It was the offense and special teams who, plainly yet no less painfully, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for a program that once again did everything but get the W. Mistakes in key situations once again reared their ugly head, as a stat sheet defined by the Dores' superiority didn't translate into a positive outcome.
So as another Vanderbilt team--for another week of yet another snake-bitten football season--contemplates what went wrong, a larger focus is needed beyond the predictable topic of turnovers, and the other equally predictable topic of "making the plays when they count."
The focus for this week concerns the fact that Ole Miss was able to frontload its point-scoring. It was instructive to note that the Rebels got 14 of their 17 points in the first quarter, after which the home team's offense went into hiding in Oxford.
Given that Vandy left plenty of points on the board the previous week against Temple, it was important for the Dores--after a game filled with rough and ragged edges--to set a tone in the early going and make a loud statement about the way things were going to proceed near the Grove, one of the best tailgating spots in America. Indeed, Vandy needed to proclaim--early on, and to themselves as much as to Ed Orgeron's Rebels--that a clean and mistake-free game was in the offing on an October afternoon. By displaying early excellence, Vandy could have thoroughly broken the will of the Rebels, while also forcing their limited offense to have to make plays against the Dores' quality defense. The first quarter should have been an emotional and psychological point of emphasis for the Vandy program all week.
It turned into what was, by far, the worst quarter of the day.
When one considers the key points of a football game, one will often look to the fourth quarter or tense situations in the third. But sometimes the biggest and most defining moments of a game can come early. This is especially true when one team faces a pronounced underdog, a team it should definitely beat. When you let a team like Ole Miss gain momentum, confidence, and--most importantly--a lead in the early going, you lose more than half of the battle right there.
Safe to say, this can't happen with any regularity if this program wants to eventually reach the upper half of the SEC East. Next week--but much more importantly, for the rest of 2006--a big start must become a big priority for Bobby Johnson and his staff.