season, Rice and Kentucky
• A team that beat us last year, Miss State

Note to whoever puts together our schedule: You've got four non-conference games to arrange. Nice job with Western Carolina and Army, and Rice is OK too. But what the heck are you doing scheduling Georgia Tech? Couldn't we throw in one of those little Louisiana schools, or maybe Alabama-Birmingham?

I know, I know, we scheduled Tech before they went out and got a real coach.

So as I've said before, we could have a better team next season, play more consistently in November, and have a worse record and even a losing record. (I guess for us a worse record would be a losing record.)

Why am I saying this? Because I think we need to be psychologically prepared for some bumps in the road. If we recover 17 fumbles and have 11 goal line stands to beat Ole Miss again this year, then hallelujah. But for us success doesn't necessarily mean having a better season — especially when we trade LSU for an off Auburn team and add a powerful Ga Tech team and catch South Carolina and Tennessee and even Miss State on the rebound.

*Barnhart says Vanderbilt's returning 18 starters. I say 19 if you count Jamie Graham as a starter over George Smith at wide receiver and Larry Smith or Mackenzi Adams as a starter over Chris Nickson.

1. QB: Smith or Adams
2. WR: Wheeler
3. WR: Graham
4. TE: Barden
5. RB: Hawkins
6. C: Vierling
7. OT: Welch
8. OT: Lauer
9. OG: Hensley
10. OG: Fischer
11. DT: Smotherman
12. DT: Billinger
13. DE: Stewart
14. DE: Stone
15. LB: Benoist
16. LB: Marve
17. LB: Stokes
18. CB: Lewis
19. S: Hamilton

And 20 if you count Darlron Spead at nickel back.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thank you, ESPN, for ranking Vanderbilt as the least prestigious team in college football

I mentioned a couple of days ago that ESPN has ranked Vanderbilt as the least prestigious team in the history of college football.

I imagine some Commodore fans are ticked. How could we be ranked below Alabama-Birmingham? Buffalo? Weber State? Louisiana Tech? Louisiana-Monroe? Louisiana-Lafayette?

Well, because the three research scientists who handled the project looked at each season since 1936 and gave each team points based on national championships, bowl victories, post-season rankings, conference records and a bunch of other stuff. Then, according to the ESPN site, they crunched the numbers into a computer. Impressive. But they could have used an abacus instead, because they simply added the numbers together, or in Vanderbilt's case subtracted two points for every losing season since 1936. Which is how Vanderbilt ended up with -75 points over 73 years.

Complain if you want. I'm not complaining — I love it.

And that's precisely what I enjoy being a Vanderbilt fan. Everybody loves an underdog. Well, when you're pulling for Vanderbilt, you get to be the underdog nearly every time you play! By my count, we were underdogs in NINE games last season. We won six of those, most in miraculous fashion, including the bowl game. On our side we celebrated, while the other side tried to figure out how to fire its coach.

Here's how the SEC rates in the Prestigious Poll:
1. Alabama (No. 6)
2. Tennessee (12
3. LSU (13)
4. Georgia (14)
5. Florida (15)
6. Arkansas (19)
7. Auburn (21)
8. Ole Miss (21)
9. Kentucky (69)
10. Miss State (81)
11. South Carolina (83)
12. Vanderbilt (119)

Right now we're in the process of signing yet another recruiting class that's ranked as the worst in the SEC. Everybody on our schedule except maybe Western Carolina and Army is penciling us in as a win on the 2009 schedule.

But this class is by far the best we've ever had. If Bobby Johnson can take a bunch of 2-star athletes and beat the 4- and 5-star athletes at Ole Miss and Auburn and South Carolina, then I'm real interested to see what he can do with the 3-star athletes he's getting this year.

Unless between now and signing day those 3-star athletes who've verbally committed to Vanderbilt realize they've decided to play for the least prestigious team in college football history.

But the kids these days don't know much about history, do they?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vanderbilt lands another coveted recruit — not bad for the least prestigious program in college football history

Vanderbilt got a verbal commitment yesterday from Trey Wilson, a Louisiana cornerback who turned down offers from Stanford, Northwestern and TCU. Wilson's high school teammate, athlete Quinn Giles, no longer lists Vanderbilt among the schools he's considering, but Giles wasn't as well regarded as Wilson and appears to be lowering his sights to La Tech and La-Monroe and La-Lafayette and other LaLaLa schools.

Which is funny because ESPN just ranked Vanderbilt No. 119 in its list of prestigious college football programs since the 1930s. That would be dead last, behind all those LaLaLa schools. I wouldn't expect to be more prestigious than anybody else in the SEC or even a major conference. But Buffalo?

I won't question the ratings any more though because ESPN had two research scientists committed to the project. But I'll have more about this later.

Some of the best available players still considering Vanderbilt are:

• DE Michael Buchanan of Illinois: Also Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame
• QB Barrett Bailey of Louisiana: Also considering Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and TCU.
• RB Wesley Tate of Tennessee: Also considering Purdue, Stanford and MTSU
• WR Javarious Riley of Florida: Also Central Fla, South Fla, Auburn and Va Tech
• OL Khalil Wilkes of New Jersey: Also Rutgers, Wake Forest, Stanford, BC
• DL Tyrone Dixon of Florida: Also Ga Tech, Louisville, Arkansas, Purdue
• DL Amos Draper of Alabama: Also Miss State
• LB Jordan Barrett of California: Also Washington, UNLV, Oregon, Arizona State
• S Alex Crutcher of Tennessee: Also Texas Tech, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Louisville
• CB D'Andre Wood of Mississippi: Also North Carolina, Louisville, S Fla, Oregon

There are a bunch of other guys on the board too. These are just some that stand out according to ESPN and, but you never know about that, do you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Vanderbilt basketball: It's the shooting, stupid

So what was the problem in Vanderbilt's 76-63 loss to the Vols?

Listen to these comments and decide for yourself:

• Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt Head Coach: "We probably missed some makeable shoot early and it might have got in our heads a little bit."

• Stallings: "It just seemed like there was a lid on that basket in the first half."

• Stallings: "We dug ourselves a hole and every time we needed to make something happen in the second half, we seemed like we'd miss a shot or a free throw."

• Stallings: "Nothing replaces putting the ball in the hoop. We just didn't do that very well tonight. We have to get back to practice and see if we can help our guys a little bit."

• Stallings: "They did what a lot of teams try to do to us, they tried to build a crowd around A.J. If they choose to play that type of defense on us, we're going to have to step up and hit perimeter shots. That's just what we're going to have to do."

• Stallings: "Even when we did get the shot we wanted, we had a hard time getting it in the hole."

