Vandy guts out a 'grimy' victory

Probably every account of the game that you will read in Sunday's fish-wrappers will include the words "it wasn't pretty," and it wasn't. The weather was abysmal and gloomy. The crowd was embarrassingly small and lethargic. And the game itself turned out to be a grungy, mistake-filled low-scoring dog of a contest.

NASHVILLE-- If you were one of the 16,500 who paid to watch Vanderbilt gut out a victory over Eastern Kentucky Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium, congratulations. You are a true Commodore loyalist.

And if you were among the even smaller number who actually sat through an intermittent drizzle through all four quarters (the attendance figures didn't reflect the no-shows)-- I salute you. You earned your Commodore stripes today. And you were rewarded.

Probably every account of the game that you will read in Sunday's fish-wrappers will include the words "it wasn't pretty," and it wasn't. The weather was abysmal and gloomy. The crowd was embarrassingly small and lethargic. And the game itself turned out to be a grungy, mistake-filled, low-scoring dog of a contest.

But to defensive tackle Robert Dinwiddie and the team's other seniors, who have endured more than their share of losses over the last few years, the stadium scoreboard was a thing of beauty about 4 pm Saturday. It read: "0:00: Vanderbilt 19, Eastern Kentucky 7."

"It was a grimy game," said Dinwiddie. "[EKU] made it a grimy game. It was won in the trenches."

"We had to fight for it and earn it," said Bobby Johnson, who kept his record perfect at Vanderbilt vs. Division I-AA teams. "We made some clutch plays at clutch times. Jay [Cutler] made some great throws. That's what your leaders and your best players need to do."

For a team as mentally drained as Vanderbilt-- a team whose psyche Coach Bobby Johnson referred to as "fragile"-- a loss to Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky could have been almost too devastating to think about. Entering the game at 1-5, these Commodores were desperate for a win of any variety.

On this soggy afternoon, the Commodores-- who weren't responsible for making the schedule, just playing it-- forged out a win. The seniors and older players took charge, and for a week at least, the heavy burden of losing was lifted.

"These last couple of weeks have been hard," Dinwiddie acknowleged. "That Rutgers loss was probably the hardest."

The final margin Saturday was probably not enough to placate the program's critics, who've been blasting Vanderbilt lately on talk shows and message boards. Such detractors will no doubt find plenty of things in the final stats to grumble about-- 460 yards surrendered by the defense, 276 through the air-- a blocked punt, two missed extra points.

In addition, the Commodores caught a couple of huge breaks along the way to their second victory-- the biggest one an apparent touchdown catch by EKU's Patrick Bugg in the fourth quarter that was ruled a drop. The Colonels from the OVC, led by freshman quarterback Josh Greco, proved to be a much feistier foe than advertised.

"We certainly didn't play up to our potential," Dinwiddie insisted. "But they didn't play like a I-AA team either. They played a good game of football. We didn't play down to them. We just didn't play up to our potential."

But the half-empty folks also have a few things to which they can point. On a rain-soaked field, the Commodores committed no turnovers, and achieved the almost unheard-of feat of committing no penalties. The Dores had a 100-yard rusher for the first time since last year's Kentucky game. The defense shut out the Colonels in the second half.

"We seniors tried to set a good example in practice this week," Dinwiddie said. "Things like film habits... how to handle yourself during the game, before the game, during halftime. We've told them, we've been in this situation before. What we've got to do is come out and make it right."

In the end the only stat that really matters-- as Bobby Johnson and almost every Vandy player pointed out in the postgame-- is the final score. "A win is a win," they repeated, almost in chorus.

"Guys stepped up today when they needed to," Dinwiddie said. "But what we have to have is guys stepping up when they don't need to. On every play.

"Guys were doing it today. They were covering for each other, getting other guys right if they made a mistake. That's what a team is all about.

"Yeah, they had 460 yards of offense, but it doesn't mean a thing. We got a 'W'."

A game Eastern Kentucky team had shown up ready to take advantage of a struggling.Vanderbilt team. Instead, for at least this once, Vanderbilt made somebody else feel the sting of disappointment and frustration.

"I thought we were going to win this game," said EKU coach Danny Hope. "It came down to a couple of plays and a couple of calls."

Instead, against a team coached by a man named Hope-- a beleaguered Commodore team found renewed hope for the tough stretch ahead.

GAME NOTES:

Sophomore Sean Dixon started at cornerback in place of Bill Alford, who was held out for disciplinary reasons.

Junior Kwane Doster started the game at tailback for the second time this season. Jeff Jennings and Norval McKenzie also saw action.

Freshman Kyle Keown had a 66-yard punt in the first quarter. His second punt was blocked-- "it wasn't Kyle's fault," said Bobby Johnson-- but Keown still finished with a 42.5 yard average on four punts.

Injury report: Chris Young, Lamar Divens and David Carter missed the game with injuries. Dominique Morris left the game in the first half with a mild concussion. Doster left the game in the fourth quarter with a thigh bruise, but the injury was not serious. Ray Brown left the game with an injury that did not appear to be serious.


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