Vanderbilt Commodores Continue To Be Plagued by Fourth Quarter Woes

David RutzCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2010

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 7: Running back Warren Norman #27 of the Vanderbilt Commodores rushes upfield against the Florida Gators on November 7, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

A couple years back, when the third quarter ended during games at Vanderbilt Stadium, a Commodore football player would appear on the big screen to get the crowd energized.

"It's the fourth quarter, Commodore fans!" he said. "Stand up!"

That hasn't been done the last few seasons in Nashville. Perhaps this is because the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt's time to shine when the Commodores started the 2008 season 5-0 and went to their first bowl game in 26 years, has become a time to sit down and sulk.

Saturday's 27-3 dismantling at the hands of No. 19 LSU was just another catastrophe indicative of a larger problem with the Commodores and their inability to play effectively in the fourth quarter. It was Vanderbilt's 10th consecutive loss and disappearing act at game's end.

Want a gruesome statistic? The Tigers scored 17 points to Vanderbilt's zero in the final stanza Saturday night, which means the Commodores have been outscored 89-19 in the fourth quarter during their 10-game skid. They've held the ball for 53:57 during that time, an average of less than 5:30 per quarter.

Nineteen points. That's two touchdowns, one against Army (on a kickoff return) and one last week against Northwestern, and two field goals, in two and a half games worth of fourth quarters.

Last night was more of the same.

A strong effort by Vanderbilt's defense made it a one-score contest with LSU heading into the fourth quarter, but the Commodores had mustered just five first downs and a 23-yard field goal.

In the fourth quarter, it all came apart.

The Tigers finished off a long drive for a field goal, Warren Norman coughed up a kickoff return, and LSU scored another touchdown four plays later to make it 20-3.

For good measure, after Vanderbilt punted (for the ninth time, finishing with 10 for the night), Stephen Ridley ran past the Commodore defense for a 65-yard touchdown to put the stamp on an ugly night.

This wasn't LSU being clutch. This was Vanderbilt being gassed. John Stokes, a Vanderbilt linebacker, said the Commodores knew they'd get a heavy dose of the run late in the game. They knew, and they couldn't stop it. Sure, LSU's the superior team, but the defense wasn't just outmuscled; it was fatigued.

And it starts with the offense, who after showing some sparks in last week's 23-21 loss to Northwestern, were again embarrassed by an SEC defense. Dating back to 2008, this was the sixth time in 10 SEC games, all losses, that the Commodores managed only a single offensive score.

Embattled quarterback Larry Smith had eight pass completions and was sacked six times. Those aren't numbers that should come close to one another. The offensive line, which everyone knew would be a work in progress this season, looked out of its league.

The Commodores had 135 yards of total offense, 51 coming on one rush by Norman. The defense can only do so much before the wear and tear of a game starts to break them down, but Vanderbilt just can't move the ball against an SEC defense.

One thing is for sure; Robbie Caldwell's team will never be able to finish games if it can't even start them. Vanderbilt hasn't even led this season; in fact, the Commodores haven't had a lead since the third quarter against Kentucky last November.

That was quickly erased after the Wildcats held the Commodores to one first down over the final half of football.

Good teams are good late in games; Vanderbilt isn't. The last 15 minutes of the last 10 games have been generally dreadful, but it's the first 45 that's had a lot to do with that.

It's the fourth quarter, Commodore fans. Avert your gaze.


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