• Stallings: "We missed some shots that normally go in and I think it snowballed on us a little bit."

• George Drake, junior guard: "We didn't hit shots that we usually make."

• Brad Tinsley, freshman guard: "When it comes down to it, it's about guys making shots."

• Tinsley: "A lot of our guys didn't make shots tonight."

• Tinsley: "If you're a shooter, if you miss one, you can't think about it. You got to know that you're going to make the next shot."

• Tinsley: "We just didn't hit shots."

• Tinsley: "A lot of our guys had open shots."

• Tinsley: "A lot of guys had hands in their faces and they just didn't hit the shots. In practice our guys hit those shots."

• Tinsley: "It just wasn't our day for shooting."

OK, OK, we get it!

Hey, when does John Jenkins get here?

Young Vanderbilt Commodores will make a run eventually

More of the same for Vanderbilt in last night's thrashing in Memorial at the hands of the Vols:
• Sloppy ball handling.
• Nobody who wants to pull the trigger on a three-pointer.
• Nobody who can pull the trigger on a three-pointer.
• Ogilvy's failure to score against a long and athletic defense.
• A bunch of talented players who haven't jelled.

Remember how nervous these guys were in their first college game — against Alabama-Huntsville? Every game these guys play is a first. First time in Rupp. First time in Starkville. First time against the Vols and their rock-star-wannabe coach. On Sunday it will be their first game against Florida (oh boy).

Neither of the elder statesmen on the team, sophomore A.J. Ogilvy and junior Dolla Beal, have shown they can take over a game against a long and athletic defense. Both are nice players and good team guys who'll hurt you if you forget about them or aren't as tall or strong as them.

At some point this season, probably just when everything seems hopeless, the deer-in-the-headlights freshmen are going to mesh with Oglivy and Beal and make a run.

Thank goodness for George Drake who stepped up and hit more field goals than the entire starting lineup combined. Without him, it would have been ugly.

Also, Steve Tchiengang emerged as a three-point shooter — probably more of the Manute Bol novelty variety but, hey, we needed a couple of treys to make it respectable.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tonight's struggle will be titanic

Our Wildcat- (and therefore hoops-) loving buddy over at Anything But Gatorade is surprised to see that we haven't yet posted on "tonight's titanic struggle," and neither does anybody else in Vandyland. I assume he's talking about our game tonight with Bruce "I hope that new football coach and his hot wife move into my neighborhood" Pearl and his boys in orange.

By titanic, do you mean sinking?

Tennessee hasn't looked very good, though the Vols did get stomped by the Kansas team that got stomped by UMass that got stomped by the Commodores — but that kind of logic never works, does it?

Our young team has been very sloppy with their ballhandling and very cold with their shooting. You could throw all that out the window because we're playing at home, but then again we got crushed at home by Illinois and some other team from Illinois. So maybe we have a chance tonight because we're not playing a team from Illinois, which by the way is the home state of our new president.

But I'm rambling.

The game's on ESPN tonight at 9 pm EST. If you'll be watching from that old brick gym in Nashville where the players sit behind the baskets then I'm jealous of you. Man, I love that place.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Vanderbilt football gets two more verbal commitments

So the rumors were true. Thad McHaney of Brentwood did de-commit from Ole Miss and says he's headed to Vanderbilt, where the Commodores plan to play him at defensive end. Right now, he's the No. 71 rated tight end according to ESPN. Another Vanderbilt signee, Mason Johnston of Florida, is the No. 41 rated tight end. Both get three stars from

I'm not sure the difference between the No. 71 and the No. 41 players. What says the most about a guy, I think, before he shows up on campus and hits the practice field, is who else wants him. Johnston got offers from Arkansas, NC State and Illinois. McHaney got offers from Oklahoma, Tennessee and Auburn.

Of course, many guys fly under the radar. Speaking of flying under the radar, there's Vanderbilt's latest signee, Javon Marshall, a 5-11, 175-pound safety from Huber Heights, Ohio. He was ESPN's No. 148 safety but didn't warrant any stars from the brain trust at His other scholarship offers? Miami-Ohio, Eastern Michigan and Air Force.

Oh. No wonder he chose Vanderbilt. In the next few years, we'll see why Vanderbilt chose him.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vanderbilt men's basketball now 1-2 in SEC — just like last year

Remember what a great season we had last year? (Well, when you take away the NCAA tournament opening round game against one of the Crayola colors.)

Right now we're 1-2, coming off a win over Georgia in Nashville and losses in Lexington and Starkville that look milder on paper than they did if you saw the games.

But it's easy to forget that we had a 1-2 SEC record on Jan. 17 of last year. We lost to Kentucky in double overtime in Rupp and then we beat South Carolina in overtime after Dolla tied the game with a buzzer beating coast-to-coast layup and then we got smoked by the Vols in Knoxville.

So it's a wash.

But I do wish we had Andre Walker for the rest of the season.

Stallings still winless in Starkville — oh well

Well, Kevin Stallings has to wait another two years to get a win in Starkville. He's now 0-5 in Bulldogland. Vanderbilt lost tonight 73-66. I'm just not one of these fans who's gonna tell you 72 things we're doing wrong on the court when it's January and we've got a young team.

Sure, we're sloppy. The turning point in the game happened when we were down by two and Ogilvy pulled down a rebound and threw the outlet pass to Tinsley but it was intercepted and the Bulldog player hit a three. So instead of us tying the game we were down by five.

The funniest call was when Ogilvy knocked down Varnardo and then fell down and the refs whistled Ogilvy for kicking Varnardo. Whatever.

We've got a talented young team — man, Jeff Taylor is fun to watch — and we're only going to get better. There will be some more bumps in the road but I sure don't feel like I felt in October leaving Starkville with all those cowbells ringing in my face.

Have a good night.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thad McHaney could be headed to Vanderbilt

If you look at the recruiting tracker on, Thad McHaney is no longer committed to Ole Miss. In fact, he no longer has an offer from Ole Miss. But he still has an offer from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Auburn and a bunch of other traditional powerhouses, which would lead one to believe that the Rebels pulled their offer because McHaney decommitted.

And, if you believe online comments from both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss fans, McHaney has committed to the Commodores. This would be a huge catch for Vanderbilt. Though McHaney is listed as a tight end, scouts have long speculated that he will end up as a defensive lineman in college, and that seems a good possibility at Vanderbilt as sophomores Branden Barden and Austin Monahan are both huge, athletic targets at tight end. Oh, and Vanderbilt is always a little short on D-linemen.

