Saturday's game didn't earn the Commodores any style points, but it did allow Vanderbilt to match last season's win total just two weeks into the 2011 campaign.
Coach James Franklin improved his record to 2-0 with a 24-21 victory over UConn Saturday night at Dudley Field. The Commodores overplayed expectations, besting Vegas's two-point spread, but the real story here is how the team pulled off the win. Vanderbilt pissed away an 11-point halftime lead in devastating fashion, but showed the resolve to overcome adversity and pull off a resume-building win over a BCS opponent.
Sure, Connecticut's terrible offense played a role in the comeback, but the impact for this veteran-laden team is clear. This simply wasn't the kind of game that the "same ol' Vanderbilt" grits out. When the Huskies fell on Richard Kent's blocked punt in the end zone, fans everywhere felt their stomachs turn. When Yawin Smallwood rumbled 64 yards after some of the worst pass blocking Nashville has ever seen, it was tough to think that the 'Dores could come back. It looked as though mistakes would squander a stellar defensive effort and sink this season before the leaves could change in Nashville. You could almost hear recruits jumping off the bandwagon.
Then it happened. Casey Hayward made a statement interception, then returned it 50 yards for a touchdown as if to say "Hey, don't put this bullshit on the defense." Minutes later, Zac Stacy would put the team on his back and rumble 48 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Though there was still time for UConn to come back, the momentum was rushing back into Dudley Field. The sucker-punch feeling was gone. There was no way that the Vandy defense was going to give up a two-minute drill touchdown.
And they held.
Vanderbilt won a game in which they normally would have folded. The last time I can remember this team reversing expectations like that was back in 2008 against Ole Miss, where Chris Marve and the 'Dores used turnovers to pull out a big win in Oxford. That season, of course, brought ESPN's Gameday to the Peabody campus and ended at the Music City Bowl. Can 2011 be the year that the team finally follows up on that team's promise?
Good/bad analysis and the PiBB ICE Player of the Week Award are after the jump...
The Vandy defense proved that they can win even if the team's offense gains less than 260 yards for the game. However, that'll be a much tougher feat against teams like Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama. While the strength and resolve of this team is laudable, the offense is going to have to get better in order to give players like Marve and Hayward a proper sendoff in 2011.
- The Defense. Everyone under Bob Shoop's watch looked better than expected Saturday night, from the D-Line to the secondary. Granted, part of that is thanks to a tanking offense and some baffling playcalling on the UConn side, but it's tough to not be impressed by the way these guys came together. Their efforts kept the Huskies from mounting any legit scoring threat for the final 52 minutes of the game.
- Jerron Seymour, featured tailback. Seymour showed that he can create space even with limited blocking, exploding through a shoddy offensive line to put his stamp on the game with a 40 yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He'd finish with 70 yards on the ground on just eight carries. The freshman bowling ball hasshown a knack for getting out of jams and has a rare blend of lateral quickness and straight-line power that should make him an offensive threat for the next four years.
- Carey Spear. Minutes after drilling a field goal that would prove to be the game winner, Spear got downfield to help bring down UConn's Nick Williams on the ensuing kickoff. Then he went back to the sideline and drank a gallon of fresh goat's blood. It's awesome to have a fearless lunatic kicking for you.
- Brandon Barden's injury. Barden, arguably the team's best offensive player, left Saturday's game with a left leg injury and was later seen on the sidelines wearing a walking cast and on crutches. Though the team has yet to release any official diagnosis on the redshirt senior's fate, his tweets may suggest that the injury might not be as bad as it looks. Still, we'll be waiting on official word and hoping to get the big target back in the lineup soon.
- Jabo Burrow's Injury. The Vanderbilt faithful received terrible news as the team revealed that Jabo Burrow's playing career was likely over thanks to concussion-related issues. Burrow had developed into a solid presence on the Vandy offensive line and was still developing as a player after switching from defensive end back in 2009. This is terrible news for the player and the team, and we all wish him a full recovery.
- That quarterback situation. Larry Smith started strong and then faded, partially because he was getting planted more often than a pallet of hydrangeas. He absorbed seven sacks on the night, a testament to this team's offensive line woes and Smith's difficulty in recognizing when to get rid of the ball. Jordan Rodgers was inserted into a first-and-21 situation deep in Vanderbilt territory and didn't look much better in what could end up being a confidence-breaking series. While Smith had his moments, it's safe to say that no part of the quarterback situation - from passing, to pocket awareness, to player management, and especially to protection - went well for the Commodores Saturday night.
The PiBB ICE Player of the Week Award*: Rob Lohr
Rob Lohr made his presence felt with four tackles for loss against the Huskies - a stat that makes sense when you consider the he was the team's co-leader in that category in 2010. He single-handedly pushed UConn back 12 yards behind three running stops in the backfield, but it was his fourth quarter sack that helped quell a Husky rally and lock down the Vandy victory. He's emerging as the leader of this team's underrated defensive line.