No mystery ... the Cutler did it

The recognition has been a long time in coming for Jay Cutler. Now that he is making a name for himself, the Vanderbilt quarterback hopes to finish his sophomore season in style.

Cutler, who led the Commodores to an improbable victory over Kentucky last week to end the team's 23-game losing streak in Southeastern Conference competition, was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week as he readies to close out the regular season against Tennessee on Saturday.

In his best performance to date, Cutler rushed for 129 yards and passed for 175 yards and four touchdowns to carry the Commodores to a 28-17 win over the Wildcats. In the process, he moved into second place in the SEC in total offense with 2,553 yards.

In keeping with a team-first attitude, Cutler praised his teammates for the huge victory.

''This was definitely the best game I have played here,'' Cutler said. ''It was a team effort. The offense played great and our defense was strong. It was an overall great win.''

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson was quick to credit his precocious quarterback.

''It's important to win and have him recognized,"''Johnson said. ''Jay has been a very good performer all year, but when you throw four touchdown passes and rush for 129 yards ... he really did a great job of getting us in the right plays at the right time.

''I thought he was great in the leadership department Saturday. He really stepped up in that area. I think the way he went about his job helped the whole football team. It's a very well deserved honor for Jay. Hopefully we can start a trend.''

Cutler has passed for 2,281 yards this season, eighth on Vanderbilt's all-time list. He is also fifth all time in passing with 3,714 yards in less than two seasons. Greg Zolman leads the all-time Vanderbilt list for passing yardage with 7,981 yards.

Cutler owns every sophomore record at Vanderbilt, including touchdown passes (18), completions (178) and attempts (302). His passing accuracy has improved greatly this season. He is currently connecting on 58.9 percent of his passes. Last year, his passing percentage was 48.6.

The dedication to improving and a good understanding of the Vanderbilt offense have helped Cutler develop into a potent weapon for the Commodores.

''Jay is hard on himself, but he is hard on himself for a reason,'' Johnson said. ''He wants to get better. Jay is very confident in his ability. He knows that if he does the right things he will be successful.

''I think that sometimes Jay thinks he has to do something extra for us to have a chance to win, and he might try to make plays sometimes that aren't there. But I am not worried about Jay's confidence. He's one of the best things we've got going here.''

Vanderbilt receiver Erik Davis believes Cutler will only get better with time. He has seen the type performance Cutler exhibited against Kentucky coming for a long time.

''Jay played a great game,'' he said. ''We see that all the time in practice. We are going to get used to him playing great and we'll keep winning.''

Lest you believe the Commodores have grown too big for their britches, consider this comment from Johnson at Monday's weekly press conference.

''Don't make that mistake,'' he said. ''Nobody around here thinks we have arrived. We know we have to work even harder this week. The point we are trying to make to the guys is that if we had played this well all year, we would have had a lot more victories. It's under their control. It doesn't guarantee you're going to win, but if we played as efficiently as we did against Kentucky we could win some other games. It's up to them. We could play very well against Tennessee and still not win.''

As for the Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry, Johnson said the Commodores need to hold up their end of the battle.

"I think you need more of a competitive rivalry for it to be the intensity of Auburn-Alabama, South Carolina-Clemson. We have to step up our part and make it an interesting rivalry. Right now it really isn't. I think they have won about 20 in a row. Hopefully, we can end another streak."

Following Tennessee's impressive blowout of Mississippi State, Johnson knows the Commodores will need another superhuman effort on Saturday.

''They are a complete team now,'' he said. ''I don't know if you could ever question their offense. They have had some tough games, but they have gotten some great performances. You have to look at (UT quarterback) Casey Clausen's record. You can't argue with it. You can't overlook what he's done at Tennessee.

''They also have a great kicking game and their defense has been great all year. We have a tough order, but I challenged the guys. This is not the time to go backwards. Let's go forward and see if we can duplicate a great effort and give ourselves a chance to win.''

If nothing else, the Commodores can be thankful they are playing much better now than they were at this point last season.

''Nothing positive like the Kentucky game happened at this time past year,'' Johnson said. ''We were down to nubs as far as having people to play. We were hunting people just to fill out the roster. It was not a confident team out there.

''Playing at Tennessee will be an exciting atmosphere. We have been down the The Swamp and those places. This will be the big place.''


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