A win, is a win, is a win

Adhering to a script that both teams have followed before, Alabama eked out yet another win over Vanderbilt. In the elevator following the game, a media wag quipped that it MUST be written into their contract. Alabama plays horribly--giving the Commodore fans false hope--and then Vandy finds a way to lose yet again.

This time it was via a missed field goal that would have tied the score and *possibly* sent the game into overtime. But in the end the result was the same.

Another Vandy game. Another cramped contest inside the Commodore's high-school stadium. Another ugly win for the Tide.

Historically, Vanderbilt hasn't been a threat to anyone inside the SEC for decades, dating back to before World War II. And Alabama's lead of 36 games in the overall series between the schools reflects that fact.

But it wasn't always so.

The two teams played their first game in 1903, a contest won by the Commodores 30-0. In fact, in the first five meetings between the two schools, Bama managed only 14 total points to 165 for Vanderbilt. (For those keeping score, that's an average margin of victory of 30+ points per game) Back in the days of the Southern Conference, the Commodores were tough. Alabama didn't even take the lead in the series until 1938--fully 25 years after the first meeting.

But that was then and this is now. And Vanderbilt has been historically--sometimes embarrassingly--bad for decades.

Which is why Tide fans have become so frustrated with the series. Victories are fine, but why has powerful Alabama had so much trouble lately in putting away the lowly Commodores?

Pick your explanation/excuse.

  • Alabama is Vanderbilt's ‘point-to' game every year, the one contest guaranteed to make a Commodore athlete's career AND add years to the head coach's contract. The basic reasoning for this one is that the vast chasm of difference between the expectations of the respective teams will guarantee Vanderbilt brings its best game, while Alabama does less.
  • The Commodore roster is dotted with players judged ‘not good enough' to be signed by the Tide. So obviously the Vandy athletes will play their hearts out every year in a sort of in-your-face bid for personal pride.
  • Though a second-tier team in the SEC, Vanderbilt does have good talent among its starters, but the squad lacks depth. This guarantees the Commodores will wear down as the season grinds on, but since Alabama always plays them early the Tide can't take advantage.

Whatever the reason, for the last several years at least the result has been the same: a hard-fought game from Vanderbilt, ultimately resulting in another ugly win for the Tide.

Of course given the fact that that his team was mired in a six-game losing streak dating back to last year's disastrous season, new Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione can be forgiven if he doesn't complain too much. "A win is a win is a win," was his comment following Saturday's game.

And for this Bama team in this season, we'd have to agree.

Highlights:

  • Obviously the rock-steady placekicking of senior Neal Thomas. And that assessment includes his right-goalpost-shivering miss. Because while many kickers would have let the uncharacteristic push eat into their concentration, Thomas kept his focus and banged through the winning points the next chance he got.
  • Lane Bearden's kickoffs are improving. The one he hit low and short was heading into a stiff wind. And Bearden seemed to be muscling-up to compensate and just miss-hit the football.
  • Strong safety Waine Bacon is learning as he goes, but his athleticism gets him into plays that others can only watch. One was out of bounds and the other was just beyond his fingertips, but the former walk-on almost had two interceptions Saturday.
  • Alabama's kickoff return team is performing very well. In four chances Saturday Carter and Milons averaged over 30 yards per effort. Add coaching to talent and you'll find some success.

Lowlights:

  • Double missed tackles by Brooks Daniels and Hirchel Bolden on Vandy's first drive let the Commodores out from under the shadow of their goal post, ultimately allowing them to take the early lead.
  • It was a good read by Watts down on the goal line in delivering the pass to Freddie Milons. But unfortunately it came a count too late, allowing the Vandy cornerback to break on the ball and knock what would have been a key touchdown harmlessly to the turf.

Highlights and Lowlights at the same time:

  • Brooks Daniels may well be the most talented linebacker Alabama has. The sophomore Rover was flying all over the field, and often standing up the ball carrier when he arrived. But Daniels also had several key missed tackles.
  • It was a good play and good execution by Alabama on its last drive in sending No. 2 tight end Theo Sanders free down the sideline. Unfortunately, Watts' pass turned the receiver all the way around, preventing what should have been a clinching touchdown.

Random Observations:

  • Alabama is a reasonably talented team that is clearly still searching to find its identity on offense.
  • It would be unfair to say that Vanderbilt deserved to win. But had the Commodore offense not made several key mistakes, hamstringing their chances to score several times, the outcome could have been different.
  • In the ‘go figure' category, both teams got perfect dribble-bounces on what should have been fumbles. Vandy's Dan Stricker and Bama's Tyler Watts each had a dropped ball bounce perfectly back to them, avoiding a fumble.
  • Ray Hudson obviously provides excellent speed, but he's also an ‘easy tackle' when running inside.
  • The recent addition of professional football and hockey to the Nashville market has hurt Vanderbilt. It's not unusual for Tide fans to flood the stadium, but the hard fact is that home attendance for the Commodores is down significantly. And there doesn't appear to be a light at the end of that tunnel.

Turning Points:

  • The offense's failure to score on its first drive was crucial. After moving the ball impressively down the field, a penalty and a sack killed the march, providing the dual effect of hurting Bama's confidence while adding to Vanderbilt's.
  • The dropped interception by Charles Jones in the endzone was a turning point for Bama that wasn't. Games are won and lost on such plays.

Coaching:

  • Give the Vandy offensive coaches credit. They scouted Alabama and picked out what they believed to be a weakness at cornerback. And their senior quarterback sought to exploit it all game.
  • The Tide quick-kick out of the fake field goal was not a spur of the moment decision. Anything much beyond 52 yards or so is pushing Thomas' practical range, and Alabama has worked on the play in practice. Thomas, by the way, handled placekicking and punting in junior college.
  • Woody Widenhofer's reputation for excellent defensive coaching remains intact. Following their terrible game against MTSU, the Vandy coach said he would be taking a direct hand with the defense. And he frankly called an excellent game versus Alabama, often guessing correctly and shutting down the Bama rushing game when it counted with run blitzes.
  • Bama fans complained long and loud about the number of balls throw successfully in front of the Tide corners, and the strategy (plus some missed tackles) did result in Commodore gains. But judge the schemes by the outcome. Vandy moved the football fairly well, but scored only nine points.

Officiating:

  • The officials did a solid job in the game, but the spot on Tyler Watts' option run on third and one late in the third quarter was simply bad. On the play Watts had a chance at big yardage on the pitch, but he spotted an opening and cut up inside for what was clearly a first down. The Bama QB fell across the first-down line, but inexplicably the officials chose to spot the football at his ankles.

Unsung Heroes:

  • No one ever wants to give Ahmaad Galloway credit, but all the junior tailback does is give you everything he's got on every play. And Saturday that was good enough for 144 yards. He's the best the Tide has had at seeing the field and following his blockers since Shaun Alexander.
  • Offensive linemen rarely get much publicity, but Alonzo Ephraim has quietly become the leader of Bama's O-Line.
  • Aries Monroe's speed is his best asset in rushing the quarterback, but he also is relentless in pursuit, often running down the play from behind.
  • Long snapper Nick Ridings continues to provide perfect ‘deliveries' on placekicks, and his ‘sideways' snap back to Neal Thomas on the quick kick was also on the mark.

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