Commodores get defensive

Sept. 10, 2011

Almost 30 years ago to the day, Vanderbilt football enjoyed a déjà vu moment and in the process scored an impressive takedown against a quality team from the northeast.

On Sept. 12, 1981, the Commodores dedicated Vanderbilt Stadium by upsetting Maryland. On this evening, the only one Coach James Franklin is interested in by the way, Vanderbilt took another forward step by beating Big East champion Connecticut.

It was a night when the defense never rested and it's a darn good thing it didn't. Actually, both defensive units more or less dominated the game. A newcomer to American football could have come to the conclusion that points are usually scored by the unit without the ball.

It wasn't until secondary star Casey Hayward raced 49 yards to pay dirt with an interception midway through the fourth quarter that Vanderbilt regained a lead it had held most of the game but had lost when the Huskies took a fumble back 62 yards.

It would be tough to figure just who was the lynch pin on the Vanderbilt defense but a few good guesses would include tackle Rob Lohr, end Tim Fugger, linebacker Chris Marve and Hayward. The `Dores combined for nine tackles for loss but perhaps that is not the key story line.

Franklin was clear what he thought the big news was on this 70-degree night - the team's ability to overcome adversity and come back for victory.

Asked what he told his charges after UConn had taken the lead on the long fumble return, he said he ran up and down the sideline repeating "this is the 2011 Vanderbilt team!, this is the 2011 Vanderbilt team!, this is the 2011 Vanderbilt team!"

Lohr is an active 290-pounder but to many Commodore fans he would pass by unnoticed. Fugger has been driving opposing ball carriers crazy for several years - he's done more stripping than Sally Rand - and tonight he had back-to-back tackles for loss that took steam out of the Husky offense.

Hayward got the post-game press attention for his game-winning play but the replay will show that UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee got a big dose of Marve before unloading the ill-fated pass that Casey took to the house.

This is shaping up to be a fun team to watch. Franklin has promised to be aggressive and he's kept that promise. He went right for the home run after Kenny Ladler intercepted a pass in the first quarter and got it when Larry Smith hooked up with Chris Boyd for a touchdown on a nine-second scoring drive.

It was a rough and tumble donnybrook, no place for the timid. That is par for the course but this contest probably produced more bumps and bruises than the norm. From a Vanderbilt perspective, that is gratifying given that the second half a year ago was a UConn beat-down as it scored 26 unanswered points. Tonight it was Vanderbilt that had all the momentum as the final seconds ticked away.

NOTES -Vanderbilt's pride and joy on the PGA Tour, Brandt Snedeker, tailgated and watched the game with a Golf Channel video crew charting his evening; the pre-game Anchor Ceremony was modified from opening day with a 12th Man represented by student government leaders escorting the coveted anchor...the Coach Mac halftime tribute was warmly received by the crowd of 32,119 with dozens of the former Vandy coach's players and friends on the field with the former Vanderbilt National Coach of the Year.



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