Dores draw inspiration from upsets

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt travels to the intimidating venue known as Death Valley this weekend as it takes on the defending national champions. A daunting task, no doubt, but the Commodores can at least take two scores with them from Saturday as they prepare for the battle with the Tigers of LSU: Mississippi State 38, Florida 31. LSU 24, Troy 21.

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt travels to the intimidating venue known as Death Valley this weekend as it takes on the defending national champions.

A daunting task, no doubt, but the Commodores can at least take two scores with them from Saturday as they prepare for the battle with the Tigers of LSU:

Mississippi State 38, Florida 31. LSU 24, Troy 21.

So as bleak as the outlook may look in some ways, the Commodores can certainly take heart that an argument can be made this game will go down to the wire.

"Weird things happen," said senior Brian Kovolisky. "You don't expect a Mississippi State to beat Florida. We beat Mississippi State. It shows we can hang with anyone if we practice hard enough and do what you are told."

Wide receiver Brandon Smith said he was "shocked" to hear Mississippi State had stunned the Gators three weeks after Vanderbilt hammered the Bulldogs 31-13.

"It was just surprising," he said. "It just shows what kind of conference we're in."

And while the Commodores can take heart in Mississippi State's accomplishment, they can also look at the LSU home schedule and see two opponents who were not necessarily spooked by the night air in Baton Rouge. In LSU's season opener, the Tigers escaped with a 22-21 overtime win against Oregon State when the Beavers missed three extra points. Oregon State is a pedestrian 3-4 on the season.

Last Saturday, Troy led LSU 21-17 with four minutes to play before the Tigers pulled it out with a touchdown with 2:18 left. Troy also carries a 3-4 record. In other words, LSU has not exactly been world-beaters in all of their night home games (a 53-3 win over Arkansas State being the lone exception this year).

"We need to force them to play well by playing well ourselves," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "If we just go down there and mess around and allow them to get away with less than their best effort, it's our fault."

One player the Commodores will likely lean on is running back Kwane Doster, who excelled during Vanderbilt's 19-7 victory over Eastern Kentucky. Doster ran for 117 yards on 15 carries, making him the only VU back to crack the 100-yard barrier this season. Johnson said Doster earned the right to shoulder more of the load in the backfield after his strong performance.

"I thought he had an excellent game," Johnson said. "He did exactly what we wanted him to do. He made some things happen at the tailback position and made some good cuts. He did well in block protection, too. All those things go into it and you have to be able to do it all. He certainly did it all in this game and we're very proud of him."

Not that Johnson has many other options at this point. In the last two games against Georgia and Eastern Kentucky, Norval McKenzie has gained just three yards on eight carries, while freshman Jeff Jennings has four yards on 10 carries during the same two-game span.

"I was very impressed with Kwane's running," Kovolisky said. "It seemed like he got into a groove and kept pounding away."

In order for Doster to be successful this Saturday, Kovolisky and his fellow offensive linemen will have to keep an eye on LSU defensive end Marcus Spears, who had six tackles for loss against Troy.

"If you give somebody too much attention, somebody else is going to really wear you out," Johnson said. "You do have to know exactly where Spears is because he is an excellent player, a fantastic player to tell you the truth. He makes a lot of plays for them, but they have others."

They will also have a loud and rowdy crowd, but that is something the Commodores know is coming.

"I'm sure we'll be rattled at the beginning of the game, but we have to realize it is like playing anywhere else," Kovolisky said. "We've played in front of large crowds before. There really is no pressure on us. No one is expecting us to beat the defending national champions, so that just motivates us to work harder and play to the best of our ability."

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Bill Trocchi is online editor for Athlon Sports.


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