Think back through the history of football. Maybe it's Van Tiffin splitting the uprights from 52 yards to put Bama over Auburn in 1985. Maybe it's Wide Right I and II for Florida State against Miami and a chain of events leading to a freshman kicker on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Or maybe it's just 2005, and Middle Tennessee is swatting down a field goal attempt that began a slide taking Vanderbilt from 4-0 to 5-5 before the shock upset of UT. Had we been able to get off that one field goal, we break the slump and go to a bowl in 2005. Hell, if we hit just one field goal against the Vols in 2011, we're sitting here nursing a 3-game winning streak and they're facing the prospect of a senior class that never beat Vanderbilt for the first time since Coolidge.
I say that because in the last four years, Carey Spear has become so reliable a presence, we have an unheard-of luxury for Vanderbilt fans: we know that once the ball reaches the red zone, we'll be coming away with points. The numbers don't lie: Vandy's red-zone scoring percentage in 2013 was an amazing 88.1%. More to the point, it meant that when Jordan Matthews made an amazing catch with under a minute left in Neyland Stadium, we knew we had at least a tie and overtime in the bag. Against Wake, with the eighth win and the senior legacy on the line, all I could think was "just get it to the 20 and we got this."
Check the 2013 touchback percentage: 67.69%. Two out of three kickoffs are going where they can do no harm. The greatest return men in history are harmless if they never get to handle the ball, and the best defenses in the world can be strained by giving them only sixty or sixty-five yards to defend instead of seventy-five. Consider: 43 extra points in 43 tries in 2013. No slips, no mistakes, no one point left on the table to bite us in the ass.
Or look at it this way: in the four games Vanderbilt lost in 2013, Carey Spear was 100% in all of them. No missed PATs, no missed field goals. When the chips were down and the breaks were beating the boys, we could always absolutely rely on our placekicker. And we haven't even discussed this amazing sleight-of-hand against Georgia...
...or this soul-crusing blow at Missouri...
...or Cordarelle Patterson deciding one year playing against Vandy was plenty...
...or even this incident from 2010, on that dark night against Wake Forest, when we saw what might have been the first crack of light shining through from the New Age of Vanderbilt Football. Yes, Carey Spear hits so hard he cracks the fabric of reality itself.
And we haven't even gotten into the off-field stuff. The multiple appearances on the SEC Academic Honor Roll. The only SEC player named to the Allstate Good Works team, one of only 11 in the country. All the things that make us proud of the best of Vanderbilt athletics.
Clearly I’m not about to claim someone other than Spear should win special teamer of the year. And Butler made some huge game changing plays on FG block team.
But Darrius Sims’s returns should have been just as game changing had the offense cashed in. His first career return against Ole Miss gave us life after the gut punch TD. His best return of the year went 71 yards to the Tennessee 26 after Tennessee had just taken a 10-7 lead and should have guaranteed at least a game-tying field goal if not for a fumble in the ensuing drive.
More than anything, he made kickoffs something to watch with excitement rather than dread we’d screw it up. Other Vandy returners averaged 8 yards fewer per return than Sims. Sims deserves plenty of credit for turning kickoffs into a weapon, when before we’d just been hoping for touchbacks.
Finally a quick kudos to the always underappreciated snappers and coverage guys. Long snapper Andrew East, on top of keeping the snaps mostly uneventful, also registered 4 total tackles on punt coverage. Leaders in special teams coverage included Andrew Williamson (5 total tackles, 1 fumble recovered) and Torren McGaster and Darrius Sims (each with 4 total tackles and a fumble recovered).
- The Goche