The hangover, week 4

IN which a 41-year-old Commodore supporter who thinks "sure, let the nephew put marshmallows AND gummy sharks AND sour gummy worms on his ice cream for dinner" tries to find the good in this week's Vanderbilt game

Any win you can walk away from is a good one. Start with that. We won the game and nobody else got hurt. That's a good day's work, far as I'm concerned. We're 2-2 at the one-third mark, right on pace for 6-6. And that's the thing. 6-6 would match the best season this program had from 1983 to 2011. What used to be the ceiling is now the floor, and that's tremendous.

Now, does this team have problems? HUGE ones. There's no defense in the middle - the injuries and youth have left the linebacking corps in shambles. We can sell out and stop the run, or we can sell out and stop the pass, but we can't really do both right now. I change my previous assertion that the only player we miss as much as Zac Stacy is Richard Kent - special teams are the brightest spot we have. No, the guy we miss now is Archibald Barnes. And Rob Lohr. And Tim Fugger. And Chris Marve. In those dark days of the 1990s, the one thing we could hang our hat on was defense. I don't think there's precedent for a Vanderbilt team where the offense is actually ahead of the defense. Which may not be saying heaps at this point, but there's adjustment and scheming on offense that's paying dividends.

Can't really say that about the defense - we need the sort of freewheeling opportunistic defense that can force turnovers and make things happen, but instead, we just can't get off the field on third down. It doesn't help that we're lining up to give a cushion and letting a school like UMass have their best passing day of the year. I don't care if you're playing the Green Bay Packers, nobody should ever complete 11 passes in a row on your defense.

I blame some of it on the game itself. Playing in a near-empty pro stadium at noon, after flying up the day before - it's got to be the deadest place in the world. I honestly think that if that game happens in a smaller stadium with the same crowd, it's a little more lively and we do a little better. At home, I think that game finishes like last year. But you play what's on the schedule.

I'll be in town next week for UAB. That's the last probable win on the books for a while. After that things start to ramp up in a hurry. We ought to be able to beat Mizzou and Kentucky at home, and Wake for that matter, and I have to think last year's Vandy team would be a sure favorite against this year's Florida or Tennessee based on what I saw today. But we don't have last year's team.

Actually we don't have next year's. We start something like 16 seniors. Couple that with the off-field distractions, and there's a very real risk this is going to turn into a lost season pretty quickly. We need a quality win next week, the sort of thing we can build momentum around. We also need to start getting some run from the younger guys, because they'll have the reins next year.

But right now I'm just going to pour some more scotch and keep telling myself "a win is a win is a win is a win is a..."

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