Johnson's 49-18 win against his former team, Furman, was an obvious improvement over the season-opening performance. Still, with Georgia Tech in mind, fans doubted the Commodores' ability to stay on the field with a Division I-A opponent. Against Auburn in its SEC opener Vanderbilt continued to improve, but because of the 31-6 score the college football world considered the game just another routine lopsided SEC loss.
Entering the Ole Miss contest the Commodores were solid 21-point underdogs. Few gave Vanderbilt even a token chance to win. The Commodores hadn't had a winning season since 1982-- how could they be expected to challenge an SEC team on the road in the coach's first season?
Vanderbilt did more than challenge. They had the good ole boys down in Tupelo spilling their brews late in the contest. Ole Miss' defense had allowed just 57 yards rushing on 47 carries in the previous two games against Memphis and Texas Tech. Vanderbilt rushed for over 250 yards Saturday. The Commodores' 21 fourth-quarter points were almost unfathomable.
Vanderbilt's freshman-dominated offense gained over 400 total yards against the heavily favored Rebels. True freshman Kwane Doster had over 300 all-purpose yards. Doster and Norval McKenzie each had 101 yards rushing. For the third game in a row freshman quarterback Jay Cutler tied a career high with 11 completions. Vanderbilt's 38 points were the most against an SEC opponent since it beat Georgia 43-30 in 1994. Freshman-dominated teams are not supposed to have such numbers and play SEC teams close.
Improvement is cool, but can the Commodores move to the next level and win an SEC game? Vanderbilt urgently needs to beat one of the SEC state schools.
A win would be a shot in the arm for the Commodores' recruiting efforts. Prospects need reassurance that the coaching staff will get the job done. There is no better way to do that than with quality wins. A win would also go a long way toward reclaiming some Vandy fans, who may have lost interest over the past 20 seasons of losing.
Beating a favored opponent would serve notice that Vanderbilt means business. "Vanderbilt" doesn't just mean the football team. The entire Vanderbilt community is dedicated toward turning the program around. Chancellor Gordan Gee, Director of Athletics Todd Turner, the Athletic Dept., the students, fans, faculty, and alumni all want to serve notice that Vanderbilt will no longer be the whipping boy of the SEC. Vanderbilt will win and win the right way.
Saturday the Commodores get a visit from South Carolina. What better way to serve notice to the college football world than to pin a loss on Lou Holtz in Music City?