The sad thing was, had Jackson-Garrison not escaped for his game-ending ramble, the Commodores would have finished the night with -15 rushing yards on 25 carries. His run put the ground game in the black, 25 total yards on 26 carries.
It was an indication of just how thoroughly the Tiger defense physically whipped Vanderbilt's offense. On a pleasantly cool evening at Dudley Field, before an ESPN2 audience and a (purple-dominated) crowd of 37,309, LSU completely shut down the one part of the Vanderbilt team that was presumed to be its strength-- its offense.
Vandy's league-leading offense, which had been averaging 442 yards per game, was held to 138. An offense which had been averaging 26 first downs and 27 points per game, was held to 10 and 6 respectively.
Jay Cutler, who has now started 40 games at quarterback in his illustrious Vanderbilt career, could not recall a time when the offense had been so stifled.
"They weren't 34 to 6 better than us, I can tell you that right now," Cutler said. "But sure, we struggled tonight. It's easy to point fingers, but we've got to look at the film. At times we couldn't hold them out, and at times we ran some wrong routes. We'll just have to get back to work."
The Commodores were thwarted in their attempt to beat a ranked team for the first time since 1992.
All night, it seemed, Cutler was on the run from leopard-quick Tiger defenders. LSU, which had knocked Cutler out of the game last year in a 24-7 Tiger win, blitzed and blitzed and blitzed some more, and dished out a pounding to Cutler and anyone else who dared carry the ball. Quarterbacks of lesser mettle certainly would have wilted under the constant pressure, but Cutler lasted into the fourth quarter, when after a particularly hard blow, he was removed for Chris Nickson.
Nor could the Commodores ever get any semblance of a rushing game going. Jeff Jennings, Cutler and Nickson all ended the night with negative rushing totals.
"I've always said if you can't run the ball, you won't be able to get any passing game going, and we couldn't tonight," said head coach Bobby Johnson.
The Vandy offensive line, beset by injuries, playing a number of less experienced players at some unfamiliar positions, was unable to contain the LSU front, and that, folks, was the story of this one. Nine of LSU's 34 points came on defensive scores-- a sack of Cutler in the end zone in the first quarter, and a return of a Chris Nickson fumble late in the game.
Surprisingly, it was Vandy's defense which helped keep the contest entertaining for most of three quarters. Stifling LSU on three first-half turnovers, Vandy trailed just 9-3 at halftime and entered the fourth quarter trailing by a mere 12-6. Commodore fans were thinking, we can win the game if we can just get the offense into a rhythm.
It never happened.
"The defense played awesome, and we didn't help them at all," Cutler said. "They were carrying us the whole game. It's unfortunate we couldn't do anything with those turnovers."
Looking ahead to its last five games, Vanderbilt's offensive line is suddenly a major concern. The Commodores started the year with great depth along the offensive line... but six games into its schedule, any depth they once enjoyed is gone. LSU saw to that.
Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell was forced to play a game of mix-and-match for most of the evening, as various starters and backups succumbed to injuries.
First left tackle Ryan King who went out with an injury; Chris Williams moved to left tackle, Josh Eames moved from right guard to left guard, and Mac Pyle, who had not played since the Arkansas game, took over the right guard spot.
In the second quarter Pyle (right) re-aggravated his knee and was helped off the field. Chris Williams went down briefly, then Josh Eames. Before it was over, the line corps resembled the walking wounded, and backups Elliot Hood, Hamilton Holliday and Merritt Kirchoffer had all been forced into action. Getting the picture?
"We had some guys in there who hadn't played a lot in the past," said Brian Stamper, one of the few linemen to last the entire game. "Having been in that situation myself, it's tough to get thrown in there, especially against a tough team like LSU. We definitely had some breakdowns."
"It's just hard to be consistent when you're moving guys from position to position," Johnson said. "We'll have to see who's going to be available next week."
Vanderbilt faces No. 5 Georgia next Saturday. The Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 SEC) grabbed sole possession of the Eastern Division lead with a 27-14 win over Tennessee in Knoxville. A decision is due on Sunday on whether the game will be televised on CBS at 11 a.m. CT, or on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.
Brent's game notes
- Junior Ray Brown got his first start of season at defensive tackle.
- Freshman Earl Bennett joined Cassen Jackson-Garrison this week as a deep kickoff returner. It marked the first time this season Vandy had used two deep men.
- H-back / fullback Steven Bright was back for the first time since the Arkansas game. He made Vandy's longest pass reception of the night, a nifty 31-yarder.
- Scouts from the Capital One Bowl in Orlando were in attendance. At least 12-15 NFL scouts were also present.
- Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin was Master of Ceremonies for the Spirit of Gold Marching Band's halftime show.
- Vanderbilt and LSU are not scheduled to meet again until the 2009 season.
Photos by Neil Brake, Vanderbilt Athletics.