Exuberant well-wishers nearly mobbed Vanderbilt's players as they attempted to cross Jess Neely Boulevard back to their dressing rooms in McGugin Center. Police were necessary to move the throng aside to allow the players and coaches pass by.
"We pimp-slapped 'em and made 'em like it!" exclaimed a nearly delirious Vandy Lance, who patiently waited to congratulate the players until the last one had exited the locker room.
"It's wild in there," said receiver Erik Davis of the postgame locker room scene. "There's no telling what you're liable to see in there right now."
But one player, who had had one of the biggest nights of all, was even-keeled and subdued. Cornerback Bill Alford (right), who had intercepted two Kyle York passes, stood quietly answering reporters' questions, calm as a Bahama breeze.
"I'm not too excited," Alford said. "We expected to win. I don't get excited when we do things I expect to do.
"The other guys seem pretty happy. I'm just worried about next week."
Alford, a senior who last year became the football program's first junior college transfer since the early 90's, got the Commodores' first INT of the season in the first quarter. The first time York tried to throw it deep, Alford maintained inside position and took the ball away from Tee Milons at the State 29.
"They went play action and tried to throw a 'go' route," he said. "I just attacked the ball."
In the third quarter Alford caught another York pass -- but Alford said the coaches may get on his case for the second one when they see the film. Why?
"I didn't attack the ball at the highest point," he said. "He underthrew that one."
Unfortunately for Vandy, Alford was tackled almost immediately for no return on both interceptions. But woe be unto the team that allows him to pick off a pass in open space.
"I always want the ball in my hands. I feel like I'm very elusive when I get the ball. I just wish my picks had come where I could make some moves on a few folks."
Punting and kickoff specialist Abtin Iranmanesh will never lead the SEC in punting yardage or hang time - but the Madison, Ala. native is fast becoming one of the team's most valuable players. "Ponch" as he's known to his teammates, was booming kickoffs out of the end zone for the kickoff team, and downed several punts inside the 20-yard line as a pooch kicker.
And to think Coach Johnson didn't even know for sure Iranmanesh would be returning until shortly before the start of fall camp.
"He has really stepped up and done a great job," said Johnson. "He's very good at placing punts away from the returner. He got some good distant punts to help turn over the field, and of course in the second half he kicked one out at about the 9-yard line.
"And ever since last year with about five games to go, he's just been booming kickoffs. The guy who coaches the kickoff team, Warren Belin, appreciates that very much. Any time you put it in the end zone and they can't return it, it just makes everyone feel better."
Fullback Matthew Tant had a pair of spectacular runs in which he exhibited a tremendous burst of speed as the dive man on quick-hitting option plays.
On the first, midway through the second quarter, Tant exploded up the middle for 22 yards and was inside the 5 in a blink. The play came agonizingly.close to being called a touchdown, but an official ruled Tant had been dragged down six inches short of the goal line. Quarterback Steven Bright got the score on the next play.
Late in the third quarter Tant did score, after Andrew Pace picked off a Mike Henig pass deep in Mississippi State territory. The play, an 8-yard burst up the middle, was so beautifully executed by Tant that a reporter or two seemed to be wondering aloud afterwards why the junior from Harpeth High didn't touch the ball more.
"We think Matt's a fine runner," said Bobby Johnson. "We'd like to take advantage of the fact that if we run some veer-type option where we fake it in there to him, we can sometimes just give it to him and he's going to make positive yardage. Sometimes he's going to pop through there.
"He popped through against Ole Miss [and scored a touchdown] but we had a big penalty there. But Matthew's a good runner. Hard-nosed. We want to get him the ball."
Asked if he'd like to see the ball more, Tant said it was no issue for him.
"I'm just part of the offense," Tant said. "When they can use me, that's fine. But my main role is as a blocker. I know my role on the team. When they give me a carry, that's just an extra."
Photos by Brent Wiseman, Copyright 2004 for VandyMania.com.