Needless to say, he is eager for atonement.
"It has been a long summer," Cutler said. "I've been waiting for this week to come ever since we lost to Tennessee."
The Tennessee loss aside, 2003 was kind to the quarterback with the funny hometown of Santa Claus, Ind. His numbers improved almost across the board, culminating in his signature game – a 28-17 win over Kentucky. Cutler threw four touchdown passes and ran for 129 yards on a day the goalposts didn't survive at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The performance earned him Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors, and it was that game, not Tennessee, that stuck with coaches and media members over the summer.
Cutler was named preseason third-team All-SEC by Athlon Sports, then second-team All-SEC by the league's coaches at SEC Media Days.
"I'm just trying to concentrate on myself and this offense," Cutler said when asked if the preseason recognition would bring added pressure. "I think I put enough pressure on myself to compete and perform that I'm not really worried about all that stuff."
Cutler impressed Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson last season when Cutler approached the coaching staff about ways to improve his game.
"He said, 'I want to do better at this; I want to protect the ball better; I want to make better decisions, get us out of bad plays,'" Johnson said. "He came to us wanting to do that. That tells you how much dedication he has, and how much he wants to get better."
Senior tackle Justin Geisinger has played in front of Cutler for two years and he says the confidence the signal-caller brings to the offense cannot be understated.
"I know that Jay is at the top of SEC quarterbacks and it is great to know we have such a leader behind us," he said. "It takes a little weight off our shoulders knowing that someone with his experience is leading our team."
Where he will lead this team in 2004 has been the topic of much speculation in Nashville. Bowl talk has seemingly sprouted up earlier than ever on the perfectly manicured campus, and South Carolina is a key swing game for a 5-6 or 6-5 record, according to the schedule-analyzers.
"There's some bowl talk around town, but our focus is this game," Cutler said. "We're not putting all our eggs in one basket. If we lose this game, we've got 10 more games to play."
But then he quickly added, "We're going to do everything in our power to win this game."
In addition to a South Carolina defense that will have new defensive coordinator and former Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter at the controls, Cutler will also be dealing with a rookie center. Trey Holloway moved from defensive tackle to center in the preseason out of need, and Cutler said Holloway has made a smooth transition.
"Trey is doing some great things that we probably didn't have the last couple of years," Cutler said. "I'm confident in him. I can't wait to see what he can do on Saturday."
The Commodores fell into an early hole against South Carolina a year ago, but put up some impressive numbers when in catch-up mode. Cutler ended the night with 319 yards and three touchdown passes, though the Commodores never threatened to win the game in a 35-24 loss.
This year, Johnson is hoping for a much better start, and he knows that will start with his quarterback.
"We couldn't ask for a better one," Johnson said of Cutler. "I wouldn't want to trade him for anybody."
Bill Trocchi is the Interactive Editor at Athlon Sports.
Photos copyright 2004 for VandyMania.com.