Though the Commodores traditionally send linemen on both sides of the ball straight to the redshirt factory, you'd think McHaney has a shot to get playing time if he indeed makes the long trek from Brentwood to West End. Remember that Broderick Stewart was also 6-5 and athletic when he came out of high school, but he weighed only 195 and spent a year as a redshirt eating Magic's cooking. Three years later, he's gained 35 pound and still weighs 10 pounds less than the 18-year-old McHaney does now.

The healthy eater award has to go to Thomas Welch, who arrived on campus in 2005 as a 235-pound tight end and today is a 305-pound tackle. Let's hope Wesley Johnson, the 3-star offensive tackle recruit from Nashville, also likes to strap on the feedbag.

Vanderbilt's got a shot at four more good football recruits

On his way out of town to go skiing in Vermont, Doug James over at VSL left a nice post about Vanderbilt football recruiting.

He says that all 14 of Vanderbilt's recruits will be on campus this weekend along with some of the guys who have yet to make a decision. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we know all about what recruits do on a weekend visit to, say, "The U." Wild.

Wonder what they do at Vanderbilt? Let Magic, the No. 1 chef in college athletics, cook them a big meal and then let them take turns holding the Music City Bowl championship trophy and the big trophy the Commodores recently won for academic excellence?

James also says he's hearing that Thad McHaney has decommitted to Ole Miss and is headed to Vanderbilt. That would be big news: McHaney is a 6-5, 240-pound tight end who could wind up on the D-Line.

Here's some info on McHaney, from

• Brentwood, Tenn.
• Tight end, 3 stars from
• 6-5, 240
• Offers from: Auburn, Kentucky, Louisville, Oklahoma, South Caroina, Tennessee, UCLA, others

Among the non-committed types who'll be on campus:

• Shreveport, La.
• Cornerback, 3 stars from
• 5-11, 178
• 4.4 40 (3.8 GPA)
• Offers from: Nebraska, Stanford, TCU, Northwestern, others

• Shreveport, La.
• Athlete, 2 stars from
• 5-10, 185
• 4.5 40
• Offers from: Oklahoma State, Southern Miss, TCU, others

• Hendersonville, Tenn.
• Running back, 3 stars from
• 6-2, 205
• 4.5 40
• Offers from: Georgia Tech, Purdue, Stanford, others

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Strong defense and weak offense — no we're not talking about Vanderbilt football

Last night's basketball game against Georgia reminded me of Vanderbilt's football season.

You know, lots of bad news but good news. As in, the bad news is we scored 14 points against Auburn, but the good news is our defense held Auburn to 13. Or the bad news is our offense was scoreless against Boston College but the good news is our defense held them to 14 and our special teams scored 16.

Last night in Nashville, our roundball offense scored 50 against Georgia.

Fifty! At least Jodie Meeks wasn't on the other team.

And the good news is that the defense allowed only 40.

"I didn't even know I could coach a team that could play this well defensively," Kevin Stallings said in the post-game press conference. "There will be some nights when we struggle to score. Nevertheless, if we play defense together, all we need to do is hit a few and hopefully that will be enough."

There's a motto for you: "Hopefully that will be enough." That was the motto of the football team. And this year, it was enough seven times, as opposed to the usual four or five.

I like listening to Stallings. He's a straight-shooter, has a good sense of humor most of the time, and I think would be a good guy to play for (if I were 20 years younger, a half-a-foot taller and, you know, had game.)

Anyway, here are some more observations from Stallings:

On A.J. Ogilvy being the only guy in double figures: "On most nights, we'll help him more. I didn't think that I would ever come in here and look down at the stat sheet to see that Brad Tinsley had one field goal made and it was a dunk. When you look at what we did defensively, it was huge for us."

On his ridiculously young but talented team: "They are doing great. They're fun to coach. If I'm enjoying coaching them, it means that we'll get better."

Now here are some comments from Georgia Coach Dennis Felton on the Commodores' defensive performance:

"That's not out of the ordinary for what Vanderbilt's been doing all year. They're holding their opponents to 35% the entire season, which I'd be surprised if that didn't make them No. 1 in the country. They're holding their opponents to only 58 points a game this season. They're really good at that. One of the main reasons is because they're huge. They're just so big. They not only have big post players, but big guards. Their wings are 6-8, long and athletic. Their point guard is 6-3 and big and strong. They do a really good job of staying in front of you, making it hard to penetrate the paint. A big part of it was that they had seven blocks."

When's the last time Vanderbilt had seven blocks?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meeks gets Foster-esque

So Jodie Meeks just went bananas in Knoxville, scoring 54 points in a 90-72 thrashing of the Volunteers. It reminded me of Shan Foster's 42-point performance last season against Mississippi State. Those guys were just throwing it in the ocean. Foster's game was remarkable because he hit a trey at the buzzer to send the game into overtime and then another at the buzzer to win it. Meeks put his points up in a blowout, but he did it on the road and with Bruce Pearl wearing that battery-powered orange sport coat.

Commodore fans have to feel good: Kentucky keeps getting better and better, so it wasn't so awful that we lost in Rupp without A.J. Ogilvy. Oh yeah, and the Vols got blasted.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vanderbilt football is No. 1 in academics — do you care?

The other day Bobby Johnson accepted a big honking trophy signifying that his team is No. 1 among the 119 major college football teams. Sure, it wasn't that cool crystal trophy that the Florida Gators just delivered to Gainesville. It's an old-timey looking wood and metal trophy. And his team's not No. 1 on the gridiron, of course. It's No. 1 in graduation rate.

Yes, Vanderbilt has graduated 95 percent of its 2001 freshman class, something no other team can top.

So we're No. 1 in the classroom. And thanks to our Music City Bowl victory we're, say, No. 40 on the football field.

So which would you rather be: No. 1 in the classroom and No. 40 on the field or No. 1 on the field and No. 40 in the classroom?

OK, don't answer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vanderbilt scores a recruiting moral victory

The Commodores are in the process of putting together Bobby Johnson's best-ever recruiting class.

They've signed 10 three-star recruits as rated by The latest is Eddie Foster, a cornerback from Texas who runs a 4.3 40. Really.

Other highlights include a pair of stud running backs (Warren Norman and Zac Stacy), a speedy athlete (Eric Samuels), a coveted offensive lineman who's light now but has a big frame (Wesley Johnson of Nashville), a big defensive tackle (Darrius McMullin), a 6-5 wide receiver who can play right away (Brady Brown), a dual-threat quarterback (Charlie Goro), another big tight end (Mason Johnston) and another hard-nosed linebacker (Blake Southerland, brother of Georgia fullback Brandon).

