The Commodore Review: How Vanderbilt Really Looked in Their 41-18 Beating of Tennessee

Frederick Breedon

Vanderbilt's 41-18 win over Tennessee was the team's first at home since 1982. The 'Dores relied on a huge third quarter to effectively get Derek Dooley fired and claim their throne as the best college football team in Tennessee.

Well, we got Derek Dooley fired.

Of course, like Joker Phillips before him, Dooley's fate wasn't created by the Commodores - it was merely sealed by them. Vanderbilt ran away to a 41-18 victory at Dudley Field on Saturday night, holding one of the conference's most explosive offenses to just one touchdown drive. Dooley had made it clear that the only thing he could do anymore was to "kick the shit out of Vandy" in the past two seasons. When he proved that he couldn't even handle that task, the Volunteers decided that they couldn't even allow him the comfort of coaching Tennessee's last game of the season.

So, in one fell swoop, Vanderbilt:

  • Beat Tennessee at home for the first time since 1982.
  • Recorded a five-win SEC season for the first time since 1935.
  • Guaranteed their second winning season since 1982.
  • Kept Tennessee out of a bowl game in 2012.
  • Got Derek Dooley fired.

That's one hell of a busy night, but that's not all. Players like Jordan Matthews, Zac Stacy, and Jordan Rodgers all worked their way up the Commodore record books with standout games that showed just how far this team has come in three months. Rodgers passed Chris Nickson for 10th all-time with 2,190 yards through the air. If he keeps up his pace, he'll end up third on the team's single-season passing yardage list. Stacy, despite being limited by various injuries throughout the season, now owns the seventh-best rushing year in school history, and he's got a good chance to be the only Commodore to record two 1,000-yard seasons at tailback. Matthews, who broke out for 115 yards on Saturday, is just 95 yards from breaking Boo Mitchell's single-season receiving record.

Forget the notion that this is the "same old Vandy." This team is already light years ahead of where they were in 2011. The level of improvement that this team has undergone has been impressive. The 'Dores went from being a team that gassed out under the weight of stalled offensive drives in the fourth quarter to become an unlikely juggernaut in the second half. The Tennessee win marked the second straight game where Vanderbilt's halftime adjustments proved to be the difference between victory and defeat. In their last six wins, Franklin's team has outscored their opponents 107-37 in the third and fourth quarters.

That advantage has been the product of an offense that has finally found its rhythm and a defense that has matured quickly after losing four impact players from 2011. The team's linebackers have continued to impress, as veterans like Archibald Barnes and Chase Garnham have teamed up with less experienced players at the position to create a cohesive and athletic unit. In front of them, a deep defensive line helped stop UT behind their own line of scrimmage seven times. In the backfield, an experienced secondary limited Tyler Bray and Justin Worley to just 154 yards while completing fewer than 50 percent of their passes.

Most importantly, these kids are playing with confidence. Vanderbilt had several opportunities to crumble against a talented Volunteer team. Instead, they got huge performances across the roster when they needed them the most, putting together a 21-point third quarter that essentially ended the game 15 minutes before the clock ran out. This time, it was the Volunteers who looked shell shocked, making careless mistakes, botching gadget plays, and looking utterly defeated when the fourth quarter rolled around. If you stripped each team of its colors and logos, you probably could have convinced most Commodore fans that game footage from Saturday was a Tennessee win from the mid-90s.

The tables have turned in Tennessee. Vanderbilt now has the best college football team in the Volunteer State (with due respect to Middle Tennessee State). How long that will last is anyone's guess, but with James Franklin in tow, that's a mantle that the 'Dores can hang on to for years to come. Who Tennessee hires next will be one of the biggest questions that the SEC will face this offseason. Whoever they pick, you can be pretty sure that he'll think twice before announcing that he'll kick the shit out of Vanderbilt.

The Good:

  • Carey Spear. SPEAR. You may think that Spear knocked himself out when he flew down the field to lay out Cordarelle Patterson in the third quarter. In reality, he was just unlocking the temporal phase shift that allows him to commune with Vertigo, medieval god of blight and explosion. While there, Spear had sex with his wife.
  • Duke losing to Georgia Tech, 42-24. News broke today that Miami has banned itself from postseason play in 2012. That means that the Blue Devils were just a win over the Yellow Jackets from heading to the ACC Championship game and a very unlikely, but still possible, BCS berth. Instead, they'll remain as an eligible, and very possible, choice for the Commodores to face in the Music City Bowl.

    That's great for two reasons; it will give Vandy a chance to pay Duke back for a 2008 home beating that nearly kept the 'Dores out of their first bowl game since 1982, and it will give ESPN announcers to re-use all the same nerd jokes that they came up with for the Vanderbilt/Harvard NCAA Tournament game this past March.
  • Tennessee comes up with a worse fake punt than trying to pass off Zac Stacy as a kicker. Fourth-and-nine at your own 19? THAT'S JUST CRAZY ENOUGH TO WORK.

The Bad:

  • Kris Kentera gift wraps a red zone interception, Vandy destroys three straight TD opportunities. If there was ever a moment for this game to swing back into Tennessee's hands, it was in the third quarter. Mistakes erased three potential touchdowns from the scoreboard and eventually gave the ball to the Volunteers without making them pay for the dumbest fake punt of the year. First, Chris Boyd's leap into the end zone was called back on a ticky-tack block in the back from Josh Grady. Then, Zac Stacy's pass-back glanced off Jordan Rodgers's fingertips in the end zone. Finally, Rodgers put a pass directly into Kentera's chest, where it somehow deflected straight up into the air and into Byron Moore's hands for an interception. Three probable touchdown scoring plays, zero points.
  • The return of Cain-ian playcalling. Vanderbilt's second half adjustments have been impressive, but the team's first-half playcalling has been a bit suspect. A litany of runs up the middle and conservative calls helped dig the 'Dores into an early hole. Vandy converted only one of eight third downs in the first half, whiffing on their first seven attempts thanks to a run-heavy plan that left few third-and-short opportunities. Franklin and John Donovan came out much stronger in the second half, but there is still plenty of work to be done early if the 'Dores don't want to have to play from behind against Wake Forest.

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The PiBB Ice Player of the Week: Andre Hal

Vanderbilt had been surprisingly low on interceptions in 2012 despite fielding an upper-tier secondary. Hal helped change that on Saturday, producing two of the team's three picks against the Volunteers. He returned each interception for over 30 yards to set up Commodore touchdowns on the ensuing drives. His play swung open a game that had favored Tennessee early.

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