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The Commodore Review: How Vanderbilt Really Looked Against Florida

In case you haven't watched Saturday's game with Florida yet, watch this video first. Otherwise, the coming rant won't make much sense:

Let's be realistic here. This play didn't dictate whether Vanderbilt won or lost. Even if pass interference were called on De'Ante Saunders for a blatant push on Jordan Matthews, the Commodores still had plenty of work to do. They had 20 yards to go to get a touchdown, and even then would have left Florida six minutes to answer - something the Gators did with their eventual game deciding drive and Jeffery Demps's 51-yard touchdown run. 

Countless other points contend with this one in the book of reasons why the Commodores lost. What about the defensive line's complete inability to tackle in the first half? How about Logan Stewart's inability to swallow his emotions in the second quarter, where his dumb fouls stopped a potential Vanderbilt scoring drive? Then there's Rob Lohr's inability to stay onsides on fourth-and-one with the game on the line, a play where Lohr was apparently the only person in the state of Florida not waiting on the hard count.

Yes, there were plenty of other obstacles standing in the way of Vanderbilt's first win in the swamp since 1945. 

It still doesn't change the fact that this call was one big pile of horseshit.

James Franklin keeps contending that this team isn't the "same 'ol Vandy," but sometimes that's a guarantee that he just can't make. This team put together a first half that looked a lot like the school's terrible squads of the past. When they came out for the second half, they shook off that curse. They looked like a bowl team. They looked like a legitimate contender in the SEC East. They were anything but the ghosts of Rod Dowhower and Woody Widenhofer.

Franklin forgot one thing, however. He got stung by the one matter that torments all Vanderbilt coaches. He forgot that the football fates - in this instance a referee crew headed by Penn Wagers - will continue to tip the scales against the Commodores at the most inopportune moments.

Vanderbilt was plagued by stupid problems Saturday afternoon. They gave up over 100 yards in penalties alone. The defense couldn't wrap players up. Offensive linemen couldn't keep their cool. Rob Lohr proved that his last name, in the right context, can become a proper four letter word.

But even when things go right, as they did behind a pair of beautiful drives led by Jordan Rodgers, the fates are there to remind us that this is still Vanderbilt. And Vanderbilt does not win in Gainesville.

Give credit to the Gators. They won because they were the better team. They won because they were faster and more disciplined. They played a spirited game on homecoming and did what it took to get the victory.

Still, Vanderbilt got screwed Saturday afternoon. While the referees sure didn't help matters, this team did it to themselves this time. They made the mistakes that ended up burying them in a game that could have huge implications when bowl season rolls around. They gave the fates the opening they needed to send Vandy fans scrambling for the tallest drink they could find. The result was an outcome it's tough to be optimistic about. 

But hell, maybe swapping muted optimism for bitter disappointment after a close loss is a key component of bleaching away the lasting stains of "same ol' Vandy." James Franklin has us expecting more from this team than some of us ever have before. That's not much consolation - especially after the way the last three SEC games have played out - but that's something. Let's hope that it's enough to keep fans and recruits on board despite another loss.

Good/Bad analysis and the Pibb ICE Player of the Game are after the jump...

The Good:

  • Jordan Rodgers, bringer of doom: Rodgers has put together the best two-game passing streak since the Jay Cutler era. Against Florida and Arkansas, he's completed 34 of 55 passes (61.8%) and accounted for six touchdowns (three passing, three rushing). He's also added 86 yards on the ground. His 7.21 yards per attempt are two yards more than Larry Smith's career high for a season. 

    Rodgers is starting to reconcile his impressive physical attributes with the speed of SEC play. His timing is coming along with his receivers, and his growth behind center has been one of the most impressive things about this season. He's developing a strong rapport with the first team offense now, utilizing weapons like Jordan Matthews and Brandon Barden and turning a gadget offense into a legitimately scary unit. He also ran one hell of a two-minute drill to pull this team within 21-26 late in the game Saturday.
  • Comebacks: Vanderbilt trailed 17-0 at the half and realistically should have been down more, thanks to an endzone fumble recovery on Florida's first drive. Furthermore, they were getting outclassed by the Gators' explosive running game and looked like they would be on the receiving end of a blowout. This team's 2010 squad would have been dead in the water at this point, too exhausted on defense to keep the game close and too anemic on offense to hold the ball or generate points. 

    Instead, the Commodores roared back behind a resurgent offense. Rodgers stretched the field with passes to players like Matthews and Chris Boyd, and the team's dynamic play calling kept the Gators off balance long enough to sustain a serious comeback effort. This team shone hope through what looked like a dominant Florida lead, and gave fans, players, and recruits a reason to believe in this squad. More importantly, they made watching Vanderbilt football fun again - an element that 2010 sorely lacked.

The Bad:

  • Tackling: ESPN's stats counted at least eight missed tackles by the Commodores, including six in the first half. Vanderbilt didn't have much of an answer for the Gators' speed, but they did themselves no favors by failing to wrap up ballcarriers on first contact. For a stretch in the second quarter, it seemed like every Florida run was destined to gain at least seven yards. These lapses played a huge role in giving up 197 rushing yards for the game.
  • Special Teams: Ryan Fowler took over the field goal duties for Carey Spear after Spear's meltdown last week against Arkansas. Unfortunately, that didn't change the outcome, as Fowler's only field goal attempt, a 32-yarder, was blocked at the line by the Gators. The Commodores are just 1-5 on field goal attempts in SEC play in 2011.
  • Discipline. 12 penalties for 106 yards. 

The PiBB ICE Player of the Week: Jordan Matthews


Matthews fit a season's worth of SEC receptions into the past two weeks, culminating with a nine-catch, 171-yard performance Saturday against the Gators. He has come on strong after a slow start that can likely be attributed to Vanderbilt's quarterback carousel early in the season. With Jordan Rodgers entrenched behind center, the sophomore wideout has been explosive, teaming with Chris Boyd to give the 'Dores their strongest downfield presence since the Earl Bennett era. He's averaging 19 yards per catch and could work his way into some postseason award recognition if he can keep his torrid pace up.