Sounds good, huh? It's even impressive when we don't sign people. I'm talking about Jared Wheeler (see above), a hulking offensive guard from Florida who signed with the Miami Hurricanes a couple of days ago.

His second choice? Vanderbilt.

A distant third, fourth and fifth? Florida, Tennessee and Auburn.

Sure, it's a moral victory. But it shows that top high school athletes are starting to notice the Commodores, which is leading to some real recruiting victories too.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's been eight years since Charlie Strong almost became Vanderbilt's coach — so what happened?

Without a doubt, Vanderbilt made a great choice when it hired Bobby Johnson as head football coach in 2001. Remember the other finalist for the job?

It was Charlie Strong, the exceptional defensive coordinator for the national championship Florida Gators. Strong was the first black coordinator in the SEC when he took the top defensive job for Lou Holtz's South Carolina Gamecocks in 1999. He was Ron Zook's defensive coordinator at Florida and was kept on when Urban Meyer took the Gator's head coaching job.

It'd be interesting to know what would have happened at Vanderbilt with Strong at the helm. Strong recently told a newspaper that he would have gotten a head coaching job with a Southern school by now if he hadn't married a white woman. I don't think he was talking about Vanderbilt. I can't imagine that would have kept him from getting the Commodore job. Maybe the Auburn job. Some folks speculate online that Strong actually was offered the Vanderbilt job before Johnson but turned it down because he thought it was beneath him.

Anyway, we made a good choice with Johnson, but I think another team would be wise to pick Strong. Maybe he'll have to go to the NFL to get a top job. We'll see.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Commodores can't handle home cooking

Vanderbilt loses to the Cats by 10 in Rupp. No big deal. The usual home cooking, illustrated best by the play in which Joe Duffy took a charge and was called for a blocking foul. Still, plenty to feel good about:

• A.J. Ogilvy was out with a bruised heel, so lots of guys got some PT.
• Jeff Taylor was as talented as any player on the floor.
• Brad Tinsley just keeps getting better and better.
• The Commodores kept playing hard and even mounted a comeback to cut the deficit from 20 to six.

Have a good Saturday afternoon.

Yes, Vanderbilt plays Kentucky today — but our focus is still on football

Yes, the Commodores face the Wildcats today in Rupp Arena. Game's at 1 p.m. Central Time and it's televised by Raycom (oh, joy.)

Anyway, we may have a few post-game comments or something, but this is primarily a football blog. Actually, we started it in August as a blog about learning to live with defeat, and accepting the fact that you're a loser, and developing character while your friends who attended SEC powerhouses like Auburn laugh at you, and deriving little psychological victories from massive, full-blown collapses.

But then Vanderbilt actually beat Auburn and some other ranked teams and then actually became bowl eligible and then actually won a bowl game to actually record a winning record. So I guess the big question is whether we should change our name from Moral Victory! to something more sincere, something more proud.

What do you think?

Experimental entry: Stuff Black and Gold People Like

Here's some good news: Yet another lawyer has started yet another sports blog. It's called Anything But Gatorade and it has a Kentucky slant but the guy's wife is a Vanderbilt grad so of course he's also interested in the Commodores because he has to be.

Anyway, he's got a post called Stuff Blue and White People Like (a takeoff on Stuff White People Like) and he asked me to post Stuff Black and Gold People Like. I graduated from Vanderbilt nearly a score ago and I live in Georgia but I went ahead and made a list, drawing from all the usual stereotypes. (That's right, I'm not from Texas, but Texas loves me anyway. And yes, Barry Goheen will always be the greatest clutch shooter who ever walked the earth.)

So here it is:


1. TEXAS. We like Texas. Because many of us are from Texas. Because many of us are rich and social and want to go to school in a smaller, quaint little state with other rich, social people like us. Exhibit A: Roger Staubach and Ross Perot had daughters who went to Vandy.

2. OR NOT. Or we don’t like Texas. Because many more of us aren’t from Texas, aren’t rich and don’t particularly like other people. And our roommate at Vandy put up a giant Texas flag in our window.

3. ACTING LIKE WE'RE COUNTRY. We like dusting off our cowboy boots and going to singer-songwriter night at the Bluebird. You know, because we’re from Texas. Or our roommate was from Texas. Or our school’s in Music City. Or we bought cowboy boots and go to the Bluebird because it’s a trendy thing to do.

4. FOOTBALL PLAYERS FROM TEXAS. But we do like football players from Texas. Each year, when all the good players in the South sign with Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and all the good players in Tennessee sign with the Volunteers, and all the mediocre players in Tennessee who aren’t very smart sign with MTSU, we’ve got to scour the nation for players. So we go to Texas. On this year’s team, we found a deer hunter/future economist from Southlake named Patrick Benoist who made second team All-SEC linebacker and a Harry Potter look-alike from Spring named Jared Hawkins who leads the Commodores in rushing and of whom Auburn’s Sen’Derrick Marks said, "You don’t see too many white guys like that.”

5. HAVING MORE MONEY THAN YOU. When we lose to you, which is all the time, we like to take solace in the fact that we make more money than you do. Or that hopefully one day we’ll make more money than you do.

6. BASKETBALL PLAYERS FROM KENTUCKY. We like Kentucky high school basketball players who are too goofy to become Wildcats but then become god-like when they put on Commodore uniforms and face UK.

7. AND ESPECIALLY BARRY GOHEEN. We love Barry Goheen, the skinny kid from Calvert City, Ky., who as a freshman scored seven points in the final 12 seconds to beat Tennessee. He also hit a half-court buzzer beater to stun Louisville, burned a trey at the buzzer to take Pittsburgh to overtime and eventual defeat in the NCAA tournament, and shunned a layup that would have tied Georgia at the buzzer in favor of a turnaround three-pointer to beat the Bulldogs in regulation. In fact, ESPN created a special documentary about Goheen and his game-winning shots. Oh yeah, and now he’s a high-powered Atlanta attorney who makes more money than you do.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kentucky gets Top 25 votes — and Vanderbilt doesn't?

From the you-gotta-be-freaking-kidding-me department:

Kentucky got three votes in the final USA Today poll, which means at least one coach (probably Rich Brooks) voted for the Wildcats, who finish No. 37 in the nation if you count out their place.

Vanderbilt got no votes.

