No tailback controversy here

Who's the better tailback, Kwane Doster or Norval McKenzie? It's been the subject of much debate lately on our VandyMania football message boards. Thankfully, neither Doster nor McKenzie seems to care very much-- the primary concern of both is getting Vandy its first SEC victory of the season.

Who's the better tailback, Kwane Doster or Norval McKenzie? It's been the subject of great debate recently on the VandyMania football forum of late. Each tailback has his adamant advocates.

But perhaps instead of spending hours debating which one is better, Vanderbilt fans would be better served falling down and thanking their lucky stars that they have a tailback tandem this good.

"We have two No. 1 tailbacks. That's the way we look at it," head coach Bobby Johnson said after last week's 51-6 win over Chattanooga. "They're both pretty good."

Doster, last year's SEC Freshman of the Year who set a freshman school record for rushing in 2002, has gotten off to a bit of a slow start in 2003. The 5-11, 188-pound tailback from Tampa entered the season as the starter, but suffered cramps in the Ole Miss game and was hampered by a sore foot in the Chattanooga game.

His absence has allowed an opening for McKenzie to demonstrate his considerable gifts. The Powder Springs, Ga. native, who missed the last seven games last year with a broken leg, has made an impressive return in the Commodores' first two games, and turned in an outstanding 102-yard game vs. Chattanooga.

"Norval is certainly a talented back," Johnson said. "He doesn't go down easily. He makes good cuts. He does what he needs to do in the passing game. We were glad to see him get 100 yards."

"I know my role on the team," said McKenzie. "When I heard [Doster] was a little hurt, I knew I had to pick up my game, so the team wouldn't miss a beat."

Two games into the season, the 5-11, 202-pounder from Powder Springs, Ga. holds a decided statistical edge over Doster in yards per game (71.5 vs. 40.0) and yards per carry (5.5 vs. 3.8). Each back has a touchdown.

Fans are fond of such statistical comparisons, and so are reporters. But both tailbacks insist there is no competition between the two.

"We look at it as though we're both out there to help the team," said McKenzie. "We don't think about whether one person's better than another person."

Doster, who started both games thus far, said the Commodores didn't enter either game with a set plan as to how much each player will play, or how many carries each tailback can expect.

"There's never really a plan," said Doster. "[In the Ole Miss game] I started the game, but if I'm tired, Norval's going to come in.

"It's a rotation thing. He's going to get his carries, and I'm going to get my carries. We're just going to go from there. But there isn't any definite starter.

"We're not worried about who's going to get the most balls, or anything like that. We just have to stick together."

"We've developed a little relationship as friends too," McKenzie said. "We're just in it to try to help Vanderbilt become a bowl-eligible team."

(Their answers are so politically correct that one Nashville television reporter-- who shall remain nameless-- left a postgame press conference muttering to himself in frustration. "Gosh, these Vanderbilt guys are so smart-- I can never get anything good out of them.")

Backup tailbacks Ronald Hatcher (5-10, 190), Jason Bourque (5-6, 180) and Ron Bullock (5-11, 225) all got carries in the second half of the Chattanooga game. Bobby Johnson stressed the importance of the availability of multiple tailbacks over a 12-game season for an offense that depends largely on a versatile tailback.

"No one tailback can survive in our offense and be out there taking every snap," said Johnson. We've got to have those guys to help us."

Vanderbilt welcomes Auburn to town Saturday, a team notorious for its fearsome foursome of tailbacks. But McKenzie says he hopes the Vanderbilt's "stable" of backs-- though not as well-known as Auburn's-- will be able to help the Commodores control the ball and keep it away from the Tiger offense.

"I think it's going to be a great game, considering that we're coming off a confidence-booster, and Auburn's trying to get their first win," said McKenzie. "They're a great team, and they have great coaches. I'm sure they're going to prepare them very well this week.

"But we have great coaches, and they're going to prepare us well too. So I think it's going to be a great battle Saturday."

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Photos of Norval McKenzie (9) and Kwane Doster (1) by Neil Brake, courtesy Vanderbilt Athletics.


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