Old Dominion and Vanderbilt's Quest For 30

One of the particularly alarming realities of the 2014 college football season for Vanderbilt is that the Commodores' offense has not yet scored 30 points in a game on its own. Vanderbilt is not going to light up the scoreboard in remaining SEC games, so this team's last best chance for a big offensive day in 2014 comes this Saturday night against the Old Dominion Monarchs.


KING FOR A DAY: VANDERBILT’S ATTEMPT TO MASTER THE MONARCHS

Vanderbilt has scored 34 points in two separate games this season, but the sad truth about each of those games is that VU’s offense could not score 30 points on its own. Vanderbilt used a fumble recovery in the end zone and a blocked kick return to post 14 of its 34 points against Massachusetts. The Commodores used two long kickoff returns to score 14 of their 34 points. Vanderbilt’s offense scored 21 points on its own against FCS member Charleston Southern – that’s VU’s highest offensive point total for the season. That’s how dreary and difficult this 2014 campaign has been.

Saturday, the Dores get their last, best chance to truly build the confidence of an offensive unit in desperate need of a holistic pick-me-up – psychologically, conceptually, visually, tactically, the works.

The Old Dominion Monarchs could be more of a get-well tonic for Vanderbilt than UMass, if only because the Dores faced the Minutemen early in the season, when VU’s problems were fresher, more acute, and therefore harder to deal with for a first-year coaching staff. Vanderbilt arrives at this downmarket FBS game at a much later point in the season. If additional weeks of accumulated practice time and game play can’t lead to a big outing against a vulnerable defense, it’s going to be that much more difficult to enter 2015 with a belief that this ship can be turned around under Derek Mason. It’s undeniably important for the program that this offense finds a lot more success on Saturday.

Why is Old Dominion so vulnerable? The question isn’t complicated, and neither is the answer. The Monarchs have allowed at least 41 points in each of their last five games, and in six games overall this season. ODU defeated defending Conference USA champion Rice on the road, but that result occurred on a day when Rice had seven defensive starters out of the lineup. If ever there was a time for Vanderbilt to hang 30 – an authentic 30, without need of a special-teams touchdown – on an opposing defense, this is the time.

It would be a mistake to oversell this game as central to the future of the program – it doesn’t have that level of significance. However, programs need something to build on, and for Vanderbilt, the offense – the crisis point for the team this year – needs to find a richly satisfying moment before the season ends. The best chance for such a moment, probably the last one, is this Saturday.

No, this game doesn’t possess earth-shaking performance. However, it’s just as true that Vanderbilt needs to feel the pressure associated with this game, so that when it conquers said pressure, the experience of playing well can catapult this team forward.

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