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Saturday Tailgate: The Woodybowl

Fittingly, Vanderbilt currently ranks dead last in FBS in scoring offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers Woody Widenhofer Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

It feels like we’ve already written the story of Vanderbilt football’s 2021 season.

After all, Vanderbilt enters today’s game against Missouri with a 2-6 record — meaning, Vanderbilt would have to win each of its remaining games just to achieve bowl eligibility. Considering that after this week, the Commodores will close the season with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Tennessee, the latter two on the road, that seems like it’s going to be a tall order.

It’s going to be a really tall order for a team that’s averaging 13.2 points per game this season. And, sure, the Vanderbilt offenses for most of our collective football memories, Brigadoon excepted, haven’t been great, but they’ve mostly been better than this. Derek Mason’s last team, playing nothing but SEC defenses, managed 14.8 ppg; his 2015 team averaged 15.2. Hell, the Dorrellfense of 2014 was only the fourth-worst offense of the Derek Mason era. (No, this is not an argument that Karl Dorrell is unfairly maligned in these parts. Shut up.) Under Bobby Johnson, it never got worse than the 16.3 ppg the team averaged in 2009.

No, to find an offense that was this bad, you have to go back to the four-year run that Vanderbilt put together from 1995-98: 11.1, 11.1, 12.2, and 12.9. Like this year’s offense, those first two teams ranked dead last in FBS in scoring offense — and the 1998 team ranked 111th of 112.

That era of course gets us around to the guy in the header photo. Woody Widenhofer served as Missouri’s head coach from 1985-88. Putting together a 12-31-1 record in four years hardly deterred Vanderbilt from promoting him from his defensive coordinator spot when noted offensive genius Rod Dowhower produced those first two outputs, and the result was a couple more years of putrid offense. In 1997, Woody’s first year as Vanderbilt head coach, the Commodores scored 29 on North Texas, 40 on a 1-10 TCU team, and scored a total of 69 points (nice) in its other nine games, with a high of 17 against Northern Illinois and 52 points in eight SEC games. The 1998 team bookended the season with shutout losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee, and in between scored 142 points.

I mean, I shouldn’t be making comparisons to 1990s Vanderbilt football, right? Clark Lea, please stop making me compare this version of Vanderbilt football to Woodyball. It’s probably not great for your job security if I have a reason to make that comparison.

Anyway, Woodyball peaked with a 5-6 1999 season, which saw Vanderbilt find some semblance of an offensive pulse in a 4-2 start — through six games, Vanderbilt was averaging 31,8 ppg! — only for the normalcy of Woodyball to reappear late in the season. The Commodores that season finished the season scoring 17, 11, 6, 17, and 10 in their last five games, and the only amazing thing about this is that they actually won one of those games, an 11-10 team over a South Carolina team that was on its way to an 0-11 season.

It would be really, truly awesome if someone were to ever find video evidence of that South Carolina game and post it to YouTube.

It’s ironic that Woody won 12 games in four years at Missouri, then a decade later won 15 games in five years at Vanderbilt. He was just exactly the same coach at both schools. After resigning from Vanderbilt in 2001, Woody closed out his career with a few years as the defensive coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana and New Mexico State before famously working in a toll booth in Destin, Florida.

Yes, that is a thing that really happened. And you were wondering how a coach who won 15 games in five years became a cult hero at Anchor of Gold.

By the way, can you imagine if Anchor of Gold had existed during Woodyball? Assume that the comments section was not on the Coral platform for this exercise.

So as we go into today’s game against Missouri, remember that both of these teams were once coached by Woody Widenhofer, and that while Coral sucks, please don’t let that deter you from commenting in the game thread. I am sure there will be no complaints about the new commenting system after trying it in a game thread.