Thrill of Victory

Vandy inches closer to bowl, while Titans, Vols lose heartbreakers

The Titans failed to get back to .500, but Vandy didn’t. Meanwhile, the Vols played well at South Carolina but fell short. Here’s a quick recap of those games, and what happened elsewhere in the Southeastern Conference over the weekend.

Titans fall to Colts in OT
Chris Johnson ran effectively again, and Matt Hasselbeck played respectably in place of Jake Locker once again, but it wasn’t good enough: Vick Ballard caught a 16-yard pass from Andrew Luck in overtime for a touchdown (if you haven’t seen it, it was one of the NFL’s most spectacular plays this year) and the Colts, not the Titans, left LP Field as the 4-win team.

With the Bears and the resurgent Dolphins up next, not to mention road trips to Houston and Green Bay down the line, it’ll be next to impossible for the Titans to make the playoffs now. That’s because, once again, Tennessee’s defense can’t stop anybody; the 19 points were a season-best, but the 457 yards it gave up were unacceptable.

The schedule may be a hidden blessing going forward; even though the Titans were 3-4 coming in, I think we all knew this was a team with serious holes. Every loss from here on pushes the Titans up a spot or two in the draft, and you can bet that the Titans will be using some high picks to rebuild a unit that ranks 30th in yards allowed, and 31st in points.

Vandy gets to .500
What did we learn from Vandy’s 49-7 victory over Massachusetts? Other than the fact that James Franklin’s club can still pound bad teams with regularity, not a lot: the Minutemen may be the worst FCS team in the land, as they fell to 0-8 on Saturday. Of course, Vandy did it mostly without star running back Zac Stacy, who appeared to ding an ankle early in the contest. Stacy should be back this weekend for Kentucky, and the Commodores should be able to run him effectively. VU was able to move the ball without him, and especially through the air, where Jordan Rodgers went 17-of-21 for 217 yards and two scores.

The Commodores control their own destiny henceforth, with four winnable games on the schedule. It would be a surprise if VU didn’t win at least two, starting with 1-7 UK this weekend. That would put them in a bowl for the second-straight season, something that’s never happened at VU.

Close, but no cigar, for Vols
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley must be wondering if he’ll ever catch a break. The Vols had the ball with a chance to win as the final minutes in Columbia ticked down, but defensive end Jadeveon Clowney hit Tyler Bray’s arm a split-second before his arm moved forward to pass, a Gamecock fell on it, and that was that. The Vols made progress – Bray played much better, and UT had a legitimate shot at an upset over what’s now a Top 10 team – but Tennessee’s awful defense gave up 510 yards and that was the difference.

It was a classic ballgame, but unfortunately, the outcome was marred by two things: a gruesome knee injury to Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore (it’s a dislocation with some ligament damage, but his season is over) and Dooley’s job status. He’s now 14-19 in Knoxville, and has won just one of his last 13 SEC games.

The schedule gets easier, with Troy, Missouri, Vandy and Kentucky ahead, but none of those teams are push-overs. Anything less than a 3-1 mark in those contests, and it may be tough for athletic director Dave Hart to keep Dooley around with UT at 3-5 thus far.

Around the SEC
Alabama 38, Mississippi State 7 – That 7-0 record for MSU was evidently a mirage; Alabama scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, and cruised from there, out-gaining MSU, 414-256. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron was solid again, and still hasn’t been intercepted this year. ‘Bama goes to LSU for perhaps the SEC’s biggest game of the regular season, while games with Texas A&M and LSU in the next two weeks will tell us how good ‘State really is.

Georgia 17, Florida 9 – If Georgia coach Mark Richt had only known that it only took safety Shawn Williams openly putting down his teammates for a lack of toughness earlier in the season, he might have encouraged it a month ago. Georgia’s defense allowed just 266 yards and forced six turnovers, as Florida fell from the ranks of the unbeaten. Now, the Bulldogs only need beat Ole Miss at home this Saturday, and Auburn on the road the next week, and they’ll represent the East in the SEC title game.

Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21 – A&M QB Johnny Manziel didn’t play much more than half the game, but that’s all the Aggies really needed. In the eight drives in which he participated, the Aggies scored seven touchdowns and failed to convert points only when they missed a field goal just before the half. Manziel totaled 350 total yards, which might be higher than the number of hours that Auburn’s Gene Chizik has left as the Tigers’ coach.

Ole Miss 30, Arkansas 27 – That 16-game SEC losing streak for Ole Miss has now become a two-game winning streak after kicker Tyler Campbell split the uprights on the game’s last play. The Rebels are now one win from bowl eligibility though they have four tough games ahead. Meanwhile, the 3-4 Razorbacks also have a brutal schedule down the stretch, and will likely be underdogs in all four.

Missouri 33, Kentucky 10 – Somebody had to leave Columbia a winner, and that was Missouri, which summoned injured QB James Franklin from the bench after Corbin Berkstresser didn’t play well. It’s the first SEC win for the Tigers, while UK limps home at 1-7.