Blowing the 'Dores Off: Vandy Brings Dynamite

The Miami University Redhawks no longer have Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in their huddle. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt's opening night opponent was tabbed as a leading contender for the Mid-American Conference championship. Let it be noted, then, that week one of this heavily-anticipated season was anything but a gimme, especially on the road.

Let it also be noted, then, that Bobby Johnson's team wrote a script that's very different from the one we're used to seeing.

If ever a season opener delivered real hope to a ballclub, Vandy's dismantling of Miami--an authoritative 34-13 smackdown delivered in enemy territory--fit the bill. If Coach Johnson and his staff imagined a rosy scenario in their 2008 lid-lifter, this had to meet--if not exceed--the expectations inside the VU locker room.

This was no uneasy or edgy Houdini of a win. This was no flop sweat festival where an opponent gifted a victory for Vandy. This wasn't a tense, exhausting affair that merely delayed a sense of impending doom against better, higher-caliber foes. No, this was the kind of game that--while certainly not enough to prove that Vandy football has fully and finally arrived--could create some genuine confidence throughout the Commodore program.

It's usually an opponent that busts out the big plays against a Vanderbilt football squad. It's usually the other team that, while being outworked and outhustled by the Dores for most of the day, finds the big-play lightning that makes the difference in short but crucial sequences. But on this night in Ohio, it was Vanderbilt who dished out the daggers, Vanderbilt who crushed an opponent's hopes precisely when they began to burn more brightly. It was the kind of performance that--while not a guarantee of future success--can certainly change the mood and the subculture at a program that hasn't tasted a winning season since 1982.

In just six plays, Vandy dug up some dynamite to blow away its outclassed foe from the MAC:

* Two of the six plays were provided by playmaking stud D.J. Moore. An interception (play one) and a 91-yard kick return (play two) translated into 10 Commodore points.

* Quarterback Chris Nickson ripped off runs of 59 (play three), 14 (play four) and 35 yards (play five) to lead the Dores to two more touchdowns. His 49-yard pass to Sean Walker (play six) created the first touchdown of the night, settling down the team and setting the stage for his additional exploits.

Between the explosiveness of Nickson--who had his quicks on--and the athletic flair of Commodore Moore, Vandy received the fast-strike potency it has rarely been able to bring to the dance in the course of a season. The Dores might not have been able to sustain lengthy scoring marches Thursday night against the Redhawks, but by surprising their opponent with an instant attack, they showed--to themselves as much as anyone else in America--that they can ring up points from anywhere on the field. This knowledge will add to their confidence as the season progresses.

The first half of this campaign was going to be the difference maker for the 2008 Vanderbilt football team. Just one game into the journey, the outlook is a whole lot more encouraging. A win over South Carolina on Thursday, and one could really begin to use the T-word, which all struggling sports teams want to use after far too many years in the wildnerness: transformation. This mashing of Miami was a huge first step, but the focus must immediately turn to next week if this season is to witness the full and fateful transformation of the world of Vanderbilt football.

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