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Vanderbilt Has Soul Searching To Do After Ugly Loss To MSU

David RutzCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Bobby Johnson of the Vanderbilt Commodores looks on during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats on November 15, 2008 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Embarrassing. Just plain embarrassing.

Vanderbilt's performance Saturday night against Mississippi State in a 15-3 loss couldn't have been more uninspiring, more flat, more unreal.

But the reality is the Commodores got their clocks cleaned by the worst team in the conference.

Dropped passes, botched snaps, dumb penalties, (very) questionable play calling. It was as if Vanderbilt was trying to one-up last year's debacle in Starkville.

Well, almost. This time they put up a whopping 154 yards of offense, 47 more than last time.

Then again, Auburn put up nearly 600 last week on this same defense. I wasn't aware the Bulldogs suddenly morphed into the Pittsburgh Steelers in the last seven days. The Commodores said they were going run the ball down their throat, and instead it was the Bulldogs who were suffocating them.

The fact is Bobby Johnson, his staff, and his players have some soul-searching to do. The fact that this loss should be viewed as a complete and utter embarrassment should wake the Commodores up: they are better than this.

This isn't like years past. An empty performance like this won't pass intense scrutiny by everyone who cares about this program.

This isn't the same team that played LSU close last week and looked terrific on both sides of the ball in its opening shutout win.

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It's certainly not the same team that started 5-0 last year, showing opportunism on offense and making big plays on defense and special teams.

In this game, Alex Washington coughed up a punt, the second straight week the fifth-year senior made a major-league mistake at the worst time. When Larry Smith had John Cole open in the end zone, Cole couldn't bring it in. He couldn't bring in a key first down throw.

Whenever a huge play was there for the taking, the Commodores would not, could not take advantage.

The defense did its best: it couldn't have given the offense a much shorter field than when they recovered an MSU fumble at the six-yard line.

Not enough. Three straight runs not only netted just three points, but it also sent a clear and welcomed message to the Bulldogs.

We don't trust our passing game to make plays. We're terrified of making a mistake. We aren't playing winning football. We're playing scared football.

And in the SEC, if you play scared, you're going to lose, even to a team that seemed as easy a win as the Bulldogs.

Vanderbilt is 1-2 and 0-2 in conference play. The Commodores can roll over and see their big hopes for this season go down the drain by October, or they can rebound, re-establish trust in their offense to make plays and get back on the winning track.

We'll see. It is, after all, one game.

No moral victory today. No positives to take out like we Vanderbilt fans tend to do after a defeat.

Just a grim realization that no team's going to fear the Commodores unless they start earning it, and soon.