The important and overarching issue for Bobby Johnson's team--and it always will be so unless or until it is definitively addressed--is that it must change the culture that has pervaded Vandy football for so long. The extremely close losses to Alabama and Arkansas were nothing other than failures of nerve. In games where the Dores battled gamely and competed on very even terms with their opposition, victory was lost for no other reason than the simple fact that Vandy--perpetuating a pattern witnessed in every year after 1982--could not make enough big plays in key situations. VU football teams under several coaches--with Johnson being the latest one--have repeatedly made modest plays in non-critical situations, and quality plays in semi-critical situations, but rarely huge plays in game-defining situations. Pure talent--which the Dores have much more of this year--is not the issue; the issue is about bringing that talent to bear when a game's outcome hangs in the balance. That is the goal for Bobby Johnson and Vanderbilt's program: changing the culture so that VU can rise--and opposing teams can fall--when all the cards are on the table and victory is waiting to be claimed.
With all this in mind, then, the signs can't be terribly encouraging in the wake of the 29-point win over a Temple team that lost by more than twice as much in previous games against Louisville and Minnesota.
Yes, one could acknowledge that Vanderbilt might have soft-pedaled things just a bit against a severely overwhelmed and outmanned opponent. But one must counter by saying that a program with Vandy's particular subculture hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt when it treads lightly upon a grossly inferior opponent. Good programs will trample Temple by 40, 50 or 60 points, and while Bobby Johnson certainly got extra work in for a lot of players on the roster--a legitimate need before the teeth of the SEC schedule still to come--it remains that a team with a better internal subculture would display the kind of killer instinct that would decimate Temple on the scoreboard. The 280 rushing yards was extremely impressive, a sign that Vanderbilt brought the hard hats to the Owls for much of the evening. But the allowance of 14 points, combined with an ineffective passing game, has to concern Coach Johnson before the road trip to Oxford to face Ole Miss next week. One small lapse against Brent Schaeffer could produce more 78-yard touchdown plays like the one Tim Brown of Temple (no, not the Notre Dame and Oakland Raider star) popped off in Nashville on Saturday night.
You get the point. A 29-point win is a 29-point win, so there shouldn't be grumbling in the Commodore locker room. But just the same, this team has a long way to go in the attempt to finally change and overturn the current culture of Vanderbilt football. This Temple game will have meaning if it awakens the Dores and drives them to play in a more ruthless and unrelenting manner. If VU wins at the Grove next Saturday, this breather on the Commodores' 2006 schedule will ultimately prove to be beneficial. Bobby Johnson can only hope so.