Stumbling Vandy on familiar path
Posted: Monday, October 27, 2008 6:45 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Vanderbilt Commodores are running out of opportunities in a season that started so strongly but now threatens to end just like every other one since 1982.
The Commodores had a handful of alum currently playing in the NFL on the sideline Saturday, and what people like Jay Cutler, Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and Houston defensive back Jimmy Williams saw was a 10-7 loss to Duke that felt like a handful of other ugly games that have kept Vandy mired in a string of losing seasons that currently stands at 25 straight.
Vanderbilt started 5-0 with the school’s best start since 1943, but now have lost three straight with a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982 when Ronald Reagan was president.
“I don’t think we’re paralyzed,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. “We have 10 million psychologists telling us what’s wrong. But at the end of the day, we need to play the game. We have to go out and execute. No one’s pulling out their hair, but this is what you have to do. You have to go out and do it.”
Duke improved to 4-3 and is having its best season since winning four in 2003.
The Blue Devils now have won as many games this season as in the past four combined.
But the Blue Devils didn’t make it easy on themselves, missing chances to pad a 10-0 lead going into the fourth quarter.
There was a botched snap on its first field goal attempt and a miss each by Joe Surgan and Nick Maggio.
The Blue Devils also lost a fumble after facing third-and-2 at the Vandy 2.
“We did a lot of things that could have cost us the game,” Duke first-year coach David Cutcliffe said. “The pleasing thing is that it didn’t. Our team never quit believing.”
Cutcliffe gave a game ball to defensive coordinator Mike McIntyre, who played two years at Vandy under his father George.
He also gave a game ball to McIntyre’s father.
“He got to see his son and the defense put on quite a display,” Cutcliffe said.
The Commodores came in with the 118th-ranked offense, and the Blue Devils helped them look worse than that by coming up with three turnovers and a season-high four sacks.
Vandy wound up outgaining Duke 291-250 in total offense, but the Commodores managed only 96 yards through the first three quarters.
Thaddeus Lewis tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tony Jackson for the running back’s first TD reception of his career just before halftime, and Maggio kicked a 42-yarder in the third for the final margin.
Lewis said the seniors met with the whole team and asked for help to finish the season with a bang after last week’s loss at Miami.
“Senior Michael Tauiliili challenged us this week to play hard for four quarters, and we felt like we responded to that this week against Vanderbilt. If we make a mistake, one of our teammates is there to bring our heads up,” Lewis said.
Not so for Vanderbilt.
The Commodores came up with five sacks themselves and got the ball back three times for the offense after Mackenzi Adams connected with Sean Walker on a 79-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter to pull within 10-7.
But Bryant Hahnfeldt missed two field goals, his second with 7:16 left from 43 yards out.
Then sophomore Chris Rwabukamba picked off Adams’ pass for Walker at the Duke 1 with 38 seconds left even as the Commodores needed only a field goal to at least force overtime.
“We have to put points on the board to help our defense to gain the win,” Vandy tight end Brandon Barden said. “We didn’t do that.”
Walker called it a frustrating effort.
“We got down on ourselves early, but we have to keep our heads up and keep playing hard,” Walker said.
The Blue Devils are off to a great start in the first of four road games over five weeks with Wake Forest up next.
Cutcliffe promised his team would learn from its mistakes.
“It’s not time to panic. It’s not time to make any big deal about it. We have a system we believe in strongly about how we practice and what we do, and we won’t alter that approach,” he said.
The Commodores have an open date before hosting Florida followed by a trip to Kentucky, their home finale against Tennessee and their own visit to Wake Forest.
“We have four games left,” Vandy linebacker Chris Marve said. “We have to go hard, full speed in each of them. We need to focus on one game at a time and not look ahead.”
Or they’ll be looking back again at a streak that doesn’t seem like it will end.