Commodores Must Stay Hungry, Focused

If past results are any indication of future performance than those wearing black and gold on Saturday night may be in for a sour surprise. As you might recall, Vanderbilt traveled to the loveliest village on the plains last fall, and as you might also remember not a whole lot went right for the Commodores that afternoon.

The Tigers scored 35 unanswered points before the Commodores finally broke through with a touchdown with less than five minutes left in a game that had realistically been over since halftime.

Why would I open this wound back up? Why would I focus on such a negative moment for a program that is receiving more positive press right now than at any other time in its history? Because, it is that very score, 35-7, that will be motivating the Commodores when the media circus fades away and there is only the game left to be played. If you're Vanderbilt it's nice that GameDay is coming to town for the first time ever. It's nice to get to play in front of the whole country on ESPN. It's nice to be ranked among the top 25, and it's nice to finally get some respect from the media. And if you're Vanderbilt, you don't really care about anything else other than coming out in front of the most jacked up home crowd that has probably ever assembled in Vanderbilt Stadium and proving to those fans, and the Auburn team that embarrassed you last year, that this is not last year's Vanderbilt and they better get used to it.

This sea change in the mentality of the Vanderbilt football players has been years in the making however. Lead by experienced playmakers on the defense, this Commodore squad plays with the hunger and desire that a team clawing its way out of the SEC cellar has to have if they want to make headway in this league. This team has never been about individual accolades or the national spotlight; they simply were tired of being anything less than excellent at a school that excels at just about everything else. You can see it with the way Ryan Hamilton reads an offense's formation and anticipates a quarterback's throw. You can see it in the way Chris Nickson commands the offense and values possession of the football. Most importantly, however, you can see it on the sidelines during a game. Every player is completely dialed in to the action on the field while Bobby Johnson exhibits a fire and passion previously unseen in his tenure at Vanderbilt.

If offense is your thing, you might want to watch Oklahoma stage a clinic against Baylor or Mizzou take on Nebraska, but if you like football there is no place you'd rather be on Saturday night than watching the Commodores and Tigers pound one another into submission. Earlier this week Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville indicated that the Tigers would be running "Auburn's Offense" and that the much heralded spread attack brought in by journeyman offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. This more or less means that Auburn realized they didn't have the pieces to execute the spread attack, and that Tuberville wanted to emphasize running the ball out of traditional formations. After looking less than stellar on offense in each of their 3 SEC games, including an absolutely miserable showing against Tennessee last weekend, Tuberville has decided to go to the well one more time. A run-heavy ball control offense could cause problems for a quicker, but smaller, Vanderbilt defensive unit, but may further invoke the ire of many Tigers' fans.

Similarly, Vanderbilt's offensive attack ranks last in the SEC in terms of yardage per game. While Chris Nickson has been an absolute gem managing the offense and gaining tough yards with his legs, he has yet to prove that he is the passing threat that the league saw glimpses of in 2006. Commodore captain and wide receiver George Smith will see his first action of the season after rehabbing from a stress fracture in his foot, and will immediately provide a big and sure-handed target for Nickson to throw to. Vanderbilt's offensive line has their work cut out for them as Auburn's defense only surrenders an average of 92 yards a game on the ground. Points will be at a premium at this game, and a Vanderbilt victory will certainly be predicated on finding a weakness in the Auburn defense.

If Vanderbilt can continue to do the kinds of the things that got them until this point, they will win this game. This is not the time for the team to stop and bask in its own success. I assure you GameDay being in Nashville won't put any points on the board for Vanderbilt. Special teams will play a crucial role for the Commodores, as a kickoff return for a touchdown almost cost them the game against Ole Miss. Auburn has their work cut out for them on offense. Auburn's running backs Ben Tate and Brad Lester were both effective in last year's rout of Vanderbilt, and unless the Commodores find a way to corral this duo, it could be a long night on West End.

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