Thrill of Victory

Weekend wrap: Vandy gets it done, Titans don't

Long season looming for 1-4 Titans
If you’re looking hard for positives from the Titans’ 30-7 loss to Minnesota on Sunday… well, please tell me when you find them. About the closest I can come is rookie Kendall Wright’s continued production out of the slot – he caught nine balls for 66 yards – but there’s little good news elsewhere. Tennessee was out-gained considerably (433-267), committed 10 penalties for 75 yards, got nothing out of Chris Johnson (15 carries, 24 yards) and in case you’re wondering if it’s time to pull Johnson for Javon Ringer (which it probably was), Ringer hurt his knee and is likely done for the year.

So, let’s take a snapshot as to where the Titans are right now. Their minus-93 points differential through five games is the worst in the NFL. They rank 26th in total offense out of 32 teams, 24th in total defense, dead-last in scoring defense, and 25th in scoring offense. Johnson, the face of the franchise, has now run for 210 yards in five games and is averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

It would be unfair to throw those numbers out without pointing out that the Titans’ five opponents so far are 11-7 in games not involving the Titans, and that ProFootballReference.com ranks Tennessee’s schedule the sixth-toughest in the NFL so far. In case you’re wondering about the schedule ahead, the 11 remaining opponents are a combined 24-28. That seems to be better news, but when the Titans have been absolutely non-competitive in four of their five games so far, you have to wonder how much it’ll matter.

Vandy gets that elusive close-game win
Football fans like to think that games are won and lost by things like, “who wants it more,” “mental toughness,” or any of the dozens of other catch-phrases you want to throw out there. The truth is, there’s more luck to these things than most people care to admit – things like whether a borderline call went your way or not, or if the opposing kicker hits (or doesn’t hit) a last-second field goal, or even the health of your team or the opponent.

The Commodores had been 0-7 in their last seven games that have come down to the wire entering Saturday. Well, Vandy finally caught some breaks in its 19-15 win over Missouri, with Missouri getting several key players hurt (most notably, quarterback James Franklin, who led the Tigers on scoring drives before he departed with a first-quarter knee injury) and for once, a key call went VU’s way when a personal foul penalty turned a Vandy punt into an eventual touchdown drive.

Not that the Commodores should be ashamed to take the win; try finding a team that’s caught fewer breaks than the Commodores for the last three or four decades, and I’ll buy you lunch. I’ve said that Vandy was a better team that it’s 7-10 record the last two years (coming into Saturday’s game) showed.

Now, Vandy has a super-tough task of taking on Florida this Saturday. The Gators will be tough to control on the lines of scrimmage, but the Commodores really made some things happen with some clever gadget plays on Saturday and quarterback Jordan Rodgers played well. Even better for Vandy, the Gators are the last ranked opponent left on the schedule.

Elsewhere in the Southeastern Conference…
South Carolina 35, Georgia 7: For pure shock value, I haven’t seen a more astonishing score than this one. It’s not that it was a huge upset, it’s…. well, a lot of things. I don’t know if I was more shocked to see Carolina score 21 points in the game’s first 10 minutes, or the Gamecocks hold Georgia’s offense, which came in averaging 536 yards per game, to 224, or for Georgia’s Aaron Murray to go 11-for-31 for 109 yards, but in any case, you get the picture. Carolina is now firmly a national title contender as it prepares for back-to-back road trips to LSU and Florida, while the Bulldogs have a week off to lick their wounds.

Florida 14, LSU 6: Here’s something you don’t see often: a team basically tells LSU it is going to run, then lines up and dares it to stop them. That’s exactly what the Gators did in getting their biggest win since Tim Tebow left Gainesville. What was super-impressive was how the UF offensive line controlled a star-studded LSU defensive front down the stretch. Are the Gators for real? I think so.

Arkansas 24, Auburn 7: The Razorbacks came into Auburn and proved that their defensive incompetency is evidently far less than Auburn’s offensive incompetency. Neither team’s season is going anywhere, so at this point, the only question seems to be whether Auburn’s Gene Chizik can survive the season, as a very vocal group of Tiger fans want him gone.

Mississippi State 27, Kentucky 14: After MSU led 14-0 and got the game’s first 11 first downs, the only real drama would be whether Kentucky would get another key player hurt. It did: quarterback Patrick Towles, starting for the injured Maxwell Smith, suffered a severe ankle injury. MSU is ranked in the Top 20 but has played nobody, and that changes starting this weekend with Tennesee.

Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 27: Ole Miss fans had to be kicking themselves Saturday night. A&M doesn’t turn the ball over much, and the Rebels forced six miscues. The Rebels led 27-17 midway through the fourth quarter, and then came within millimeters of sacking Johnny Manziel to go up a dozen points. Instead, the Aggies went from their own 1-inch line to the Ole Miss goal line in four plays, stopped a fourth-and-inches at the Rebel 39, and scored the winning touchdown with 1:46 left. There’s probably not much consoling Ole Miss fans today, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the Rebels are light-years better than a year ago.