Something strange happened against Steve Spurrier and South Carolina on Saturday, then: there was no collapse. No "we're about to do this" anxiety. No real fear of failure. No passivity on defense when momentum changed. No let up from the offense after getting a key turnover. No lapses in effort in a road game when even one brief stretch of casual play could have turned the tide in favor of the Gamecocks.
No, this was different. It didn't feel different for the whole 60 minutes, but it sure began to feel special just before halftime. Chances are, you felt the worm turn yourself.
You know what this moment is without needing to read about it from a columnist. But since this is a column, we'll give you time to make sure you identify this game's "no more same old Vandy" moment.
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Just before halftime, South Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn returned a punt to the Dores' 15. In a 17-3 game, this was the portal through which the Gamecocks would march, on their way to a comeback that would leave Vandy devastated once again. With USC getting the ball first in the second half, this red-zone drive start figured to cut the lead to seven. Then Carolina would tie the game on the first drive of the second half. The anti-Vandy tsunami was set to start here. You could feel it. You knew the smell of dread. You knew what an "uh-oh" moment felt like. You knew that this was the "same old Vandy" experience, coming into your living room--and the pit of your stomach--once again in living color.
But there was just one tiny little detail about this situation: Vandy's defense--not giving an inch--produced yet another three-and-out. Kenny McKinley, USC's star receiver, was left muttering to himself. The body-language from a good but highly overrated South Carolina team remained negative. Just when the seeds of a comeback had been planted, Vandy uprooted the plans of the Gamecocks.
Two clutch second-half interceptions sealed the win, but by then, the Dores' defense had the kind of confidence not normally associated with Vanderbilt teams. By then, "same old Vandy" was history... along with all that airport luggage that this resilient team had managed to remove from its historically overburdened shoulders.
The only trick now is for Vandy to continue to rewrite history and do what past Commodore teams have failed to do: stay the course. No talk about SEC dreams this week. The focus of this team must be devoted to a Miami of Ohio outfit that, coming off a loss to Temple, will be very mad and extremely determined. Vandy needs to avoid underestimating its opponent, especially since the Dores profited so greatly when South Carolina massively underestimated Bobby Johnson's ballclub. Playing each game with maturity, airtight focus, and non-stop energy will give this program the success it's been looking for.
No need to take your eye off the ball now if you're Vandy. You're shattering old perceptions while shedding old labels. Don't give anyone a chance to mutter the words "same old Vandy" ever again. When you're a Commodore and you're playing college football, change--as you discovered against Steve Spurrier this past Saturday--is always a very good thing.