Georgia Review: Look Around And Revive

Much as television announcers dread blowouts because of all the filler material they have to use, it is also true that writers – though happy to meet deadline – find it intellectually challenging to describe a non-competitive football game when it unfolds in front of their glazed and glassy eyes. How, then, to react to Vanderbilt's brutal bagel against Georgia on Saturday? Two words: look around.

After suffering a 43-0 throttling at the hands of a suddenly rejuvenated Georgia team that – lo and behold – sits just one game out of a tie for the SEC East lead, the Vanderbilt Commodores need to look beyond themselves in order to find fresh motivation for the weeks ahead.

Usually, when a team fails to show up as Vandy did Between the Hedges in Athens, it must do some soul searching and question everything about itself. The normal and conventional response to a 43-point loss is to yell and scream and smash chairs. Thunderous outpourings of anger and outrage are often needed to get the blood flowing after a Saturday stink bomb adds a nasty stench to a season. Players and coaches need to know that embarrassing afternoons are not acceptable, and anger usually serves as the vehicle for communicating such a message.

This week, however, anger really doesn't seem like the proper tack to take for coach Robbie Caldwell and his kids. Indeed, there are some times when a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day demands the ability to serenely move forward, placing the just-concluded face-plant in the rearview mirror. The 43-0 nightmare endured at Sanford Stadium needs to be used as a turning point, but not through any combination of fire or brimstone. What this team needs right now is a piece of gentle encouragement accompanied by the words, "look around."

Yes, if Vandy's gridiron warriors want to be bucked up and buttressed with a fresh supply of confidence for the road ahead in 2010, they need to look beyond their own world of disappointment and realize that in this year's SEC East, all things are possible. After Vandy got bulldozed by coach Mark Richt's Bulldogs, the rest of the division suffered similarly searing defeats… not in terms of margin of victory, mind you, but certainly in terms of the extent of the disappointments that were absorbed.

The South Carolina club that's next on Vanderbilt's schedule – yes, the team that "leads" the SEC East (it's more a case of failing to lose the division as successfully as the other five teams) – is coming off one of the all-time stomach punches it has ever suffered… and for the Gamecocks, that's really saying something. South Carolina had a chance to take charge in the East, but after blowing a 28-10 third-quarter lead at Kentucky and suffering just enough breakdowns on both sides of the ball to lose, the Gamecocks have to be doubting themselves as they get ready to come to Vanderbilt Stadium on Oct. 23. Steve Spurrier mangled his team's final drive against Kentucky and re-affirmed the fact that while he's an excellent play caller, his teams (even at Florida, you'll recall) have not been great in two-minute-drill situations over the past two decades.

Moreover, Carolina's stud – by far its most indispensable player – will be far less than 100 percent for the Dores. Marcus Lattimore's sprained ankle will almost certainly mean limited playing time for the Gamecocks against Vanderbilt. Given the way Carolina's offense absolutely evaporated in Lattimore's absence, Vandy's defense has a genuine chance to shut down Cocky this week. If Vanderbilt can upend South Carolina, guess what? The Dores will find themselves in a tie with Carolina for the SEC East lead.

How's that for motivation, urgency, redemption, and anything else Lee Corso says on the set of College Gameday?

Indeed, when Vandy looks around and surveys the landscape beyond its own locker room, the world known as the SEC East suddenly doesn't seem so bad.

Florida – a team which will also have to pay a visit to Nashville later this season – looks absolutely horrible and very containable on offense. If you thought Vanderbilt's 15-3 home-field loss last year to Mississippi State was bad, Florida actually matched VU this year in a 10-7 loss to the Bulldogs at the Swamp. Vandy not only could, but SHOULD be able to play Florida on relatively even terms when the Gators come calling.

See – things just don't look as bleak or as overwhelming as they normally should following a 43-0 loss at Georgia.

Kentucky, despite its thrilling win over South Carolina, is still 1-3 in the SEC and in need of some semblance of a defense. Larry Smith and the rest of the Vandy offense might have done absolutely nothing this past weekend against Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose unit smothered VU all afternoon, but against Kentucky, the Commodores should be able to post some scores.

Tennessee had a bye week, which was the only negative SEC East development for Vandy on Saturday. Had the Vols played, they surely would have lost, given the condition they're in at the moment.

Yes, as poorly as Vanderbilt played on Saturday, the Dores – don't laugh (even though it's hard, I know) – are very much in the thick of the SEC East race. A win over South Carolina would not only save the season, it would vault VU into division title contention.

Naturally, no one's expecting Vanderbilt to win the East; no one's even thinking that Vandy has a strong chance to be alive on the evening of Nov. 13, when only the Tennessee game remains in the realm of divisional play. No one's arguing that this team is currently filled with the stuff of a division champion.

Yet, the next few weeks retain significance for this team; moreover, the next few weeks present a set of games that are winnable – entirely winnable – in this year's awful SEC East.

Look around, Vanderbilt players and coaches. Never before has a 43-0 loss been met with a larger SEC East landscape in which so much possibility still remains, waiting to be claimed. Naïve optimism doesn't do anyone any favors, but in the 2010 SEC East, one week's train wreck can and does become the next week's rendezvous with hope.

Vanderbilt has everything to gain this week against South Carolina – that's not lazy conjecture but genuine fact. That's how the nightmare of a 43-0 loss can be quickly and confidently banished from the human brain.

Look around, Commodores. Feel your lungs breathe in the sweet oxygen of knowing that you still have everything to play for this year. Watch your spirits revive in an instant.

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