You know what the worst part about Thursday night's pass interference no-call? It was that we've seen this before. In fact, we saw this fewer than 11 months ago:
Remember that game? Vandy made a run at a high-level SEC opponent - in this case, Florida - before ultimately falling behind late in the fourth quarter. Then, on a play with crucial implications for the Commodores' comeback, a blatant pass-interference call was either completely missed or entirely ignored by referees. The rally was squashed. The 'Dores couldn't fight back once their momentum was sucked away. Vanderbilt lost.
It was even the same. damn. player.
As much as James Franklin can say, and to an extent prove, that it's a Brand New Vanderbilt in Nashville, the refs seem to ignore his claims. The players are better, the culture has improved, but the result is the same. There's only so much solace that you can take when ESPN's announcers point out that the men in black and white have screwed this team once again.
There's only one way to change that, and it won't be easy. James Franklin has to get this team running smoothly enough to win in spite of blown calls. Rather than focusing on the one play that tilted the balance of a Vanderbilt comeback, he has to be rewinding tape and pointing out the previous slate that built to that precipice. The Commodores have never been the kind of team that wins SEC games on the backs of tide-changing plays late in the fourth quarter. Instead, they have to be the team that grows in each quarter and turns away from the mistakes that allowed a shaky South Carolina team to make a comeback run in the first place.
Vanderbilt may be reloading with more talent than ever before, but they're still going to be treated like the lambs of the SEC by conference officials, even if it's not a conscious decision. While the rest of the league will get the Dwyane Wade treatment with the whistles, Vandy is going to be stuck playing the role of befuddled rookie until they can establish themselves. Until then, the team will just have to continue to wonder where these no-calls are coming from and find a way to beat their opponents even if the deck seems to be stacked against their favor.
The Commodores proved that they can hang with a top 10 team on Thursday. Unfortunately, moral victories are no longer acceptable in Nashville. They'll have to recover strong to put this season-opening loss behind them. The talent is there, but a trip to Northwestern won't be an easy task. On Saturday, we'll get an even deeper look into the inner workings of this team.
Good/Bad Analysis and the PiBB Ice Player of the Week are after the jump...
Jordan Matthews lived up to the hype. Just imagine how much better he could be if opposing defenses didn't know that they essentially have the green light to push him around once the ball is in the air.
The secondary. Connor Shaw was hurt, and he's not the toughest QB that Vandy will face by any means, but the Commodores held USCe to just 67 passing yards in their first game without Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson. Holding Gamecock quarterbacks to just 4.5 yards per attempt was a strong start for the defensive backfield.
Carey Spear brought it back. Praise Vertigo. PRAISE HIM. Everyone's favorite completely insane kicker started 2012 off right, booting field goals from 25 and 44 yards to help erase the memories of last year's Flight 815 special teams experience. Spear also put a 49-yarder through the uprights that ended up being called back thanks to a dubious false start penalty against the Commodores.
Jordan Rodgers's first interception of the year. On 3rd and goal, the Commodores trotted out a sweep and misdirection pass back that flatted out the field of play near the goal line and failed to fool the Gamecocks. Rodgers ended up throwing a horizontal pass off his back foot that was easy pickings for Shaq Wilson. Wilson rumbled back to midfield with the ball and helped set up Carolina's first touchdown two plays later.
It was a bad play, bad playcalling, and bad execution. In this case, it led to a 10-14 point swing in a game that was ultimately decided by one possession. Vanderbilt often wrings the most it can out of their gadget plays, but a stupid play in the red zone cost the Commodores on Thursday.
Warren Norman isn't back yet. When Zac Stacy left the game with an injury, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Norman to remind people of why he was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2009. Instead, the redshirt junior didn't even get to the field. There was no immediate word on his status for next week. Sophomore Jerron Seymour, who looked to be the team's change-of-pace back according to last week's depth chart, also failed to record a snap in Thursday's opener.
The Pibb Ice Player of the Week: Jordan Matthews
Matthews backed up the preseason hype by exploding for Vanderbilt's first touchdown of the season with a 78-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter. That play cut USCe's lead down to just three points and brought a dazed home crowd to their feet. He showed that he's ready to follow up on last year's late-season breakout, catching eight passes for 147 yards and a TD. The junior wideout was responsible for over 2/3rds of Jordan Rodgers's passing output on the day.