Dominating Dominique: Music City Bowl Preview

As the Vanderbilt Commodores prepare to play their first bowl game in 26 years, a third ACC opponent stands in the way of a winning season. But while Boston College is superior to both Duke and Wake Forest—two teams who defeated the Johnson Boys in 2008—there is a way for the home-town team to spring a Grand Ole Upset in Nashville.

BC's combination of size and physicality, particularly on defense, will make it hard for Vandy to prevail in this long-awaited and much-anticipated moment for the program. It's taken more than a quarter century for the Dores to play a postseason game, and the Eagles—owners of an eight-game bowl winning streak—are intent on taking the life out of VU's New Year's Eve party. Barring the improbable, Vandy won't score much on Wednesday afternoon in the home of the Tennessee Titans. The "LP" in LP Field will stand for "lack of points." In many respects, the odds are stacked against this 6-6 team that stumbled to the finish line. It would not be unreasonable to think that BC has a decided advantage in this contest.

With all that having been said, however, there's a clear route to resurrection, redemption, and a rousing goodbye to 2008. If Vandy wants to make BC sing the sad country songs in Music City U.S.A., the Dores must pounce on the Eagles' quarterback, a man named Dominique Davis (right).

Before talking about Davis himself, it's important to note that, much like Duke and Wake Forest, Boston College has been offensively challenged this season, as is the case with every ACC school not named Georgia Tech. While the ACC delivered 10 bowl teams, the conference's champion—Virginia Tech—lost four times. North Carolina and Miami have already lost bowl games. These and other facts suggest that the ACC is rich in mediocrity, diminishing the value of its 10-team bowl haul. Boston College is just one of many teams in the conference that played well enough to make a bowl, but poorly enough to miss out on a prime bowl destination.

This is where Dominique Davis enters the picture.

All things considered, Davis has filled in capably for starting quarterback Chris Crane, who got knocked out for the remainder of the year due to a broken collarbone suffered on Nov. 22 against Wake Forest. Thrown into a very difficult situation without any advance notice, Davis managed to display enough playmaking ability to lift the Eagles to the ACC Championship Game. Yet, it has to be acknowledged that BC's late-season march was largely built on the back of a defense that compensated for its offense's limitations and mistakes.

Against Wake, Davis did lead a last-minute drive to pull out a 24-21 win, but that triumph in Winston-Salem would not have been possible without the Eagles' defense, which scored a touchdown and kept BC competitive on a day when Davis's offense coughed up three turnovers that translated into 21 points for the Demon Deacons. Yes, Davis excelled at crunch time, but the untested signal caller would have been using the victory formation at the end of regulation if he hadn't allowed Wake's defense to turn into a point-scoring machine.

This same penchant for crucial mistakes re-emerged for Davis in the ACC title tilt against Virginia Tech. As was the case against Wake, a Davis fumble was returned for a touchdown by the opposing defense. Davis also threw two interceptions that prevented the Eagles from hanging with the Hokies. In the realm of sober and cerebral analysis, it was impossible to identify anything other than quarterback play as the main reason for BC's devastating loss.

None of these realities indicate that Davis lacks talent or skill—the young man possesses a solid arm and a considerable amount of quickness. The plain truth about BC's main man under center is that Davis, a freshman, isn't yet ready to be an every-down FBS field general. Davis's BC career was supposed to flourish in later years, but when Crane—a 22-year-old senior—went down in late November, the 19-year-old had to take over. Freshmen quarterbacks rarely succeed in college football as it is; when a frosh signal caller has to take over, cold turkey, in week 13 of a season, expectations have to be lowered to an even more modest level. Eagle head coach Jeff Jagodzinski—who stood on his head this year to deliver a repeat division championship (in the ACC Atlantic) without a certain guy named Matt Ryan—can only do so much with Davis right now. Despite three-plus weeks of preparation for this bowl game against Vanderbilt, "Jags" won't be able to reinvent the wheel with his freshman quarterback.

Therein lies Vandy's one big chance at a breakthrough victory.

Provided that the Dores' defense can force at least a few third-and-long situations in the early going, and provided that VU doesn't commit crushing turnovers that allow BC to grab a decisive early lead, Davis will have to throw a few passes with momentum and scoreboard leverage very much up for grabs. If this Music City matchup doesn't spiral out of control in the first 20 minutes, Vandy's sensational secondary (perhaps its linebacking corps as well) will likely see a bad throw from Davis's right arm, a freshman mistake waiting to be turned into a game-changing event.

BC will surely try to rely on its ground game with running back Montel Harris, while using Davis's footspeed on bootlegs and other plays that can get the Eagles' young quarterback out of the pocket in relatively safe situations. Jagodzinski and the rest of BC's offensive braintrust will put Davis in position to complete short passes with a minimal amount of risk, crafting pass plays that are—to use the popular phrase—"extended handoffs." But if Vandy can stay home on bootlegs and also stuff Harris between the tackles, coordinator Bruce Fowler's defense could maneuver itself into favorable down-and-distance scenarios, and that's precisely when VU can dominate Dominique with takeaways that could turn the tide in this Tennessee tussle.

In the final analysis, the main thing to remember for Commodore Nation is that ACC teams are little different from the Dores themselves. Duke and Wake Forest weren't about to light up the scoreboard or run away from Vandy, meaning that turnovers and other high-impact mistakes would likely decide those two games more than anything else. Sure enough, VU lost to the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons because of backbreaking turnovers that characterized hugely frustrating offensive performances.

Now, as the Dores get set to play in the bowl game that's been awaited for more than a quarter of a century, the VU crew simply has to take advantage of BC's young quarterback, who is facing a steep learning curve. It's safe to say that this won't be a 38-31 kind of ballgame, meaning that if the Johnson Boys are to pull through on Wednesday, they'll have to create fireworks on defense and avoid self-sabotage on offense. A team that has lost to two ACC opponents can only hope that a third time—thanks to turnover differential and a little more ball security on offense—will prove to be the charm.

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