No 'D' in Vandy?

Except for the Woody Widenhofer years, defense was a lost art in Vanderbilt football for the past 30 years. There was a "D" in Vandy but – figuratively speaking, at least – it was as silent as the "P" in pneumonia.

In the Tennessee series alone, the Commodores surrendered 49 points in 1990, 45 in '91, 62 in '93, 65 in '94, 41 in '98, 38 in '99, 38 in 2001, 48 in '03, 38 in '04 and 39 in '06.

Well, the D in Vandy is no longer silent. In fact, it has been so noisy this fall that it ranks among the most surprising developments of the 2007 SEC season heading into today's 2 p.m. kickoff at Tennessee.

The Commodores rank No. 3 among SEC schools in scoring defense (21.5 points per game), No. 3 in total defense (325.7 yards per game), No. 2 in first-down defense (177 allowed), No. 2 in sacks (27) and No. 3 in third-down conversion defense (25.0 percent).

So, what has happened to transform Coach Bobby Johnson's Commodores from a defensive disaster into a defensive dynamo?

"They've been good, off and on, under Coach Johnson, the whole time he's been there," Vol offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said earlier this week. "Scheme-wise, they're like all of us – trying to find big defensive linemen, fast linebackers and good secondary people – and I think they've done that. They've put together a group of guys that are experienced and play well together as a team. If you're not having to play them, they're fun to watch play defense."

In addition to good players, the '07 Vandy defense has a scheme that is a good fit for its personnel.

"They really are well coached," Cutcliffe said. "They're in the right places all the time and they understand their scheme. They really provide a lot of challenges."

The most notable of those challenges is Jonathan Goff. A two-time team captain, the 6-4, 235-pound senior might be the SEC's premier linebacker. He ranks fifth among conference players in tackles at 8.6 per game. In addition to the 86 stops, he has 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. He is in the running for three of college football's top honors – the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Butkus Award and the Bednarik Award.

"He's a big guy in the middle that's going to rush the passer some," Cutcliffe said. "But they're all good. (Tackle Theo) Horrocks and all of those guys are good tacklers, and that's where defense starts."

Perhaps the greatest testament to Vandy's defense is the fact it limited South Carolina to 282 yards and six points Oct. 20 at Columbia – one week before the Gamecocks burned Tennessee for 501 yards and 24 points (all in the second half) at Knoxville.

When asked earlier this week how the Commodores managed to shut down Carolina, Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer replied: "They forced four turnovers and had seven sacks. That'll beat you."

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