Let's compare the two teams:

Final record:
• Kentucky: 7-6
• Vanderbilt: 7-6

Bowl result:
• Kentucky beat unranked East Carolina
• Vanderbilt beat No. 24 Boston College

SEC record:
• Kentucky: 2-5
• Vanderbilt: 4-4

SEC ranking:
• Kentucky: No. 9 (tie with Auburn and Arkansas, ranked behind Tennessee)
• Vanderbilt: No. 5 (tie with South Carolina, ranked ahead on LSU)

Wins over teams ranked or receiving votes in final polls:
• Kentucky: None
• Vanderbilt: Three (Rice, Ole Miss, Kentucky)

Regular season wins over bowl teams:
• Kentucky: None
• Vanderbilt: Four (South Carolina, Rice, Ole Miss, Kentucky)

Oh yeah, and the score from the Nov. 15 game in Lexington:
• Kentucky 24
• Vanderbilt 31

Here's how SEC teams fared in the final AP and USA Today polls, in order of SEC wins:
1. Florida (13-1, 8-1): No. 1 (AP), No. 1 (USA Today)
2. Alabama (12-2, 8-1): No. 6, No. 6
3. Georgia (10-3, 6-2): No. 13, No. 10
4. Ole Miss (9-4, 5-3): No. 14, No. 15
5. Vanderbilt (7-6, 4-4): NR, NR
5. South Carolina (7-6, 4-4): NR, NR
7. LSU (8-5, 3-5): No. 28, No. 28
7. Tennessee (5-7, 3-5): NR, NR
9. Kentucky (7-6, 2-6): NR, No. 37
9. Arkansas (5-7, 2-6): NR, NR
9. Auburn (5-7, 2-6): NR, NR
12. Miss State (4-8, 2-6): NR, NR

Final SEC football rankings for 2008

Well, the season's over and here's where I rank all the SEC teams:

1. Florida, 13-1 (8-1): Finished strong and won the national championship.
2. Alabama, 12-2 (8-1): Lost only to the top two teams in the nation.
3. Ole Miss, 9-4 (5-3): The only team to beat Florida; looked unbeatable at the end of the season and whipped Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
4. Georgia, 10-3 (6-2): Didn't show up against Alabama or Florida and got taken to school by the Yellow Jackets, then drew a middling Michigan State team in its bowl.
5. LSU, 8-5 (3-5): Stumbled badly at the end of the season but whipped Georgia Tech in the Yellow Jackets' backyard.
6. Vanderbilt, 7-6 (4-4): That victory in Oxford just keeps looking better and better, doesn't it? Miracle win over a tough Boston College team was a beautiful ending to a beautiful season.
7. South Carolina, 7-6 (4-4): A scrappy team that fell apart at the end of the season and decided not to show up against Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
8. Kentucky, 7-6 (2-6): A weak non-conference schedule and a stout defense boosted Cats into a bowl, where they played hard and beat East Carolina.
9. Tennessee, 5-7 (3-5): Finished strong with wins over eventual bowl champions Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and now the Volunteer faithful eagerly await the arrival of their fresh-faced coach and his Dream Team of assistants.
10. Arkansas, 5-7 (2-6): The only team that didn't go to a bowl that didn't fire its coach. Petrino did a nice job given the circumstances and returns a ton of starters next season.
11. Auburn, 5-7 (2-6): After the Vanderbilt loss, the Tigers could only muster a victory over Tennessee-Martin. Now they're starting over.
12. Miss State, 4-8 (2-6): A sad season that ended with a thrashing at the hands of the Rebels and the firing of Coach Croom.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Here's the Moral Victory Top 25 — of course, Vanderbilt makes it

Here's the first annual post-bowl Moral Victory Top 25. The Commodores are No. 23. How the heck do they make it with six wins? Because they beat a team in the Top 25.

Here's how I decided to do it: I started with the final regular season BCS poll; in order to make the post-season poll, a team had to either beat an existing Top 25 team or be a Top 25 team already and lose to another Top 25 team.

The thinking is that you have to bring it when you play in a bowl; if you don't take your game seriously and you play poorly and lose badly, then you drop way down in the poll (see Cincinnati) or maybe fall out all together (see — or don't see — Georgia Tech). If you had a bunch of losses but you put it together in your bowl game and finished impressively, then you move way up (see Ole Miss) or at least get into the poll (see LSU and Vanderbilt).

Anyway, here it is:

1. Florida, 13-1 (No. 2 previous BCS), beat No. 1 Oklahoma
2. Utah, 13-0 (6), beat No. 4 Alabama
3. Texas, 12-1 (3), beat No. 10 Ohio State
4. USC, 12-1 (5), beat No. 8 Penn State
5. Oklahoma, 12-2 (1), lost to No. 2 Florida
6. Alabama, 12-2 (4), lost to No. 6 Utah
7. TCU, 11-2 (11), beat No. 9 Boise
8. Ole Miss, 9-4 (25), beat No. 7 Texas Tech
9. Penn State, 11-2 (8), lost to No. 5 USC
10. Boise State, 12-1 (9), lost to No. 11 TCU
11. Texas Tech, 12-2 (7), lost to No. 25 Ole Miss
12. Virginia Tech, 10-4 (19), beat No. 12 Cincy
13. Ohio State, 10-3 (10), lost to No. 3 Texas
14. Oregon, 10-3 (17), beat No. 13 Ok State
15. Georgia, 10-3 (15), beat No. 18 Mich State
16. LSU, 8-5 (NR), beat No. 14 Ga. Tech
17. Oregon State, 9-4 (NR), beat No. 20 Pitt
18. Tulsa, 11-3 (NR), beat No. 22 Ball
19. Missouri, 10-4 (21), beat No. 23 NW
20. Arizona, 8-5 (NR), beat No. 16 BYU
21. Oklahoma State, 9-4 (13), lost to No. 17 Oregon
22. Northwestern, 9-4 (23), lost to No. 21 Missouri
23. Vanderbilt, 7-6 (NR), beat No. 24 BC
24. Michigan State, 9-4 (18), lost to No. 15 Georgia
25. Cincinnati, 11-3 (12), lost to No. 19 Va. Tech

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Georgia's Stafford and Moreno jump to the NFL — and here's hoping history repeats itself for Vanderbilt

Last night, we were saying right here that Vanderbilt's game against Georgia next season would be easier than this past season's, especially if Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno jump to the NFL.

Well, guess what? Stafford and Moreno are jumping to the NFL. Next year it will be Joe Cox at quarterback and Richard Samuel/Caleb King at tailback for the Bulldogs.

But Cox, who'll be a senior, will have at least one true freshman blue chipper breathing down his neck.

Remember when Georgia was last in transition at quarterback?

It was 2006, when a sophomore quarterback from Alabama (Chris Nickson) led the Commodores to a stunning upset over the Bulldogs.

In 2009, a sophomore quarterback from Alabama (Larry Smith) could lead the Commodores to a stunning upset over the Bulldogs.

