Liberty Bowl: As It Happened
14:10 left, first quarter: So, it took about 10 minutes of our lives for Cincinnati to gain zero yards while Vanderbilt called a timeout.
13:01: Oh, man. Jordan Rodgers nearly threw a pick-six. It already feels like a Tennessee-style rollercoaster ride in which one doesn't know which Rodgers will show up on any given snap. Don't eat a big meal until after this game, Dores fans. Stomach-churning moments await in Memphis.
11:14: Vanderbilt's defense is answering the bell and making Zach Collaros look very much like a spectator, not a participant. However, half a loaf won't do it today; the right Jordan Rodgers needs to show up to give the Dores the two-fisted totality they need.
10:33: Are the severe shadows in the stadium having that much of an impact on the pitch-and-catch rhythm between the quarterbacks and receivers? Neither offense has any remote sense of timing so far.
9:42: Wait a minute – I didn't think in a million years that a punter would be the most valuable player in THIS Vanderbilt bowl game. However, Richard Kent just got his Brett Upson on.
9:21: Cincinnati finally gets the game's first first down. The game has begun.
8:36: Whoa – ACTUAL ACTION! Casey Hayward, playmaker extraordinaire, is here to help! Without seven points, though, it won't mean a whole lot.
7:34: Scoring a touchdown is great. Doing so with an emphatic ground game is even better. Momentum wears black at the sombrero near Graceland.
6:02: Vanderbilt thanks Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian for that horrible 3rd and 2 play call.
2:23: Rodgers, in 2012, will need to step into that throw and learn to develop pocket presence, which he currently lacks. That failure represents the difference between a punt and a field goal attempt.
1:31: Tim Fugger and friends are demolishing Cincinnati's offensive line. Let's not feel too comfortable, though – you've seen so many of these bowl games start well for one team but then turn around on a dime. Vanderbilt has to stay focused and land some haymakers on offense.
End of First Quarter Score: Vanderbilt 7, Cincinnati 0. .
14:18 left, second quarter: So, about that momentum shift we were referring to a moment ago……..
11:32: Rodgers sticks the throw on third and long, but the other Jordan – Matthews – can't reel it in. This simply won't be a comfortable afternoon… for either team.
10:37: All the roughing-the-punter flags in the world won't matter if Vandy's offensive line can't provide better pass protection.
10:22: Vanderbilt is finding ways to avoid gaining big yards when opportunities exist.
9:30: The Dores' offense is getting punched in the .
7:02: Casey Hayward is making a strong case for game MVP. No offensive player is offering a good counter-argument.
6:12: VU's offense is a dumpster fire right now.
4:12: The past two minutes did nothing to change the above statement.
3:53: Richard Kent didn't intend to snooker the Cincinnati punt team, but oh yes, yes he did… AND WHERE IS THE FLAG FOR A LATE HIT?!?!???!?!?!!!!!! MY WORD!
2:32: Wow, GREAT CALL by James Franklin and staff, but Brandon Barden has to either sit down or run his route away from the Cincinnati linebacker who was coming from the strong side to provide late coverage. It's 4th and 2, though, not 4th and 10, which means Barden probably should have chosen the sit-down option. Get the first down first, then worry about the big gainer.
0:42: Vanderbilt has to key on Isaiah Pead. He's Cincinnati's meal ticket. Someone has to account for him at all times.
0:26: Cincinnati drops a touchdown pass, but Vanderbilt roughs Collaros. This is a typical snatch-adversity-from-the-jaws-of-prosperity performance. Sigh.
0:12: The second half will be a gut check for the Commodores. And yes, as Ray Bentley just said on the ABC broadcast, how do you bite on a double move near the goal line?
Halftime Score: Cincinnati 14, Vanderbilt 7. It's almost always a razor's edge experience with the Dores. Make that 4th and 2 play. Don't rough the passer in a key moment. Hit the open receiver. Catch the first-down-gaining pass on 3rd and 7. Vanderbilt's defense has been up to the challenge. The offense – lacking a single sustained scoring drive – has to shake off the layoff-induced rust and prove to itself that it can perform at a high level. Cincinnati isn't flourishing; this game is waiting to be claimed by Vandy, if only the Dores insist on excellence for 30 minutes.
14:50 left, third quarter: GROAN.
12:39: Wait, what?! Cincinnati just looked a lot like Vanderbilt on that aborted drive. The Commodores were just handed a "stay in the game" card by the generous Bearcats and especially Mr. Collaros, who has – to put it mildly – not been the impact player many expected him to be today.
