Bobby Johnson and Vandy look to build on success

Did anybody think Charlie Weis and Bobby Johnson would be dealing with the same issues entering Week Three of the 2005 football season? Weis, after his Fighting Irish moved to 2-0 with a victory at Michigan, said one of his biggest worries right now is how his troops will handle success. He does not want all the accolades to go to his players' heads and distract them from the task at hand.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has those same thoughts.

"It is a good problem to have," said Johnson at Monday's press conference, his team sporting an identical 2-0 record to Notre Dame. "I think when you've been starved for success and then you have some, what we're doing is appealing to our guys and saying, ‘We hope you enjoyed the success. Realize what got you here and keep doing it. To do that, you have to keep focus and keep trying to get better.'"

The 24-hour rule for celebrations is fine for the coaching staff and players, but Vanderbilt fans are basking in the glory of winning games. Winning close games. Winning close road games. Winning close road games to open the season.

The numbers are astounding. Vanderbilt has not been 2-0 since 1988, has not been 1-0 in SEC play since 1990, has not won its first two road games of the season since 1999 and is 2-0 in games decided by seven points or less after compiling a 1-11 record in such games during Johnson's first three years.

"I don't think you get to a point where there is some psychological barrier you all jump over at the same time," Johnson said. "It is a process."

The catalyst, of course, has been Jay Cutler, whose fourth quarter performances this year have been outstanding. Cutler is 18 for 27 for 223 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter this season as he eliminates the one knock on him entering his senior year: he couldn't pull games out in the fourth quarter.

"We are all on the same page," Cutler said of the offense's play in the fourth quarter. "The offensive line is playing great. They are confident and the receivers are catching balls they weren't catching last year."

Cutler, who was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week, said there is no better situation than having to make plays in the fourth quarter.

"That is why I play this position and why I'm team captain along with Moses (Osemwegie)," he said. "Those situations are why you play football. With all the weapons I have out there, I'm just using them. It is backyard football."

What cannot be lost from Saturday's win was the clutch play of the defense, which limited the Razorbacks to 11 yards on eight plays in the fourth quarter, including the game-clinching interception by Osemwegie with 13 seconds left. The Commodores also had a goal-line stand in the first quarter, stopping Arkansas four consecutive plays inside the five-yard line, and stopped another crucial fourth-and-two at the Vanderbilt 23-yard line in the third quarter. Vanderbilt surrendered 398 yards, but rose to the occasion on the plays that mattered most.

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"The goal-line stand was a great confidence builder for our defense until we could get some adjustments," Johnson said. "When we had to, we got the ball back for our offense. We got some three-and-outs."

The next challenge for Vanderbilt will be Ole Miss before Division 1-AA Richmond and Middle Tennessee come calling. The Commodores should be favored in all three games, (they opened as 5.5 point favorites against Ole Miss) leading to thoughts of a 5-0 record?

"I think it is easy for us to get complacent and think we are better than we are," said linebacker Herdley Harrison. "But we haven't proven anything to anyone yet."

There is clearly a new air of optimism surrounding the program. Chancellor Gordon Gee and some members of the band were among the hundreds awaiting the team buses at the McGugin Center around 2 a.m. Sunday, congratulating the players and coaching staff for another clutch performance. Talk of a bowl game that ended up backfiring last year has quietly revived among the faithful.

"We've never been in this position before and we're enjoying it," Cutler said. "Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling."

Bill Trocchi is the Interactive Editor for Athlon Sports. Top Stories