BC's Jagodzinski gone: "I can't beat Vanderbilt, but I can beat the Patriots!"

Boston College just fired head coach Jeff Jagodzinski for interviewing with the New York Jets. According to reports, a reporter asked the BC AD on Sunday what he thought about his coach's upcoming interview with the Jets. The AD hadn't heard jack, so he asked Jagodzinski, who fessed up, and then the AD told Jagz that he'd be fired if he went through with the interview, and Jagz did just that, so he's getting the ax.

Of course, we know why he really got fired. For the same reason that Tommy Tuberville got fired and countless coaches over the ages have gotten fired: He lost to Vanderbilt.

Maybe we can get some more coaches fired next year.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Commodores should be better next season, but that won't necessarily mean a better record

The Commodores won seven games this season and will have 18 starters returning, so they should have no problem winning at least seven games next season and returning to a bowl, right?

Not so fast.

Let's look at the schedule, and notice there will be zero bye weeks, compared to two this past season:

• Replaces: Miami-Ohio on the road
• Easier or tougher?: Easier
• Projected line: Vanderbilt -21
• Best outcome: VU 42, WC 06
• Worst outcome: VU 20, WC 10
• Summary: Vanderbilt didn't face a cupcake like this all last season, and it should be a welcome tuneup.

AT LSU (Sept. 12)
• Replaces: Auburn at home
• Easier or tougher?: Tougher
• Projected line: LSU -13
• Best outcome: VU 21, LSU 17
• Worst outcome: LSU 30, VU 07
• Summary: Think Boston College's defensive front was tough? The Commodores will need a big dose of last season's early magic to challenge the Tigers in Baton Rouge.

OLE MISS (Sept. 19)
• Replaces: Ole Miss on the road
• Easier or tougher?: Tougher; Commodores are at home, but the Rebels are only getting better
• Projected line: Ole Miss -3
• Best outcome: VU 24, Ole Miss 17
• Worst outcome: Ole Miss 28, VU 17
• Summary: It's a bummer when one of only two conference teams you expect to beat just won the Cotton Bowl.

AT RICE (Sept. 26)
• Replaces: Rice at home
• Easier or tougher?: Easier; Rice loses a bunch of offensive weapons
• Projected line: Vanderbilt -8
• Best outcome: VU 28, Rice 13
• Worst outcome: Rice 21, VU 20
• Summary: Jared Hawkins should have a big day playing in his own backyard.

• Replaces: Miss State on the road
• Easier or tougher?: Easier
• Projected line: Vanderbilt -3
• Best outcome: Vanderbilt 21, Miss State 10
• Worst outcome: Miss State 20, Vanderbilt 7
• Summary: Think the Commodores won't be motivated against the Bulldogs?

AT ARMY (Oct. 10)
• Replaces: Duke at home
• Easier or tougher?: Easier
• Projected line: Vanderbilt -10
• Best outcome: Vanderbilt 28, Army 6
• Worst outcome: Vanderbilt 13, Army 12
• Summary: This is the rare game in which Vanderbilt has vastly better talent than its opponent.

GEORGIA (Oct. 17)
• Replaces: Georgia on the road
• Easier or tougher?: Easier, especially if Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno jump to the NFL.
• Projected line: Georgia -9
• Best outcome: Vanderbilt 22, Georgia 20
• Worst outcome: Georgia 35, Vanderbilt 13
• Summary: Vanderbilt knows how to beat the Bulldogs, or at least scare them to death

• Replaces: South Carolina at home
• Easier or tougher?: Tougher
• Projected line: South Carolina -6
• Best outcome: Vanderbilt 17, South Carolina 14
• Worst outcome: South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 6
• Summary: Think Vanderbilt can beat the Gamecocks and Steve Spurrier three games in a row?

• Replaces: Wake Forest on the road
• Easier or tougher?: Tougher
• Projected line: Georgia Tech -4
• Best outcome: Vanderbilt 24, Georgia Tech 14
• Worst outcome: Georgia Tech 31, Vanderbilt 10
• Summary: Nobody wants to play Georgia Tech next season; at least we get the Jackets in Nashville.

• Replaces: Florida at home
• Easier or tougher?: Tougher
• Projected line: Florida -21
• Best outcome: UF 28, VU 20
• Worst outcome: UF 56, VU 14
• Summary: Florida just keeps on rolling, and this year the Commodores have to hoof it down to Gainesville.

KENTUCKY (Nov. 14)
• Replaces: Kentucky on the road
• Easier or tougher?: Easier
• Projected line: Vanderbilt -3
• Best outcome: VU 27, UK 14
• Worst outcome: UK 21, VU 10
• Summary: This could be Vanderbilt's easiest conference game, but it won't be easy with the Cats' stout defense and the emergence of quarterback Randall Cobb.

• Replaces: Tennessee at home
• Easier or tougher?: Tougher; we had a good opportunity to win last season and blew it.
• Projected line: Tennessee -6
• Best outcome: VU 17, UT 14
• Worst outcome: UT 21, VU 3
• Summary: It's too bad we don't have any open dates, but I like finishing the season against the Volunteers.

Best possible: 9-3 (5-3)
Worst possible: 3-9 (0-8)
Moral Victory Early Prediction: 6-6 (3-5); Vanderbilt depends mightily on catching SEC powerhouses in a down year. The Commodores will have a better team next season, and they will beat the teams they'll be expected to beat. But breaking even again in the conference and beating a tough Georgia Tech team will be a tall order.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Vanderbilt: Dominator of bowl champions

So the Commodores are Music City Bowl champions. That alone makes their season a success, but their domination of other bowl champions this year makes their season even a bigger success.

This season, Vanderbilt defeated the eventual champions of the Texas Bowl, the Liberty Bowl and the Cotton Bowl.

This season the Commodores defeated:

• Rice, who defeated Western Michigan 38-14 in the Texas Bowl.
• Ole Miss, who defeated Texas Tech 47-34 in the Cotton Bowl.
• Kentucky, who defeated East Carolina 25-19 in the Liberty Bowl.

Two teams that beat the Commodores also won their bowls (and it'll be three if Florida beats Oklahoma on Thursday:

• Georgia beat Michigan State 24-12 in the Capital One Bowl.
• Wake Forest defeated Navy 29-19 in the Eagle Bank Bowl.

The only Vanderbilt opponent to lose a bowl so far has been South Carolina, which lost to Iowa 31-10 in the Outback Bowl.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vanderbilt's top plays of the season — adjusted for the Music City Bowl

Before Vanderbilt's Music City Bowl victory, we gave you the Commodores' top 12 plays of the season on offense, defense and special teams. Well, time to do some updating.

