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The 1984 team hits the skids

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Uh-oh, this wasn’t good!

University of Alabama Crimson Tide v Vanderbilt University Comodores Photo by Alabama/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

In Part 1 on Monday, I wrote about the first four games of the 1984 football season, in which Vanderbilt got out to a 4-0 start, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and jumped into the AP Poll for the first time since 1958.

In Part 2... oh, right.

October 6: Tulane (1-4) 27, Vanderbilt (4-1) 23

I was barely alive for this game and certainly wasn’t a Vanderbilt fan at this point and yet I know this is exactly why we never believe anything is real.

Tulane came into this game 0-4 on the season, with losses to Mississippi State, Florida, Kentucky, and Ole Miss. (As an aside, the Green Wave, after leaving the SEC in 1964, mostly existed as a de facto SEC member for 20 years afterward — they would play six games against SEC teams in 1984, for instance, which is as many games against SEC teams as actual SEC teams played.) And again, sign of the times, a game between Vanderbilt and Tulane would draw 41,216 fans — more than the current capacity of Vanderbilt Stadium.

Ricky Anderson got Vanderbilt on the board first with a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter, but Tulane would score 17 in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 17-3 lead. Vanderbilt narrowed the gap to 17-13 in the third quarter behind a touchdown run from Carl Woods and another Ricky Anderson field goal, but Tulane would extend the lead again. And per the old game recap on Vanderbilt’s website, Vanderbilt crossed the Tulane 50 six times in the fourth quarter but only managed ten points, ending the game with a 27-23 loss.

What happened here? Well, Kurt Page threw 29 interceptions in 1983 and while he cut that number down to 9 in 1984, four of them came in this game. Meanwhile, the defense — never really a strength of MacIntyre’s teams — allowed a Tulane team that averaged 16 ppg all season to score 27.

This was, sadly, the kind of game that would become familiar to Vanderbilt fans over the years, much like the 2005 loss to MTSU or the 2008 losses to Army and Duke (granted, the 2008 team would pull it out of the fire anyway), an inexplicable loss to a bad team that would ruin bowl hopes.

October 13: #12 LSU (4-0-1) 34, Vanderbilt (4-2) 27

This might come as a surprise to a reader in 2020, but LSU came into this game having not won a single SEC game in almost two calendar years.

The October 13 trip to Baton Rouge brought a relative rarity for Vanderbilt in the 1980s: a national television audience. ESPN would broadcast this game, one of just three Vanderbilt games in the 1984 season that would be so broadcast.

But LSU jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, and the Tigers would lead 27-3 at halftime. It was 34-6 after three, with Vanderbilt’s only scoring coming on a pair of Ricky Anderson field goals. Kurt Page had a rough day (16-for-34, 159 yards, no touchdowns and an interception), to the point that he got yanked for sophomore backup Mark Wracher in the fourth quarter.

But somehow, some way, Vanderbilt nearly came back. Armando Fitz cut LSU’s lead to 34-13 early in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard interception return, one of five turnovers for LSU on the day. Wracher threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Joe Kelly, and Everett Crawford scored on a 5-yard run with 1:05 left in the game to cut the lead to 34-27. Vanderbilt couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick, though, and LSU hung on for the win.

Of course, this wasn’t as close as it looked: LSU racked up 516 yards of total offense to Vanderbilt’s 272.

October 20: #16 Georgia (5-1) 62, Vanderbilt (4-3) 35

As with a lot of Vanderbilt seasons, Vanderbilt had little margin for error — or, why losses to teams like Tulane really hurt.

For the second week in a row, Vanderbilt’s defense got torched. Georgia rolled up 562 yards of total offense and scored 62 points — the latter the most they would ever score in the Vince Dooley era.

The Bulldogs would go ahead 21-7 in the first quarter, before Mark Wracher — again — came on in relief of Kurt Page and threw a couple of touchdown passes. But Georgia scored three times in the final three minutes of the first half to go into the locker room with a 42-21 lead — a lead they’d extend to 59-21 before a couple of late Vanderbilt touchdowns narrowed the gap a bit.

The offense wasn’t a problem with Page and Wracher combining to throw for 320 yards, but the defense again was problematic. Somehow the same defense that had shut down Alabama three weeks earlier was getting torched by the likes of LSU and Georgia.

October 27: Vanderbilt (5-3) 37, Ole Miss (3-4-1) 20

Homecoming brought Ole Miss to Nashville, and at just the right time for Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss had gone 6-6 in 1983, Billy Brewer’s first season in Oxford, and had started the 1984 season with a 3-0-1 record — the wins coming against Memphis, Louisiana Tech (which was in I-AA at this point), and Tulane, along with a tie against Arkansas in Little Rock. But even in that September stretch, the Rebels had scored 69 points. When the calendar turned to October, Ole Miss scored 13, 12, and 10 in consecutive losses to Auburn, Georgia, and Southern Miss.

Carl Woods got the scoring started in the first quarter with a 16-yard catch from Kurt Page, who was back in good graces, completing 21-of-28 passes for 226 yards with an interception. Ole Miss evened things up at 7 before Page led a 13-play, 78-yard drive that he would cap off with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Vanderbilt went up 16-7 when Ole Miss snapped the ball over the punter’s head and into the end zone for a safety, and Chuck Scott caught a touchdown pass later to give Vandy a 22-7 lead. A 50-yard field goal just before halftime narrowed the Commodores’ lead to 22-10, but Ole Miss never got the game within a score as Vanderbilt cruised to a 37-20 win.

The win itself was much-needed to stop a three-game losing streak, and Vanderbilt would head into November needing just one more win to attain bowl eligibility. The next game, against Kentucky, would be on the road; the Wildcats were 5-2 but coming off blowout losses against LSU and Georgia. Virginia Tech was 6-2 and allowing just 12.5 ppg, but the Hokies’ six wins had come against the murderer’s row of Wake Forest, Richmond, VMI, Duke, William & Mary, and Temple. And Tennessee, at 4-2-1, had turned things around over the previous two weeks with wins over Alabama and Georgia Tech, but a previous tie against Army suggested the Volunteers might not be overwhelming.

In Part 3, well, you might know how this ends.