Rushing defense a concern as Arkansas looms

In the glow of a big win, which could describe Vanderbilt's 24-20 victory at Wake Forest on Thursday, it can be easy to overlook some red flags. But there were, in fact, some areas of caution for the Commodores, 254 of them, to be exact.

Wake Forest backup tailback Micah Andrews, who gathered 264 yards a year ago as a freshman, nearly matched that in one warm night in Winston-Salem, N.C., against a Vandy run defense that has done nothing to alleviate preseason concerns that it will struggle against the run.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Andrews' big night, from Vanderbilt's perspective, is that most of his yards came on running plays between the tackles. The Deacons did nothing fancy and often plowed straight ahead at the Commodores. Time after time, Andrews slashed through the VU defense for sizable gains.

In fact, some of us in the press box wondered aloud why Wake Forest ever bothered to throw a pass when the running game was yielding such fruit.

It's worth noting again that Vanderbilt's starting defensive line Thursday consisted of a pair of ends who did not play in that spot in 2004: converted linebacker Herdley Harrison and Chris Booker, who was out with a knee injury. Theo Horrocks started at one defensive tackle slot after playing end last season. Only senior tackle Ralph McKenzie offered much starting experience.

In addition, projected starting tackle Ray Brown missed the game with a foot injury. The backup tackles were Lamar Divens and Gabe Hall, and neither has yet to establish himself as a factor in the college game.

All of this points to some challenging games this season for the Commodores. If they struggled so much against Wake Forest, how effectively will teams such as LSU, Georgia and Tennessee run the ball?

The challenge figures to get no easier this week at Arkansas, a team that loves to move the ball through power running. In last week's opening win, three Hogs rushed for more than 100 yards, and the team piled up 483.

One week into the season, this is a burning question for Vanderbilt.

Gaining confidence

Vanderbilt began its game-winning drive at Wake Forest last Thursday with 3:02 remaining. The Commodores say they had no doubt that they would win, and their belief came true when tailback Jeff Jennings plunged across the goal-line with 1:48 left.

"We were confident all night long," quarterback Jay Cutler said.

Added linebacker Moses Osemwegie: "There was never a doubt in my mind that they were going to score."

When asked why Vandy suddenly played with so much confidence after a demoralizing 2-9 season in 2004, receiver Marlon White had a quick answer.

"That's in the past," he said. "We're living in today."

Ralph McKenzie (95) chases after Wake Forest's Benjamin Mauk (8) (AP Photo/Chris Keane) Top Stories