FOOTBALL: Commodores Eye Rare SEC Road Win

No, Vanderbilt will not be gunning for a cherished sixth win this Saturday at Kentucky as many hoped before the season started. But that doesn't mean Vanderbilt's battle with the Cats doesn't carry significance on the Commodore sideline.

Vanderbilt owns a 15-game Southeastern Conference road losing streak, dating back to Nov. 11, 2000, when the Commodores topped Kentucky 24-20 in Lexington. Bobby Johnson himself is 0-14 on the road as the Vanderbilt skipper, including 0-11 in SEC games. So winning an SEC game on the road against anyone will mark a milestone for the black and gold.

"We talked about how that is a worthy goal to have," said junior center Trey Holloway. "We are not going to be able to go to a bowl game this year, but we still have goals that are worthy to attain."

Beating Kentucky would also give Vanderbilt two SEC wins in one season, a feat that has only been done once in the past nine years (Woody Widenhofer's 1999 squad beat Ole Miss and South Carolina, both on the road).

A win would earn Vanderbilt a fifth-place finish in the SEC East. Since the start of division play in the SEC 12 years ago, Vanderbilt has finished last six times and fifth six times, so grabbing a fifth place finish over Kentucky would mean the Dores have finished out of last place in the East more often than not. Yes, that is small consolation, but still worth noting.

"This is a big streak we are trying to break," said nickel back Cheron Thompson.

The Dores will lineup against a Kentucky team that is struggling every way you can imagine. The Wildcats rank No. 116 (out of 117) nationally in total offense and 115 in scoring offense. Defensively, the Cats are No. 89 in total defense and No. 92 in scoring defense. Their average score this season has been 33-14 on the wrong side.

"I hope they continue to struggle," said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. "They have some injury problems. It is a situation where it is tough for them to be consistent."

Motivation, according to Johnson, will not be in short supply.

"We have a very good goal to shoot for," he said. "We're trying for an SEC road win. We haven't had one in a long time. That is a very viable goal for us and that is one that should inspire us to practice well this week."

Last season's 28-17 victory over Kentucky marked the culmination of steady improvement over the course of the season. The momentum did not carry over into the season-finale against Tennessee, but Vanderbilt certainly pointed to the Kentucky win over the summer as one that showed not only was progress being made but that better things were on the horizon.

Should Vanderbilt beat Kentucky again, it can be argued progress was made for the season again as Vanderbilt will increase its win total from two to three from 2003 and double its SEC wins.

"It carries on to next year," Thompson said. "It is a whole attitude thing. We need to have an attitude we can win at home and we can win on the road."

One major factor will be the health of quarterback Jay Cutler, who was questionable according to Johnson as of Monday. Cutler sprained his ankle against Florida and did not practice Sunday. Backup Steven Bright came in and led directed the Vanderbilt offense against Florida.

"We were very pleased with Steven's performance and output," Johnson said. "I think that's a pretty good weapon to have. He can do the things we want in our offense - he can run the option or throw the pass. Steven will be the first to tell you he made some mistakes in his reads, but that is an experience thing. Steven will get better and better as a player as he gets more experience."

The one experience ALL the Commodores are looking for this week is an SEC road win.

Goal posts come down after Kentucky game in 2003.


Bill Trocchi is the online Editor for Athlon Sports.

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