10:00: This is a great moment for senior Larry Smith, who played in the 2008 Music City Bowl against Boston College as a freshman, but seeing Jordan Rodgers get the hook is not a great moment for this Vanderbilt offense or, for that matter, for the team as a whole. It's not the way to springboard into that already-anticipated August 30 opener against South Carolina, which will set such a tone for the 2012 campaign.
6:19: Vanderbilt's defense is playing a winning game; the middle of the defensive line and the linebackers (in run support) have done a terrific job of bottling up Pead and limiting Cincinnati's ground attack. However, we're all waiting for the offense to do something. Remember that VU's one touchdown was a 22-yard non-drive "drive" in the first quarter. Essentially, the defense set up the Dores' touchdown. The offense has yet to create points on its own, without any help from the defense or special teams.
4:12:Some offensive linemen are starting to lean against Cincinnati's front seven. About time.
3:53:BOOM! WHAM! POW! WHAP! John Madden, an offensive line coach before he took command of the Oakland Raiders, would approve of what Vanderbilt just did.
0:21: That pass MUST be batted down. Gambling for the big interception rarely works. Step in front of the lane or make sure to bat down the ball. That first down for the Bearcats simply shouldn't have happened.
1:00: Given the lack of a kicking game and the struggles of the offense, that's probably one of the two times out of 374 that a punt from an opponent's 33 is acceptable. (The sport of football still dies, though, whenever a team punts from an opponent's 33 when the outcome has not yet been decided.)
End of third quarter: Vanderbilt 14, Cincinnati 14. UPDATE: Isaiah Pead, UC's star running back, is out with an injury, so Vanderbilt's chances of clamping down on Cincy's offense are really good. If the offense can just make plays…
14:17 left, fourth quarter: The first foot of the Cincinnati receiver might have come down. The ball did get peeled away from the receiver's hands after the catch. It's probably the latter detail which will prevent the play from being a Bearcat touchdown. (Still reviewing the play…) Yes, it won't be a touchdown, but in all candor, if the sport's rules were better, a receiver wouldn't be asked to hang onto the ball that long if his first foot hit the ground before the catch. I'm not sold if the foot was down (too close to call), but at any rate, that's a moot point. No catch.
14:03: THE OFFENSE MAKES A PLAY! THE OFFENSE MAKES A PLAY! CHRIS BOYD FIGHTS THROUGH THE PULLED HAMSTRING! SPEAKING OF HAMSTRING, THIS GAME IS GOING HAM!
13:49: More. Ham. And it tastes so, so dreadfully bad for Vanderbilt. Just realize that with Pead out for Cincy, Vanderbilt had the clear upper hand. So, what happens? Kickoff return to the house. Yeah. Swell.
13:37: The game almost got away from Vanderbilt – an alert fumble recovery saved the day for now.
11:40: Well, this just in: Pead is back in the game… and the lead is gone.
10:37: Yes, Pead looks mighty fine right now, and Cincinnati is flying. Don't expect Vanderbilt to score twice in the final 10 minutes. VU has to expect the run here…
9:33: Casey Hayward will get credit for that interception – it was an artful, textbook catch – but Collaros severely underthrew that pass. The receiver was open. The Dores caught a huge break. Collaros is not right.
8:21: Remember that brief period when Vandy's offensive line was smacking around Cincy's front four? It was nice while it lasted. The Bearcats have devoured Larry Smith on the past two drives.
8:09: Cincinnati's running downhill with Pead. Ruh-roh.
5:29: Was Eddie Foster grabbed in the face mask by the Cincinnati receiver? It definitely looked like pass interference, but a better camera angle and production work would help us to make sure of that, ABC/ESPN. Talk about dropping the ball on New Year's Eve, WorldWide Leader…
4:04: Defensive stand, locked down. Great work by the secondary since Collaros had time in the pocket.
3:58: For once, a late-game field goal attempt gives Vanderbilt a boost.
3:47: Jordan Matthews has had a positively horrible game this evening. Not the best throw by Smith, but still, if your hands are on it…
1:51: This team was better than the 2008 team, but Cincinnati was a LOT better than the 2008 Boston College Eagles. Isaiah Pead? He has been simply sensational. Too many mistakes, especially in the passing game, were too much for VU to overcome.
0:44: Playing this thing to the end, Vandy needs to think field goal VERY soon.
0:29: Gotta kick.
0:21: That's it. The offense scored 10 legitimate (basically unaided) points, causing the defense to wear down in the second half. The kickoff return for Cincinnati came at the wrong time. Onward to 2012. The South Carolina game is cause for excitement, not dread – that's a change from most Vandy season openers. James Franklin will try to remove lingering bad habits from his team, but the players are the ones who still have to do the deed in the end.
Final score: Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24..
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