Vandy's wrenching loss to the fourth-ranked team in the United States is a game that will force the Dores--up and down their roster--to realize that in a football game, some plays are more urgent than others. Some snaps demand more risk taking and creativity, while other plays demand more concentration and conversatism. On some occasions, players must do their all to create a huge play and hope for the best; on other occasions, players must protect against disaster and prevent the worst. These various calculations are all part of the battle in football. It's not just a question of performing well or avoiding mistakes; it's a matter of making plays when they're hugely significant, and making mistakes that carry a minimal level of impact.
Let's cut to the chase: in a game against a struggling Florida offense, the last thing Vandy could have afforded to do was to give the Gators cheap points. Well, a couple of blocked punts--especially one on the VU six-yard line early in the game--represented the worst possible breakdowns the Commodores could have suffered on a glistening fall afternoon in their home stadium. If there was ever a time to devote a little more attention to punt protection, and a little less attention to punt coverage, it was in the early stages of this Gator game. Little nuances in emphasis can go a long way toward changing the outcome of a game. In 2007, Vandy will need to get these calucluations right.
When at midfield or at one's own 35-yard line, the need for a great play call or a judicious use of the forward pass isn't quite so urgent. When an offense finds itself at the opponent's 30, however, every snap--and subsequent decision--becomes magnified. If Vandy got behind on Saturday because of blocked punts, the Commodores failed to complete their comeback because of an inability to make the most of several forays into Florida's third of the field. Whenever the Dores penetrated the Florida 30, they failed at least as many times as they succeeded. That kind of reality decides close ballgames against opponents that are talented but erratic, as the Gators surely were. A missed field goal here, a Chris Nickson interception there, and a somewhat tentative effort by Cassen Garrison-Jackson on a late 4th and 2 from the Florida 11 with just over six minutes remaining (that was one of those times when a player has to take the risk of stretching the ball out to gain a crucial half yard) were the kinds of timely plays Vandy didn't make. Florida, on the other hand, made lots of mistakes, but never when the outcome of the game hung in the balance. The Gators fooled around after attaining a 25-6 lead, but when the issue was in doubt, Florida made every key play. Vandy didn't, and that was the only story you needed to know.
So the Dores couldn't knock the door down against a top-five opponent. It's frustrating, but it's okay, because this is a young team. Bobby Johnson and his hard-working staff can only hope that in 2007, a close loss like this one will bear much fruit.