Oct. 13, 2008
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Well, the Vanderbilt Commodores have been here before. Now their challenge is simple: Prove they really are different from Vanderbilt teams of the past 25 years.
The Commodores blew a chance at matching the best start in 80 years Saturday in a 17-14 loss at Mississippi State, a loss that dropped Vanderbilt from No. 13 to No. 22 in The Associated Press poll Sunday. That allowed them to set a new school mark of being ranked for four consecutive weeks for the first time.
They also still have six games left to win at least a sixth game and end a quarter century of consecutive losing season, starting with a visit to No. 10 Georgia (5-1, 2-1) for the top of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.
"We will try to bounce back," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "Our guys are pretty resilient, and our coaching staff will be too. It is tough to be that close and not get a win."
The Commodores (5-1, 3-1) blew a chance at their first 4-0 start in SEC play by doing something they had avoided in their stunning start. The team that had been penalized only 16 times through the first five games was flagged 10 times for 65 yards -- the worst this season.
They also were intercepted twice for the first time in a game this season, and the offense disappeared against the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt set season lows with seven first downs, 62 yards passing, 45 yards rushing and time of possession (23 minutes, 48 seconds).
The offensive production was so poor that Johnson yanked Chris Nickson after he was intercepted, a turnover that set up Mississippi State's winning touchdown at the Vanderbilt 7 early in the fourth quarter.
Mackenzi Adams, who rallied Vanderbilt to victory a week ago over Auburn, led Vanderbilt on a drive capped by a Jeff Jennings' 2-yard TD run that pulled the Commodores within 17-14 with 8:16 left.
But on the next possession, Adams overthrew two open receivers as Vanderbilt went three-and-out. The defense got the ball back for Vanderbilt again after Reshard Langford missed an interception on third down. But Karlin Brown intercepted an Adams' pass to seal the Bulldogs' victory.
Johnson defended Nickson, saying he didn't get a lot of time to throw.
Still, Johnson will have to decide whether to stick with Nickson, who finished 3-of-10 for 15 yards, or start Adams for the first time this season. Adams was 5-of-9 for 47.
"That is going to be a decision we will be making here on whether who to start. We make those decisions with the best information that we have, and we hope to stick with them. Every position is under review," Johnson said.
Vanderbilt has won five games seven times since the last winning season in 1982, including in 2005 when the Commodores won their first four games before losing six straight. Last year, they were 5-3 but lost 20-17 to Georgia in Nashville and 25-24 to Tennessee when a last-second field goal just missed.
These Commodores sound different.
"We just got to play harder," Langford said.
Defensive tackle Adam Smotherman said he doesn't want to downplay any of Vanderbilt teams past.
"But I just feel like this team is different. We're a close-knit group. When one of us is down, we're going to pick each other up. We're going to work hard as a team to overcome this," he said.