There's some old saying about how no matter terrible your season has been, it all goes away if you beat your archrival. I don't really buy that. Not in Vanderbilt's case, in any event.
If you told me before the season that we'd beat Tennessee but would have to wind up 3-9 in doing so, I would have said 'no thanks.' As it is, however, that's the best the Commodores can hope to do. And what a sweet victory it would be.
Hard to feel particularly optimistic about this one, though. In fact, since losing to Army, it's been hard to feel particularly optimistic about anything involving Vanderbilt football.
They've lost seven straight games. A year after they scored less than 14 points one time in an SEC contest (and that was in a 20-10 loss to UT), the whopping 13 they put up in last week's loss at Kentucky was their best of the conference slate. It's well beyond sad at this point.
Sure, Tennessee is not invincible, as evidenced by the surprising beating they took from Dexter McCluster and the invigorated Rebels last Saturday in Oxford. And the Commodores have not been intimidated by the 100,000+ at Neyland Stadium in either of their last two trips.
They beat the Volunteers in Knoxville four years ago, 28-24, thanks to a certain Chicago Bears quarterback-receiver tandem, and they had them dead to rights in 2007 before one of most mind-boggling collapses Vanderbilt has ever had, blowing a 24-9 lead in the fourth quarter and missing a field goal to win it with under a minute left.
But that was most decidedly then, and this is most depressingly now.
Tennessee can run the football, and Vanderbilt has been unable to stop the run consistently over the course of the game. The defense just keeps getting too tired; against the Wildcats, they were on the field for over 23 minutes in the second half as the Commodores were able to manage only one first down in the 24-13 loss.
Vanderbilt's going to get a super-sized dose of Montario Hardesty this time after having to defend 51 rushing plays (against just nine passing plays) last season in a 20-10 smothering at Vanderbilt Stadium. They couldn't do anything to stop him or anyone else on last year's one-dimensional offense.
This year, the Volunteers are more balanced; it seems they actually have the advantage at quarterback in Jonathan Crompton, who has gone from severely maligned to somewhat respected over the course of a topsy-turvy season under first-year coach Lane Kiffin.
Some might look at how Hardesty and Crompton were bottled up by Ole Miss and the way the Rebels were able to run all over the Vols and be optimistic about Vanderbilt's chances.
Hardesty rushed for just 55 yards on 16 carries, and Crompton had only 176 yards passing despite 37 attempts. McCluster set a school record with 282 yards rushing.
That's Ole Miss, and this is Vanderbilt. McCluster scored four times Saturday in Oxford; the Commodores have scored four touchdowns in their last five SEC games.
If there's one thing that the 2009 Vanderbilt football season has consistently shown, it's that your offense affects your defense. Inability to move the football wears down the defensive unit who have to keep making stops, and it's shown time and time again as the Commodores have crumbled late in games.
Vanderbilt's averaged at least one "how did that happen?" win every season since 2005. The Commodores have one more chance to make it happen. I think the streak's over. Forgive me for being a little jaded at this point.
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