We've added six plays from the Boston College game:
• Offense (2): Larry Smith's pass to George Smith that set up the game-winning field goal.
• Offense (8): Larry Smith's 51-yard bomb to Sean Walker in the first quarter.
• Defense (3): Myron Lewis' interception to end the game.
• Special teams (1): Brett Upson's amazing coffin corner punt that bounced off an Eagle returner's leg and was recovered in the end zone by true freshman Sean Richardson (see photo above).
• Special teams (2): Bryant Hahnfeldt's game-winning field goal.
• Special teams (5): Brett Upson's 43-yard punt late in the third quarter that was downed on the BC 3 yard line.

With these six plays replacing other plays, the Auburn game still holds the most big plays for the Commodores with eight, followed by six big plays apiece in the Boston College, South Carolina and Ole Miss games. The Kentucky game had five big plays, Rice four and Miami (Ohio) one.

Anyway, here are the updated rankings:


3. TD TO D.J. PART 1 (AT KENTUCKY 11/15)
6. TD TO D.J. PART 2 (AT KENTUCKY 11/15)






Saturday, January 3, 2009

Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Ted Cain wants to continue "doing the right things" — huh?

In Wednesday's victory over Boston College, Vanderbilt did the right things on defense and special teams. Obviously, the Commodore offense was another story.

So what does offensive coordinator Ted Cain plan to do next season if he's still aboard, and Bobby Johnson hasn't said anything to lead us to believe otherwise?

He told the Tennessean's Mo Patton: "We'll continue to look at our scheme, both run and pass, and make sure we're doing the right things and asking them to do the right things."

Make sure we're doing the right things? How about: Make sure we start doing the right things!

There's more:

"Our biggest thing is we need to score more points. That's our biggest goal."

Great! Self-awareness is a start. Of course, being ranked among the three worst offenses in college football should get anybody's attention.

"We'll always address those areas like red-zone, short-yardage, but we need to continue to keep the ball, drive the ball and score points."

On Wednesday, his offense did keep the ball. Check.

And it did drive the ball early and when it need to. Check.

But scoring points? Ah, no. When you can't score points, your defense and special teams have to be perfect and get some lucky breaks, too, if you're going to win.

You know how many points our offense scored against Tennessee, Wake Forest and Boston College combined?


You know how many points our offense scored against Miss State and Duke?


We've got to score points to win, and we've got to be able to score quick and have big plays on offense.

I'm sure Bobby Johnson realizes this, I hope Ted Cain does too, and I look forward to seeing what they're going to do about it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

For once, D.J. Moore lacks timing — Vanderbilt All-American chooses wrong time to announce he's leaving school for the NFL

Everybody figured that Wednesday's Music City Bowl would be the last game in a Vanderbilt uniform for D.J. Moore, the Commodore's brilliant all-everything player. Everybody also figured that Moore would have to do just about everything for the Commodores to upset Boston College.

As it turned out, Moore rolled his ankle in the second quarter after breaking up a deep ball that Ryan Hamilton grabbed for an interception.

Vanderbilt won the game without D.J. Moore. True freshman Casey Hayward played brilliantly, and nearly grabbed an interception late in the game before Myron Lewis got burned deep. And except for that one surrendered 55-yard TD, Lewis looked like an All-American himself, breaking on the ball and leaping for the game-ending interception.

It was a gutsy victory for the Commodores, and their first bowl victory since 1955. Announcer Bob Davie, who either doesn't prepare for games or has extremely poor short-term memory, thought it was the Commodores' first bowl victory ever. At any rate, it was a big story. So ESPN went down on the field after the game to talk to D.J. Moore.

Was he frustrated to be on the sideline with the game on the line? "I wanted to play," Moore said. "He (Coach Bobby Johnson) didn’t want me to play so it was very frustrating."

Yeah, Coach Johnson didn't want his best player to play. More like, Coach Johnson didn't want to injure a future first-round NFL draft pick. There's no doubt that Bobby Johnson cares about his players; in fact, he had worked with D.J. to give him an honest assessment of his potential and he knew midway through the season that this season would be D.J.'s last.

Down on the field after the game, the ESPN guy asked D.J. about the NFL. "Honestly I done done all I can do in college, I feel," D.J. said. "I wanted to be All-American, I wanted to be All-SEC, so this is my last year in college football."

So ESPN went back to the studio and talked about D.J. and how he'll make a good NFL cover man and return specialist. Mark May said he's got the size and speed and he's very physical and he can cover one-on-one and he's a return man.

"When you go to Vanderbilt," continued May, "they don’t go to bowl games, they don’t win bowl games, so for D.J. Moore to make that decision now is the proper decision because he’s definitely going to be drafted high in the NFL draft.

So D.J. stole the team's thunder. In what was and is a great moment for Vanderbilt, D.J. announces that he's going pro and the producer cuts to the studio so the so-called expert can talk about what a bad program Vanderbilt is and how D.J. should get out the first chance he can because the Commodores will surely return to their losing ways.

I like D.J. By all accounts he's a good kid. And he's a football player, not a public speaker or trained media spokesperson. Of course he didn't mean to take the spotlight from his teammates or cast aspersions on Coach Johnson. The ESPN sideline guy clearly had a tip and was gunning for a scoop and clearly D.J. wanted to tell the world he was going pro.

The timing was bad, that's all. The deadline to declare for the draft is two weeks away, and D.J. had already made his decision months ago. He could have waited another day or two, avoiding these questions like most every other player in this situation does and celebrating with his teammates, and then holding a press conference or releasing a statement later in the week.

During the postgame press conference, somebody asked Johnson about it.

Johnson said D.J. was not coming back to school and was going to start preparing for the NFL. "I want what’s best for him," Johnson said. "I really hope it works out for him. . . How he does in the NFL I really don’t know. He’s a football player."

As for Vanderbilt's future, ESPN's excellent SEC blogger Chris Low had this take after the Music City Bowl:

"The reality is that this has been building for several years at Vanderbilt. Johnson has upgraded the talent. His staff is outstanding, and these guys believe.

"Even with Moore leaving for the NFL, there's a lot of young talent in the program, making the future a bright one.

"And winning a bowl game will only help matters as Johnson and his assistants hit the recruiting trail in January.

"The next step is ramping up the offense, but the Commodores proved Wednesday they know how to win, and more importantly, have the fortitude to fight back from a disappointing finish to the regular season and make history."

Amen, brother.

