Vandy vs. Ole Miss game notes

BrentVU provides some postgame notes and commentary on Vandy's season-ending 38-27 loss in Oxford. He also talked to Chris Young, who earlier in the week told a Tupelo newspaper he would transfer after this season.]

OXFORD, Miss.-- Vandy has lost games almost every imaginable way this year, but this one was a little different-- although I guess I must admit, not altogether unexpected.  It's been a while (the Georgia game in 1999, maybe?) since Vanderbilt has carried a big lead into the fourth quarter, only to see the other team rally for a furious comeback.

But Rebel quarterback Eli Manning specializes in furious comebacks, and in true Manning fashion, he rallied the Rebels from a 20-3 deficit to a 38-27 come-from-behind victory this afternoon.  For the Commodores, it was simply one more embarrassing chapter in a season that has been mostly a nightmare since the opening loss to Middle Tennessee State.

The Commodores had hoped to send Woody Widenhofer out on a winning note.  Widenhofer had encouraged the team to send the seniors out with a win.  The Commodores built up a lead and held it for 56-1/2 minutes, only to see the Rebels make a remarkable comeback. 

"Football is a team sport, and in all team sports it is about making plays," said Widenhofer after the game.  "In the fourth quarter, we didn't.  We dropped some balls.  We were out of position allowing them to convert some key third downs.  When we catch the ball, we move the ball and score.  When we drop the ball, we set up long conversions, and make it hard to convert."

* * * * *

Widenhofer's final press conference was pretty emotionless and uneventful.  There were no tears, or anything like that.  He even graciously thanked the group of reporters, some of whom had made life unpleasant for him during this past year.

Widenhofer also said he will not meet with his team again, and that his postgame address was his farewell to his players.  He did say, however, that he hopes to attend the team banquet next Friday.

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In the midst of the hurt, you have to give some credit to Eli Manning.  In the first half, he looked very ordinary.  He overthrew numerous receivers, and seemed to be playing right into Widenhofer's defense's hands.  He threw 3 interceptions in the second quarter, and came close to throwing a fourth on the half's final play.

But in the second half, the young Manning seemed to solve the Commodore defense-- 151 of his 286 passing yards came in the game's final quarter.  On one remarkable play he looked astonishingly Manning-like: the Dores brought an all-out blitz, which forced him to retreat and spin around, narrowly avoiding a sack.  Then he let fly what looked like a desperation pass, which was caught by Bill Flowers in full stride for a long gain and a first down.

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Sophomore receiver Chris Young played extensively against Ole Miss, despite the fact that the Mississippi native had told a Tupelo newspaper he would transfer to another school-- Mississippi or Mississippi State-- at the end of this season.

Is he or isn't he?  I asked Young after the game if he really planned to transfer, and he said he wasn't.  He said he would wait around and see what happened with the coaching search.  I asked him if the Tupelo paper had misquoted him, and he said yes.  He said his mother had been very upset by the article.  "I'm a Commodore," he said, several times.

But as I continued to probe, he seemed not to want to talk about it, and finally said "No comment," several times.  Despite his denials, I have an inkling he won't be back next year.  He seems like a very confused and disillusioned young man.

Young was heavily recruited as a high school star out of Batesville, which is only about 12 miles from Oxford.  He finished the 2001 season with only 5 catches for 71 yards.

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The buzz in the pressbox-- I don't know if it's true or not-- is that Auburn Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone has withdrawn from Vanderbilt's coaching search.  He was told that he was probably not the frontrunner, and decided to withdraw his name from contention.

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Peach Bowl scouts, decked out in those funny-looking blazers, were in attendance at the game checking out Ole Miss.  Holy cow, were they frowning when Vandy went up 20-3!  It was pretty humorous.

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Running back Rodney Williams had some nice things to say about Widenhofer after the game.  "He is a great coach and it has been a privilege to play for him," said Williams.  "I don't think he deserves a lot of the criticism he has been getting.  He'll land on his feet.

"I hate that we weren't able to save his job for him.  Players win games and lose games, but they seem to place the blame for the losses on him.  He didn't deserve it."

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Dan Stricker went over 1,000 receiving yards for the year-- something only 2 other Commodore players in history have done.  Boo Mitchell had 1,213 in 1988; Bob Goodridge had 1,114 in 1967; and Stricker now has 1,079 in 2001. Top Stories