Vanderbilt shocking SEC

With first 3-0 start since 1984, Commodores sitting pretty atop Eastern Division


September 19, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

There have been a number of pleasant surprises so far this season, but none bigger than Vanderbilt.

While the Commodores haven't exactly beaten any BCS-bound powerhouses en route to the school's first 3-0 start since 1984 , their victories over Wake Forest, Arkansas (in Fayetteville) and Saturday's 31-23 win over Ole Miss are a clear indication that the SEC might have to find a new doormat.

"I think they"re a good team." Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said of the SEC's Eastern Division leader. "Their quarterback [Jay Cutler ] is an excellent player."

Cutler, a fifth-year senior who has now been running fourth-year coach Bobby Johnson 's offense since he was a freshman, threw for 314 yards against the Rebels but knows that the success of the team will likely ride on the running of tailback Jeff Jennings.

"He's a horse." Cutler said of the 225 -pound sophomore, who rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns , giving him a SEC-leading seven on the season. "He made it easy on me today. Every time [we are] inside the red zone, he wants the ball on every play."

With the next two games scheduled at home against Richmond and Middle Tenneessee , Vanderbilt should be 5-0 when it returns to the heart of its league schedule, starting in three weeks at home against LSU . It has been 22 seasons since the Commodores had a winning record, 49 since they started 2-0 in the SEC.

"There are a lot of faithful Vanderbilt fans who haven't had an opportunity like this." said senior receiver Erik Davis .

Johnson is hoping the first three games are not merely a mirage for prolonged misery in the future.

"I tell our players all the time that we have to battle every time we go out on the field to have a chance to win." said Johnson, whose teams went a combined 6-29 his first three seasons, including 2-9 last season.

Here's a look at what happened in the rest of the country this weekend.

Best game - There were several to pick from, but those that go into overtime are usually a pretty good place to start. Michigan State's 44-41 win at Notre Dame might have had the most big offensive plays considering that the two teams combined for 1082 yards, but Miami's 36-30 win at Clemson gets the vote here since there were crucial plays on both sides of the ball, culminating with Kenny Phillips" interception on Charlie Whitehurst that sealed the victory and prevented the Hurricanes from starting 0-2 in the ACC.

Worst game - Maybe Nebraska and Pittsburgh should consider donating all of the revenue generated by their game in Lincoln to some sort of Katrina relief fund. Or perhaps they should just give the fans their money back for what they witnessed in a 7-6 victory for the Cornhuskers . While Bill Callahan will definitely be fired at Nebraska before first-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt is run out of town after a dreadful 0-3 start at his alma mater, let this be a lesson to athletic directors who look to the NFL for saviors.

Best coaching move - Virginia's Al Groh going on fourth down and inches against Syracuse at the Orange 9-yard line with 1:26 remaining in the fourth quarter at the Carrier Dome . By getting the first down and keeping the ball for all but one second of play, the Cavaliers were able to run the clock down before Connor Hughes kicked the winning field goal in a 27-24 victory. Of course, had the Cavaliers fumbled before Hughes got the kick, Groh's decision would have fit the category below.

Worst coaching move - Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer sticking with his two-quarterback system late in the first half at Florida. After backup (and former starter) Erik Ainge had directed the Volunteers on a 12-play, 83-yard drive and tied the game on an 8-yard pass to Bret Smith, Fulmer went back to starter Rick Clausen and the Vols lost whatever momentum they had gained at The Swamp. Ainge played the rest of the way, but fifth-ranked Tennessee never seemed to get control of the game in a 16-7 loss to the sixth-ranked Gators.

Worst coaching move II - This had little to do with Oklahoma's 41-24 loss at UCLA, but Sooners coach Bob Stoops should have made a bigger example out of star tailback Adrian Peterson given the way the season has gone. Stoops held Peterson out of practice for a couple of days last week and then benched him for the start of Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl for skipping class. The way the Sooners have played, sticking Peterson behind that terrible offensive line from the start might have been a better punishment, evidenced by the sophomore's paltry 58 yards rushing .

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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