And thanks, D.J., for helping turn the ship around.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

These Music City Bowl plays made the difference for Vanderbilt

Remember Vanderbilt's victories earlier in the season over South Carolina, Ole Miss and Auburn? Each of those games had a bunch of plays that decided the game for the Commodores — take any of those plays away and Vanderbilt loses, maybe even by a couple of touchdowns.

Add the Music City Bowl to these games. Here are 10 huge plays that won it for the Dores:

1. SMITH GOES DEEP TO WALKER (first quarter): On Vanderbilt's second drive of the game, surprise starter Larry Smith fires a 51-yard pass to Sean Walker, showing that the previous scoring drive wasn't a fluke. Though Smith is once again replaced by Nickson and the offense once again breaks down in the red zone, the pass ultimately leads to another Hahnfeldt field goal and a 6-0 lead.

2. WELCH'S GRAB (first quarter): With Vanderbilt winning 6-0 and facing third and one on their own 34 yard line, Smith takes a vicious shot and the ball sails into the air. Right tackle Thomas Welch, a former tight end, snatches the fumble like it's a short pass play. Vanderbilt won't have a turnover all day.

3. NICKSON'S BIG RUN (third quarter): On the Commodores' first drive of the second half, Smith heads to the bench once again in favor of Nickson. The partisan crowd starts to boo the move until Nickson breaks free for a 30-yard run that will constitute about 40 percent of the team's rushing yards for the whole game. Though Vanderbilt can't convert on third down and has to punt, Nickson's run sets up...

4. THE INCREDIBLE BOUNCING PUNT (third quarter): Brett Upson (see above) launches another rolling rugby punt that bounces straight for the return man, grazing his leg and continuing on toward the goal line. While the punt coverage team, unaware of the ball's live status, is waiting to down it on the one yard line, true freshman Sean Richardson knocks the ball into the end zone and falls on it. After some confusion, the referees signals touchdown. It's the miracle touchdown that Vanderbilt needs. After the PAT, Commodores leads 13-7. In the post-game press conference, the Tennessean's Joe Biddle would tell Upson, "Take us through that punt where you aimed it at the BC player's foot. That’s pretty good."

5. ANOTHER UPSON BEAUTY (third quarter): Late in the third quarter, Upson booms a 43-yard punt that pins the Eagles back on their three yard line. In all, he'll place three punts inside the 20 yard line, have a 42.7 yard net average for the game, and be named Most Valuable Player of the Music City Bowl.

6. THE FACE MASK PENALTY (fourth quarter): Suddenly trailing 14-13 late in the fourth quarter and deep in Commodore territory, Larry Smith runs a draw play and a Golden Eagle player grabs his face mask for only the second penalty of the game. Vanderbilt moves up to its own 44.

7. THE ROUGHING THE PASSER PENALTY (fourth quarter): On a crucial third and two, Mackenzi Adams enters the game for what will be his only play of the day. His pass falls incomplete, but BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, the ACC defensive player of the year, hits Adams. A flag flies and the ball moves to the BC 34. Herzlich later says he wasn't trying to hit Adams late. No matter.

8. SMITH TO SMITH (fourth quarter): After another backward running play backs up Vanderbilt to the BC 40, freshman Larry Smith hits fifth-year senior George Smith for a 15-yard pass that puts the ball on the BC 25 and the Commodores into field goal range.

9. HAHNFELDT NAILS IT (fourth quarter): Late in the fourth quarter, Bryant Hahnfeldt, the same guy who missed a couple of short field goals against Duke, nails a 45-yard field goal and gives Vanderbilt a 16-14 lead.

10. LEWIS REDEEMS HIMSELF (fourth quarter): Myron Lewis, the same guy who was burned minutes earlier on a 55-yard up-and-out pass play that gave BC the lead, floats in front of a BC receiver, picks off a Dominique Davis pass and gets his feet in bounds in front of a jubilant Commodore bench. Game over. Lewis also iced the Auburn victory with an interception.

Note: The last five of these plays happened at the end of the game, in a span of five minutes.

Coach Bobby Johnson on Vanderbilt's Music City Bowl victory — and the future

Here are some post-game quotes from the always quotable Coach Johnson:

• "Field position was huge in this game."
• "No penalties, no turnovers, 16 points on special teams — it’s a good formula if you can make it work."
• "Our fans were fantastic — we could hear them the whole game. I’m sure that helped us and gave us a little bit of an advantage but we’re glad they were there."
• "That was the main emphasis for us — if you win the bowl game you’ll have a winning season. We want to be called winners. We want to be called champions. "
• "We had extra time for special teams (during bowl practices) that we took advantage of."

• On Chris Nickson's passing: "He didn’t do a very good job of that."
• On Vanderbilt's performance on third down (only one first down on 15 tries, including zero-for-five on third and one yard):"We didn’t do a very good job on third down."
• On the weather: "It was cold out there today."
• On how he felt after the win: "I guess everybody can figure out we’re pretty happy. It may not have been the prettiest victory in the whole world but it is now."

• On improving on third and one: "That’s going to be an emphasis in spring practice. It ought to be automatic. We ought to get third and one at least 80-90 percent of the time."
• On next year's team: "We got a bunch of guys coming back who’ve gotten used to winning and liking it."

52,250 Vanderbilt fans helped Commodores win Music City Bowl

I've already given you a bunch of key stats from the game — rushing yards, third down efficiency, net punting average, etc.

But here's another number, and a really big one:


That's the attendance at LP Field for this year's Music City Bowl. Now consider that Boston College brought about 2,000 fans with them. Now subtract 2,000 from 54,250 and you're left with 52,250 — the number of people rooting for Vanderbilt.

That's about right. I was at the game on Wednesday and I'd say about 4 percent of the crowd was wearing maroon and gold and the rest were wearing black and gold.

It was a special moment, sitting in a big-time stadium that any big-time college football team would be proud to call home, and for one night it was filled with screaming Vanderbilt fans. For one night, LP Field was our house.

"The crowd was fantastic," Bobby Johnson said in the press conference after the game. "I looked around and it was black and gold everywhere. It was cold out there today. For those fans to cheer us on in those elements, it was great."

I was there with my wife and four children and my brother-in-law and his son. It was cold, but it was great. We were in the end zone when Hahnfeldt hit his big kick. Then after the game we were heading out of Nashville on I-40 when we heard Johnson on the radio telling Joe Fisher that the crowd was fantastic. He kept using the word fantastic.

"Hey kids, listen to this," I called back to the two kids on the second row of seats in the minivan and the two kids on the third row of seats in the minivan. "He's talking about you."

And if you were there cheering on the Commodores, he was talking about you too.

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?