Vanderbilt's Passing Game Gets Off the Ground

David RutzCorrespondent ISeptember 28, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31:  Larry Smith #10 of the Vanderbilt Commodores passes against the Boston College Eagles during the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field on December 31, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Vanderbilt's passing game was grounded the past two weeks.

It finally took off Saturday night, albeit against the woeful pass defense of the Rice Owls in a 36-17 victory to even the team's record at 2-2.

But who cares who it was against? The Commodore aerial attack was so anemic the past two contests, this kind of a shot in the arm for both quarterback Larry Smith and his beleaguered receivers is immeasurable, especially with angry Ole Miss on slate in just six days.

They say good defenses always beat good offenses, so does that mean bad defenses beat bad offenses? Well, we knew Vanderbilt's offense was capable of far greater production than it had shown in putting up a touchdown and a field goal over the last eight quarters.

Rice was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And Smith might look back on this game as the one that turned things around.

We saw Smith take a big step forward in his maturity as a signal-caller, shrugging off a poor performance against Mississippi State, going on the road and having a career day.

And he didn't hesitate getting started.

Smith went deep on his first pass of the game to speedy Udom Umoh. It was incomplete but it sent Smith a welcomed message from his coaches: we trust you to make these types of plays.

He earned that trust with a good week of practice, despite the pressures of possibly being benched and two straight double-digit losses weighing on him and his teammates. 

He kept throwing and throwing against Rice en route to career highs in completions (23), attempts (41) and yards (268).

He went back to Umoh in the third quarter and this time they connected for a 54-yard bomb, setting up Smith's rushing touchdown for a 10-point lead. Rice never got any closer.

Not only did Smith look comfortable chucking the ball that much, his receivers backed him up with some nice plays of their own.

Along with Umoh's big reception, John Cole made seven grabs to lead the Commodores, and Collin Ashley and Turner Wimberly had several key first down plays.

Ashley had one memorable catch, grabbing a pass and getting clotheslined but still holding onto the ball.

Plays like that weren't being made the last two weeks. Plays like that not only ignite a team's offense, it gives Smith the confidence that if he puts the ball on the money his boys are going to haul them in.

I know, I know, this was against Rice, but with the bleeding good and stopped, the Commodores can completely rip off the band-aid with a win Saturday over the Rebels.

And Smith's arm (along with putting some serious pressure on Jevan Snead, although that's another story) could be the difference.