Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vanderbilt: If we would have only...

2005 vs Middle Tennessee State

The poor guys just can't get right. Of all the losing seasons, and of all the lost games, the one game that ended up keeping the Commodores out of a coveted bowl game was against Middle Tennessee State in 2005.

Sure, they had their chances in close losses to South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky later that same year. They only lost by seven, seven, and five points, respectively. However, it is just so disheartening to think about MTSU being the one hurdle Cutler and Company couldn't get past to get to the program's first bowl game since 1982.

After all, Vandy started 2005 4-0 with wins at Wake Forest, at Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Richmond. The game against MTSU was supposed to be win #5, and then they would have six games left to only win one and become bowl-eligible. Didn't think it was possible at the time, but Vandy must have been looking ahead.

Vanderbilt managed only one touchdown the entire game, despite being able to move the ball consistently. In fact, Vanderbilt seemed to beat MTSU everywhere but on the scoreboard. They outgained MTSU 245-147 yards passing, and 102-62 yards rushing. Vanderbilt had 23 first downs to MTSU's four.

Quarterback Jay Cutler's big mistake came early in the 2nd quarter, when he threw a pick deep in his own territory. MTSU needed three plays to get the two yards for a touchdown, but they got them for a 7-3 lead. MTSU then went 85 yards on their next possession to push its lead to 14-3.

Vanderbilt managed a field goal before halftime to cut the lead to 8.

The Commodores owned the second half, but it wasn't enough. Vanderbilt scored on a field goal in the third quarter, and MTSU managed no points and one first down. Cutler connected with Erick Davis early in the 4th quarter for a 16 yard touchdown pass, but the two-point conversion failed. This left Vanderbilt with a 15-14 lead with about 13 minutes remaining.

MTSU's only offensive activity of the second half came a few possessions later, but it came nonetheless. A short field goal by MTSU gave them a 17-15 lead with just about seven minutes to go.

At this point in the season, Vandy was actually experienced in 4th quarter comeback situations. They had overcome late game deficits at both Wake Forest and Arkansas. Not just 4th quarter comebacks, but scoring the go-ahead touchdowns with under two minutes remaining. So it was a little surprising, even to Vandy fans, when Cutler's offense immediately went three and out after getting the ball back.

Their second and last chance to regain the lead came with just under three minutes to go, when Vandy got the ball back at their own 1-yard line. Cutler performed in the clutch just as before, as he went 7 for 8 on the drive plus a stop-the-clock incompletion. He led the offense to the MTSU 19-yard line, and Vandy had a 36-yard field goal to salvage the game and keep their winning streak alive.

It wasn't exactly an App State/Michigan moment, but MTSU blocked the field goal to shock the 'Dores and give Vandy its first loss of the year.

Vanderbilt pulled out one more win in 2005, in the game they undoubtedly wanted to win more than any other on their schedule. They beat Tennessee in Knoxville to finish the year in the closest thing Cutler ever got to a bowl game.

Its just a shame that in the one year Vanderbilt beat the Volunteers, its fans still couldn't claim the smart kids from Nashville were best college football team in the state of Tennessee. That crown would have gone to the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, a 4-7 Sunbelt Conference team from Murfreesburo.