Vandy talking bowl ... again

Imagine you're the Vanderbilt Commodores and you haven't been to a bowl game since 1982.

Now imagine that the 25-year drought appears ready to end when you post win No. 5 – one short of qualifying for bowl eligibility – with four games left in the 2007 regular season.

After getting thumped at Florida, you blow a golden opportunity to post win No. 6 by losing 27-20 at home to Kentucky. Next, you drop a 25-24 heart-breaker at Tennessee. Then a home-field loss to Wake Forest caps an 0-4 finish that leaves you 5-7 overall and watching the postseason ... as usual.

Discouraging? You bet. But one Commodore believes Vandy can make last year's finishing fade this year's major motivator.

"We can turn that into a positive for the fact we know that's not what we want anymore," senior safety Reshard Langford said. "We don't want that to happen, and we're going to do whatever it takes to make sure that does NOT happen again."

So, what exactly does he think will get Vandy over the hump in its quest to win enough nail-biters to qualify for a bowl bid in 2008?

"At the end of a close game, it may just be making a little harder hit or making one little push to get that extra yard on offense," Langford said. "And we're going to do that."

Winning close games is a lot easier when you have a history of winning close games. Alabama has this history. So do Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Auburn. Vanderbilt does not. So, how can the Dores expect good things in situations where, historically, bad things have occurred?

"We were not consistent in our wins and we were lacking in our confidence level," Langford conceded. "But I think we have that up now. Our team goes in knowing we can win games. It's not the same old Vanderbilt. We've got a different mentality and a different work ethic."

That's easier said than done, especially considering Vanderbilt's uncanny knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Last year's Commodores were driving for the winning score against Georgia only to fumble, then watch the Dawgs drive from their 7-yard line to kick the game-winning field goal at the final horn in a 20-17 victory. A few weeks later, Vandy saw a potential game-winning field goal of its own graze the left upright (on the wrong side) in a one-point loss at Tennessee.

"It's been frustrating," Langford said of the near-misses, "but I think it's been a good thing for us, too, because we know what we have to focus on. We know what we have to do to finish out games. That's been our focus, and I think it will put us over the hump."

Every summer Vanderbilt players vow "This is the year" they break through and qualify for a bowl bid. The fact they came so close last year haunts them but also excites them.

"It has been very frustrating to be so close to the six-win mark, but not make it," Langford said. "It has also been a good experience. We just need to focus on finishing out plays and games. We have learned from the past seasons and have a different mentality this time around."

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