Dores won't ''roll over''

Have Vanderbilt's Commodores already resigned themselves to a 22nd straight loss to rival Tennessee? Or will they unite for one last shot at a landmark victory in 2004?

Judging by its lack of success in the series with the Vols, one might be inclined to believe the Commodores have surrendered before Saturday's kickoff. But the team that has been outscored 110-0 by Tennessee in the last three meetings says it is determined to finish on a positive note in Nashville.

''The easiest thing for this team to do would be to roll over, but we are not going to do that,'' Vanderbilt offensive tackle Justin Geisinger said. ''That is not what we are going to do. We haven't scored on Tennessee the last few years, but we are not going to go into the game and roll over.''

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is aware of the challenge ahead. He knows full well that even a perfect performance by the Commodores (2-8 overall, 1-6 in SEC) might not be enough to reverse the ugly trend against Tennessee.

''We obviously have a very tough week ahead of us,'' Johnson said. ''We have to play a very fine Tennessee team, and we have to play them after a disappointing loss (14-13 against Kentucky last week). We'll ask our players one more time to reach down and get ready to practice and prepare to play a game the best way they know how.''

Johnson is grasping for any motivation he can find for the Commodores. He said he hopes the loss against the Wildcats brings the Commodores back to life.

''Coming off a win last year before Tennessee, we did not play well,'' he said. ''Hopefully, coming off this disappointing loss will get our guys fired up and angry, and we'll see if we can come out with some purpose and get ready to play the Vols. This is a great challenge.

''This is a team that put themselves in position to have an easy way of winning the Eastern Division championship. They have had it one win away for the last three weeks, so they have a lot to play for. We know we will get their best effort because they want to get in a good bowl and win the championship.''

Based on recent history, the Commodores have little chance. Their offensive woes are expected to continue in this year's game.

v Vanderbilt, which has averaged 150 yards rushing and 174 passing, has scored just 17 points a game. The lack of scoring punch has been the problem against the Vols the last several years.

''Two years ago, we could have played eight quarters and not scored,'' Johnson said of the 2002 Tennessee game. ''Last year I was really disappointed. That first year, we didn't have anybody left. We had two tailbacks with broken legs and Kwame Doster (current running back) had an injury and could not play. But last year we were coming off a win and thought we would play better. They just got off to a great start and put us behind the eight ball. We were trying to catch up, and you just don‚t do a good job against Tennessee in a catch-up mode. If you are in catch-up mode, you are in a bad position.''

As bad as the season has gone, Vanderbilt actually has often had reason to expect better things. The Commodores have had halftime leads in four SEC games, and led in the fourth quarter in three conference games.

''It's pretty frustrating,'' Johnson said. ''The players are frustrated. We are all frustrated. It's frustrating not to have other wins than the Mississippi State win. Everybody looks for answers. When you look for certain answers, other questions pop up. There is no easy answer. It's just a matter of playing with confidence and getting the players in here that can make plays and do the stuff the whole game. It's just all part of the process.''

Second-half breakdowns have been brutal to Vanderbilt.

''We have addressed that every way we know how to,'' Johnson said. ''We have talked about it, and then other games we tried not to talk about it. It's just a product of not being confident enough right now. And I think fatigue has something to do with it. If it's not totally a physical fatigue, maybe mental fatigue. I think confidence is the main thing.''

Despite the loss of its two top quarterbacks to injury, Tennessee will present a formidable challenge for the Vanderbilt defense with starter Rick Clausen, Johnson said.

''This will be their second week of preparation to get a game plan for Rick,'' he said. ''If you look at his second half (versus Notre Dame), he was 10-of-18. It's pretty similar to what Eric Ainge was in the first half. I was pretty impressed with the way he went in and did a pretty good job.''

Though a win over the Vols would be wonderful for the Commodores, they can't help but view the overall season as another disaster.

''I did not want to squelch the enthusiasm of our players,'' Johnson said. ''I still want them to aim high. If you look at it, we had a chance to win six games. We didn't get things done at the right time and the right place, but we certainly had our opportunities.''


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