The Wildcats' massive gunslinger, Jared Lorenzen, rediscovered the brilliant form he has been able to display at some points in his inconsistent Kentucky career. One can only imagine how simple it was for Lorenzen to call plays in the huddle.
"Derek, you go to the left. Derek, you go to the right. Everybody else go short or middle. Break!"
Whether it was Derek Smith, Derek Abney, or anyone else in his receiving corps, Lorenzen had a ridiculously easy time spotting teammates and hitting them for long pass plays that went all the way, the kinds of plays that have put Vandy behind the 8-ball all season. With Kentucky scoring at such an alarming rate, Greg Zolman and the Dores' offense had very little margin for error, and one play gave Kentucky all the momentum it would need.
Zolman was leading the Dores on a sustained march down the field, a 10-play, 72-yard beauty that had the good guys eight yards from paydirt and a mere three-point deficit in this gridiron version of an up-and-down, 94-foot war at Memorial Gym. And if the Dores couldn't get seven, three points would have drawn Vandy within one possession, which certainly represented striking distance in this yo-yo-like game.
And then it happened.
Zolman, upon being sacked by UK's Dennis Johnson, fumbled. Jamal White of Kentucky picked up the loose pigskin and carried it 82 yards for a touchdown, just 59 seconds before halftime. Instead of creeping within three, or at least one possession in some form, the Dores found themselves down 17, or three possessions.
Showing a lot of heart, Vandy marched back down the field, only to see a 27-yard field goal bounce off the upright and away on the final play of the first half. The Dores still kept coming in the second half, scoring two touchdowns after staring down 17-point deficits. Unfortunately, the leaky defense that has patrolled the Commodores' sinking ship could not plug the holes-literally and figuratively-allowing Kentucky to continue to build its lead back into three-possession territory. Zolman and his mates ran out of ammunition, and the battle was over.
One of sports' great truisms says that it's not necessarily that you perform well, but that you perform well when you need to. Expecting excellence is the ideal, but being human beings-especially collegians-the 20-year-olds who represent the Commodores can't be expected to suddenly imitate a gridiron goliath every week, and certainly not on every play. What has been, is, and always will be within Vandy's reach, however-given the fact that the Dores play other growing, learning, mistake-prone collegiate athletes every week-is the ability to take a game that hangs in the balance and change it with one big play, a breakthrough for the Commodore brigade.
From Alabama to Auburn, from South Carolina to Saturday's Cat fight, Vandy-believe it or not-has indeed possessed an opportunity to change the direction of a game with one key play in an extremely crucial situation. It is in those make-or-break situations that Vandy has posted an "o-fer" in the excellence department. Being excellent in the big situations-which happened for Kentucky on White's 82-yard return-is the very thing keeping Vandy from crawling out of the bottom tier in the SEC.
It's easy-very, very easy-to look at the 56-30 final in Nashville and say that Vandy can't compete. The results of one game-changing play in the final minute of the first half suggest otherwise. It's not that Vandy can't compete, they can; it's that Vandy can't perform in crucial situations.
The next coach of the Commodores will need to drum that fact home. If Mister Next Coach can, this program can turn the corner on the field.
Finally, as an appendage to the coverage of Vanderbilt Football on the field, one note about the off-field elements of college football should be made: it was said earlier-and it certainly won't be disputed in any circles-that Hal Mumme was UK's disgraced ex-coach. Turn to Woody Widenhofer, on the other hand. For all his gridiron failures, the Woodster's quality as a person and a custodian of college student-athletes is transcending its already-lofty status. With a 100 percent graduation rate, and none of the messes that enveloped UCLA and Boston College-and their star running backs-this past week (those two schools are not academic shrinking violets, either…), it's an enduring testimony to Widenhofer's sense of priorities that Vandy stands where it does in the classroom, even for a big-time football program.
In an overarching sense, once the numbing frustration of each and every loss subsides, Vandy fans should-and I imagine they do indeed-realize how Widenhofer has made his kids become excellent when-or perhaps more appropriately, WHERE-they need to: in the classroom. Now, if only the Good Ship Commodore can translate that excellence to "crunch-time situations" ON the field… and sink the Volunteer Navy.