There is More Than Meets the Eye
Post-Alabama Column by Will Matthews
Sept. 8, 2007
Post-Game Column By Will Matthews
NASHVILLE - If Vanderbilt entered Saturday's game against Alabama with a sense of urgency, eager to show the world that theirs is a program that can legitimately compete for postseason bowl bids, the Commodores' 24-10 loss makes this coming week all the more urgent.
In the aftermath of a disappointing loss in which Vanderbilt struggled to be competitive from the opening gun, its charge becomes proving wrong the pundits who will invariably let forth with the refrain of "Here we go again."
"We are not the same old Vanderbilt," said Vanderbilt's junior safety Reshard Langford, who made what could have been a key, second quarter interception had Vanderbilt not turned the ball over on downs on their ensuing possession. "We are not the same old Vanderbilt. There is no such thing as the same old Vanderbilt. We are a new Vanderbilt and we are trying to get better every year. We go out and work hard just like everybody else."
If the Vanderbilt program has indeed turned a corner, the Commodores will have to show beginning next week against Mississippi that allowing the Crimson Tide to rack up 371 yards of total offense - 221 of them on the ground - was merely an aberration. To a man, the chorus coming out of Vanderbilt's post game locker room was that Saturday's outcome was not the result of capabilities, but execution.
"It just came down to execution today," Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson said. "We had some open opportunities in the first half but we just couldn't get the ball [to our open guys] in situations that would have allowed us to continue drives. I'd stick with the same game plan, but we just have to be a little tougher and a little bit better executors."
What would develop as a consistent theme throughout the game emerged in the first four minutes when Alabama's Javier Arenas shook off a would-be tackler and bolted 69 yards down the right sideline before being pushed out of bounds at the Vanderbilt one yard line. The Crimson Tide took a lead it would not relinquish on the next play.
"Our fundamentals were the most disappointing thing," Johnson said. "We missed some tackles because we didn't lock up. We missed a tackle on the first punt. We had the guy and the next thing I know is he is down the sideline."
For a team that entered the year boasting a senior-laden defensive unit, Saturday's effort was certainly a disappointment.
"We have got to come out this next week and emphasize our tackling in practice and shore up our run defense because we'll be seeing another good running back next week," said Vanderbilt senior linebacker Marcus Buggs. "Tackles, that is all it was. We just need to make tackles."
The offensive execution wasn't any crisper. Nickson misfired on his first five passes after a 60-yard completion to Earl Bennett on the game's first play from scrimmage was called back on a questionable offensive pass interference call. He was removed from the game with a slight hamstring pull early in the second half after completing just five of 18 passes for 67 yards with an interception.
Nickson said after the game that the disappointment that was written all over his face was rooted in his team simply not playing the way he believes it is capable of.
"There really isn't anything that we need to work on except doing what we need to do," he said. "We had people open, but sometimes we just didn't hit them. I think our game plan was very effective. If we could have just made the plays, things would have gone a lot smoother for us."
Vanderbilt, he said, is still the bowl-caliber team it has been made out to be.
"Anyone who thinks differently just has not watched enough Vanderbilt football," Nickson said. "The character of this team has completely changed. We are a whole different team. Bad things are going to happen. Some people just don't believe it and some people are going to drop off the boat when bad things happen. But we are a good team. We have a great coaching staff and great character. And when you have character you can bounce back from anything."