Sept. 19, 2009
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)— The Vanderbilt Commodores have a little name for their game against Mississippi State: Redemption Week.
"We want to redeem ourselves from last year," senior center Bradley Vierling said. "We're fired up about this game, and we owe them a lot."
The Commodores went into Starkville last ranked 13th in the country with a 5-0 start that was their best since World War II. Mississippi State handed them a 17-14 loss, taking advantage of two interceptions in the second half. The loss was the first of six over the final seven games, landing Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl despite their higher expectations.
Coach Bobby Johnson, who has 20 starters back from that team for Saturday night's rematch in Nashville, said his Commodores simply had to play better than they did that day.
"Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it really surprising? No. We're not going to be a program that we're going to be able to just go down railroad everybody and just run over them and say, 'We're here. We're taking it. We've got to play good every time we go out," Johnson said.
That upset wasn't enough to save Sylvester Croom's job, so Dan Mullen brings the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) to play Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1). Strong safety Charles Mitchell said the Bulldogs aren't thinking of last year's game.
"It's a new year. We're a better team, we're going to go out there and show it," he said.
Free safety Zach Smith added: "It's a new year, new game, so us beating them last year is going to have no effect on who wins this week."
Winning is crucial for both teams. Mississippi State is coming off a 49-24 loss at Auburn in which the Bulldogs gave up 589 yards total offense and 390 on the ground. Vanderbilt freshman Zac Stacy is the SEC's fourth-leading rusher, averaging 111 yards.
Mullen said he isn't going to make wholesale changes to prepare for Vanderbilt.
"They are a veteran staff with a solid system implemented," Mullen said.
Vanderbilt lost 23-9 at then-No. 11 LSU last weekend, a game that was close until a late touchdown sealed the loss for the Commodores. Vierling said they were disappointed in themselves for that loss.
"We beat ourselves last week, and we didn't make plays when we should have," Vierling said.
"I think our defense did a great job. We did a lot of great things, but we just didn't put points on the board. We're fired up about this week. I can't tell you how angry this team is that we lost that last game. We want to get our second win. We want to get back over .500, back to winning ways."
Despite being old SEC members, these teams have not played each other much.
Mississippi State leads the series 11-7-2 and has won nine of the last 11. But the Bulldogs have not won in Nashville since 1999, and this will be their first trip here since 2004. The Bulldogs are trying to win their first SEC road game since a 31-14 win at Kentucky in 2007 — a span of six SEC road games.
Both need to stop hurting themselves. Vanderbilt had more penalties than LSU, and the Dores' 52 yards on penalties were their most since getting 80 in a loss to Florida last November. Mississippi State has been flagged 22 times for 241 yards combined in two games.
"At the moment, we're not competing at a high enough level offensively to overcome mistakes and penalties," Mullen said.