Vandy Hopes Momentum Carries Over This Weekend

FAYETTEVILLE -- In the eyes of some probably in the eyes of many Vanderbilt doesn't look to be a major threat again in the Southeastern Conference this season.

There is a valid reason. Maybe.

In the past three years, the Commodores have gone 0-8, 1-7 and 1-7 in the SEC, respectively, under fourth-year coach Bobby Johnson.

And this summer, Vandy was picked next-to-last ahead of Kentucky in the SEC Eastern Division.

Yeah, that's pretty crummy frankly, kind of pitiful but with All-SEC quarterback candidate Jay Cutler returning for his senior season and bypassing the NFL Draft, there is a glimmer of hope for better things.

He's definitely the real deal. Heading into this season, he had thrown for 5,624 yards and 38 touchdowns. He also had 1,041 career rushing yards.

Cutler, a 6-foot-4, 225 pounder, is the most experienced quarterback in the SEC with 35 career starts.

Vanderbilt starts finding out realistically how it might stack up in conference when it meets Arkansas at 6 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the SEC opener for both schools.

"Last year, I think we lost five games by a total of 15 points," Johnson said. "I think we led four of those games at halftime that we lost. So, I think we're moving closer to being able to compete in the SEC."

Before the season started, Johnson had one major concern.

"It is just the reaction to losing one of our top players in the tragedy of (tailback) Kwane Doster's murder" Johnson said. "That's a real mental obstacle."

Doster died from injuries sustained in a shooting Dec. 26, 2004 in his hometown of Tampa, Fla., and the Vanderbilt football team has dedicated its season to him.

Vanderbilt started the season on a positive note with a 24-20 come-from-behind win against Wake Forest last Thursday night in Winston-Salem, N.C.

It was the first time since 1993 the Commordores won their season opener on the road, and first time in eight years they opened with a win, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the game.

That win broke an 18-game road losing streak which dates back to Oct. 21, 2001. Saturday, the Commodores are hoping to have back-to-back road wins for the first time since 1999.

Vanderbilt hasn't started the season 2-0 since 1988, unless one counts 1993 when it was awarded a forfeit from Alabama.

Johnson was excited, but reserved in his Monday news conference.

"We celebrated on the way back from Winston-Salem and we celebrated on Friday when we watched the film," Johnson said. "On Sunday, it was all Arkansas and that's what we tried to get their minds on. I think it's human nature to think about what you just accomplished and so you have to remind them that if we keep thinking about Wake Forest, it's going to be too late to beat Arkansas. You have got to get on it right away.

"We're ready to move on."

In that Wake Forest game, Cutler completed 25 of 36 pass attempts for 276 yards.

Senior wide receiver Erik Davis, who entered the season as the SEC active leader with 1,148 receiving yards, was Cutler's second-most effective receiver with six receptions for 59 yards.

Against Wake Forest, Vandy rolled up 422 yards in total offense. It had 146 yards rushing Cutler led all ballcarriers with 89 yards on 10 attempts and, of course, Cutler's 276 yards passing.

Senior cornerback Andrew Pace led Vandy with 10 tackles, including nine solo stops. Senior safety Kelechi Ohanaja had nine tackles (seven solos) and preseason All-SEC senior linebacker Moses Osemwegie and redshirt freshman cornerback Josh Allen had eight each.

Good beginning, but it's not the SEC.

"Are we going to be able to compete every week and have a chance to win?" Johnson said. "I think we can do that. No matter how good we get at Vanderbilt we are recruiting on a consistent basis and getting the very best players that we can find in here.

"It's going to be a battle every week for us. No matter whether we're playing SEC games or out-of-conference games, it's going to be that kind of battle.

"I hope we can do it."

Johnson said Arkansas was one of the teams which jumped out at him on the schedule this season.

"First, we were concerned with playing at Wake Forest," Johnson said. "Of course, then we have to go Arkansas, which is going to be significant.

"And then the next week we play Mississippi, which is our first home game. We have three firsts there. After the season, you know, we'll look back at them all.

"We'll try and win all of them. We play them all to win, and that's the only thing you look at is how you do."
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