Thrill of Victory

Vandy, Vols can't finish upset bids

Vanderbilt and Tennessee both made bids to pull upsets in respective games with Florida and Mississippi State, but each fell flat at the end. Here’s a look at those games as well as the rest of the Southeastern Conference’s weekend action.

Mistakes doom Vandy against Gators
Give the Commodores credit in their 31-17 loss: they never quit even though a couple of times they were one punch away from being knocked out against Florida. Trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, Vandy rallied with a 1-yard Zac Stacy touchdown with 8:57 left in the contest. Florida added a field goal three-and-half minutes later, but Vandy struck back with one with 2:35 left to pull within seven again.

At that point, the ‘Dores needed a stop for one last chance at a tie, but Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel did what he did all night: bust another long run for a touchdown. His 70-yard dash put the game more or less out of reach.

Vandy was competitive the whole night, but repeatedly shot itself in the foot. A Jordan Rodgers fumble gave UF the ball at the Vandy 14. A Jordan Matthews hold wiped out a 57-yard scoring run by Stacy. Later, Stacy dropped an easy TD pass in the end zone. VU had a field goal blocked, gave up a 54-yard rush on a fake punt, and got so faked out of its shoes by Driskel twice that there wasn’t a defender within a zip code on his 70-yard run, or his 37-yard scoring scamper, either.

The positive, if you’re VU, is that you didn’t give your best shot and yet you were competitive against what is now the No. 2 team in the BCS standings. Through six games, Vandy has played four Top 25 opponents. Its next six games feature no ranked opponents. If the Commodores can just go 4-2 the rest of the way – a very reasonable goal – they’ll go bowling once again.

Vols can’t finish comeback, fall to MSU
For the second-straight week, UT looked almost out of a ballgame before getting back in it. The Vols couldn’t stop MSU’s offense at all in the first half, trailing 27-14 at the break. The UT offense had just 97 yards in the first half and finally caught fire in the second half, pulling to within a field goal halfway through the fourth quarter and striking back with another TD after MSU had again extended the lead to 10.

But it wasn’t to be. The Bulldogs had the ball for nearly the entire final five minutes of the game, and tacked on a touchdown pass with nine seconds left to account for the 41-31 final. And that’s really the problem for UT: the Vols’ excellent offense isn’t good enough to make up for a lousy defense. In three SEC games, the Vols have given up 1,560 yards and 129 points.

I said three weeks ago that the Vols needed one win out of this four-game stretch or else coach Derek Dooley might be in trouble. Well, they’re 0-2 so far and a group of upset students (or who knows, perhaps just fans) painted UT’s famed Rock with anti-Dooley slogans by Sunday morning. UT is highly unlikely to beat Alabama at home this week or South Carolina on the road the next, so it remains to be seen if a 4-0 finish against Troy, Missouri, Vandy and Kentucky could save Dooley’s job if that’s how it plays out.

Elsewhere in the SEC
LSU 23, South Carolina 21: This seemed an unlikely time for LSU to bust out of an offensive slump with two starters out on its line and one of the nation’s elite defenses coming to town, but that’s exactly what the Tigers did, out-gaining Carolina, 406-211 behind 124 rushing yards from freshman Jeremy Hill, who hadn’t been a factor until Saturday. The good news for Carolina: if it can beat Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas in its next three games, it will still be the champion of the SEC East. Despite its one loss, LSU can say the same about the West if it wins out as well.

Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57: The odds of getting a road win when you give up 57 points and 615 yards are just about impossible, but then again, Aggie freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has been doing the impossible just about all season. On Saturday, he threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 181 and three more. The Aggies improve to 6-1 and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of challenges they’ll post for LSU this weekend, and for Alabama on Nov. 10.

Alabama 42, Missouri 10: Speaking of the Crimson Tide, the only real drama in Columbia was when the lightning storms that delayed Saturday’s game would pass. The ‘Tide led 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, and out-gained the Tigers, 533-129.

Ole Miss 41, Auburn 20: The Rebels snapped a 16-game SEC losing streak, breaking open a 24-20 game with three unanswered, fourth-quarter scores. If Ole Miss can win at Arkansas in two weeks, it has a real shot at a bowl game with one win in its final four games, though of those contests will be tough. For Auburn, a coaching search may be in order after the losses continue to pile up for Gene Chizik.

Arkansas 49, Kentucky 7: The score doesn’t do justice to how much of a rout this game was, as they didn’t even play the final 20:08 due to a lightning storm in the area. In just 40 minutes of action, the Razorbacks managed 533 yards of offense, and Tyler Wilson tied a school record with five touchdown passes. It’s not going to save John L. Smith’s interim job, but at least the Razorbacks are virtually assured of staying out of the SEC West basement now.