Say this much for the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-3, 0-3): They are not making excuses. In a loss that left the Commodore faithful with many more questions than answers, head coach Bobby Johnson made it clear that, after the 23-7 defeat at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels (3-1, 1-1), the only way Vanderbilt can acceptably go from here is up.
"I'm trying to think back, and I don't think I've had a team that had that many penalties, that many mental errors in a game," Johnson said. "It was just disheartening for the team and our fans...It's just a pretty tough situation for us.
"We've got a lot of work to do."
Indeed, the relatively young Commodores have many areas of concern, not the least of which is the offense. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Larry Smith struggled his way to 10 completions in 27 attempts for a pedestrian 69 yards passing, including a touchdown, an interception, and numerous passes knocked down. In perhaps the most telling statistic of the game, Vanderbilt gave away more yards on penalties (74 yards on 12 penalties) than they gained through the air, leaving the Commodore defense as victims of poor field position and a significant disparity in time of possession (Ole Miss controlled the ball for almost 36 minutes).
"We played fairly good on defense, made some good plays on defense, but they had a good plan to either run the ball if we decided to cover or throw the ball if we decided to stop the run..." Johnson said. "We just couldn't capitalize on offense because we were making too many mistakes."
In addition to their time of possession woes, when the Commodores were able to hang onto the ball they were unable to make those opportunities count. Their red zone woes (the Commodores only scored on one of five trips inside the Rebel 20) and third down inefficiency (converting only 5-17 third downs) led to Ole Miss taking control of this one with ease, a fate that did not sit well with Commodore players.
"We (have to) practice better, work on our fundamentals, look at the tape and see where we can get better," senior safety Brent Trice said. "What we did, missed tackles, missed blocks, you know, we have to build off of that.
"We just (have) to make a play."
On this night, however, big plays were few and far between. In order to bounce back out of the hole they have built from their 0-3 in-conference record, the Commodores know they are more than just a lucky bounce away from victory. Essentially, the Commodores have only one option: Get better.
"It's frustrating losing games," senior cornerback Myron Lewis said. "0-3 in the conference...