You're Angering The Wrong Guy
The fates can have their fun with Vanderbilt's football team this season. Even in yet another down year for the SEC East, nothing is going to change the fact that this season has definitely moved the ball forward for the Commodore program. Moreover, even after Saturday's painful 26-21 loss to the Florida Gators at The Swamp in Gainesville, Vanderbilt can still tuck away a bowl berth with two wins in its remaining games. There's really no time for this team to get down on itself because, for one thing, it is spilling the tank each weekend. Moreover, though, the Dores know what it's like to be smacked around by the fickle finger of fortune and the cruel plot twists that have befallen the program over an extended period of time. A team that knew it wouldn't solve all of its problems in one season is still in a place where it should laugh at the absurdities that have been thrown its way. As long as James Franklin is coaching this team, any below-the-belt blows should be met with a shrug and a collective, "Is that the best you can do to scare us from aspiring?"
The fates are angering the wrong guy. That's the unavoidable sense as the Dores prepare for Kentucky, a team that has ruined VU football seasons in the past. You can choose to be down and dejected after a Penn Wagers-aided loss in the Sunshine State, or you can choose to retain the optimism this season has delivered. The recommendation here is to go for the latter option, not the former.
Let's realize this about Saturday's loss to Florida: Jordan Rodgers continued to move forward in his development as a quarterback. The 19 of 28 completion rate is strong in and of itself. So is the 297-yard total, a sign that this offense can push the ball downfield with more consistency and panache than in the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust past. However, the most impressive aspect of Rodgers's work against Florida is that his accuracy and the comparatively more vertical dimension of his passing game were accompanied by no interceptions. Indeed, the more one sees of Rodgers each week, the more one is convinced that Vanderbilt will have a quality quarterback in 2012, a signal caller who will stack up fairly favorably within the larger confines of the 14-team SEC.
The numbers don't even tell the whole story with Rodgers. When Vanderbilt was dying for any small infusion of offense, plunged into a 17-0 ditch against the revved-up Gators, it was quite reasonable to think that a second-half surge wouldn't emerge. Florida, after all, was desperately trying to stop a four-game losing streak. Moreover, the defense is the strong suit of the Gators under their first-year coach, Will Muschamp. Rodgers had a very steep mountain to climb when he trudged to the locker room at halftime. A relatively low-drama afternoon seemed to be in store for the denizens of The Swamp and for a Commodore Nation that would have been all too understanding, all too ready to come to grips with the reality of a poor performance one week after a spirit-crushing kind of loss, the awful gut-punch against Arkansas. No one would have held it against the Dores if they simply didn't summon any magic in the second half. It could have been written off as a bad day, a letdown day, the kind of day that's become all too common in Nashville over the years.
Rodgers would have none of it. What had been a blowout-in-the-making turned into a 20-14 game, and with VU driving in the middle of the fourth quarter in Florida's third of the field, that elusive, transformative, we-have-proven-we-can-slay-a-big-name-opponent triumph actually lay in plain sight. Rodgers's resilience, matched by his teammates, was about to carry VU across the threshold and give everyone in the program the boost that – even in this hour of postgame defeat – seems so likely to arrive before too long. Vandy's comeback, in many ways, takes the sting out of the fact that the same winds of fortune that have steered field goals wide in the final seconds; that have made David Cutcliffe a Vandy killer; that always seem to blow in the wrong direction at the wrong time, swept away VU's chance for glory on Saturday. A Penn Wagers crew did its best job of being at its worst, and the rest of the story neatly fell into place.
You saw it, you cursed the darkness because of it, and you shook your fist in the face of it – the 3rd and 9 play in which a naked-in-daylight, two-fisted shove by Florida's De'Ante Saunders was not called defensive pass interference. Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews was discarded with the casualness of a blackjack dealer, and yet no flag was forthcoming. The drive failed, Florida scored, and though the Dores pushed Florida yet again, they didn't beat the Gators yet again. It's the same old story, but the undercurrent flowing through it and the lead-up to this game's denouement felt so distinctly different.
Yes, fates, just keep making James Franklin angry. It's just the fuel Vanderbilt needs for the short road ahead and the longer road of 2012.
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