13:49: Larry Smith! What a dart! Can that kind of vertical passing become a constant feature of today's VU attack (not to mention future seasons)?
12:53: Another laser from Smith! Don't pinch me! Please, let this continue!
11:07: Um, can someone please tell me why Bobby Johnson messed with success and put in Chris Nickson at this time on this drive? Hahnfeldt, nail this field goal.
11:02: YES! Hahnfeldt delivers! But get back to Larry Smith. Nickson should come into the game only for running plays or gadgets.
10:00: As BC prepares for a third-and-5 at its own 30, it's really pretty clear so far: If BC has to throw, the Eagles will face a fair amount of difficulty on offense.
9:26: Davis didn't make a great throw, but it was an adequate throw, and it's dropped. A Vandy blitz from the edged forced a premature pass that threw off the timing, but the ball still should have been caught. BC fails to move the chains. One gets the sense that if Vandy can strike early and build a multi-possession lead, the calculus of this game will change substantially.
9:09: Let's chant it now! LAR-REE SMITH! LAR-REE SMITH! What a revelation! A 50-yard completion to Sean Walker at the BC 14!
8:15: Nickson back in. Hold your breath.
7:54: Okay, perhaps I'm being too nervous and uncharitable. That was a great play call, exactly what the VU staff should do with Nickson. Huge third-and-1 here from the 5.
7:07: Unbelievable. The Dores had half a yard to go for the first down. BC was not loading up the tackle box. BC's defensive front had a couple wide splits up the middle. All Nickson had to do was sneak the ball, and he'd have had a cinch first down. Instead, the stunned crowd at LP Field has to witness a slow-developing running play that the Eagles eat up for a three-yard loss. When Nickson ran for eight yards to set up the third and short, I was about to say that this was two-down territory for Vandy, who could really get the Eagles in a hole with a 10-0 lead. But with the three-yard loss, Coach Johnson has no choice. He has to settle for three. Being up 6-0 is better than 3-0, and it sure beats being down 6-0, but that's a huge missed opportunity for the Dores.
5:30: BC gets third and two, the manageable down-and-distance situation the Eagles need.
4:55: Davis gets three on the option keeper. First first down of the day for Jeff Jagodzinski's team. VU needs to prevent this drive from continuing much longer.
3:37: Okay, third-and-5 for the Eagles from their own 33. Time to get off the field and sustain momentum, which is still Vandy's friend for the moment. If the Dores can't build a bigger lead with this awesome start they've produced, the logic of football—not just VU's snake-bitten past—suggests that the Eagles will find themselves in the second half and roar back. The guys in black have landed a couple solid jabs, but VU needs to keep its ACC opponent on the ropes.
3:04: Another drop for BC on third down. Won't complain.
2:53: How did Vandy not block that punt?! (How did Vandy not rough the kicker if the punt wasn't touched?!)
2:02: Third-and-1 for Vandy. Gotta go outside. VU can't expect to sledgehammer the ball up the middle.
1:50: Tip the cap to BC. A good idea with a bootleg, but the Eagles stay home and stuff it. Thankfully, Smith's fumble is recovered by a Vandy lineman.
0:44: Vandy's run defense staying strong.
0:07: Repeat, wash, rinse. Third and long for BC—Bobby Johnson's favorite phrase of the day—when the second quarter starts. Only one regret from that first quarter: the third-and-less-than-one at the BC 5. Otherwise, an outstanding start from a team that's playing with appropriate levels of hunger, precision and focus.
End of first quarter: Vanderbilt 6, Boston College 0.
Start of second quarter: Davis stays as cold as the Nashville weather. Another BC punt.
13:53: Awesome. Nickson winds his way through a thicket of defenders for 20 yards on an option keeper. As long as Nickson is running the ball and not throwing it, he has a place in this contest.
13:23: A woefully short pass attempt to the right flat proves my point. Coach Johnson, don't have Nickson throw the ball unless he's in the backfield with Smith and a halfback option pass is dialed up.
13:12: HOW IS THAT NOT A FLAG???!!! HORRIBLE NON-CALL! Vandy can't afford to get screwed. This ballgame won't be a shootout, so every first down and every score is precious. Had the zebras made the proper call there, VU would have had a first down at the BC 36.
13:04: Punter Brett Upson, kicking into the wind, masterfully punches a low, driving wedge shot that bounces out of bounds at the BC 7. A terrific play that the Dores will need more of. A three-and-out here, and Vandy will have a great chance to add to its six-point edge.
12:51: Darn. Montel Harris for eight. The three-and-out doesn't look likely.
12:20: Harris for five. First down, BC. Okay, visions of glory are gone. Just get a stop.
11:21: A makeup call from the refs, as defensive pass interference isn't called on Vandy's Patrick Benoist. Third and long again.
11:13: Shoot. Davis gets a big running lane up the middle and gets the first down without having to pass. Naturally, Vandy has to make Davis win this game with his arm, not his legs.
10:42: Davis completes a 16-yard pass. Now BC is gaining confidence. Gut-check time for VU. It's a 60-minute game, but there's no denying that if BC, so fully dominated up to this point, can gain a 7-6 lead wipe out the Dores' early surge by halftime, it will be an uphill battle for Vandy in the second half.
9:55: A classic good news-bad news situation. The good? Ryan Hamilton picks off Davis, thanks to a superb play by D.J. Moore. The bad? Moore's left ankle is injured, and the superstar cornerback hopped off the field on one leg. Cross your fingers, folks…
9:19: Third-and-1 for Vandy. Gotta convert one of these—VU 0-for-4 on third downs to this point.
8:55: It's not necessarily the call that I don't like. What I hate about that play was the use of a shotgun snap. So many college football teams have trouble on third-and-short because the shotgun snap puts the quarterback five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Being able to take the center snap forces the defense to think about a sneak, a fullback plunge, and a play fake. The shotgun snap, without a setback, limits an offense's options. An audible groan can be heard from the Vandy fan section, which has turned out in big numbers for this game.
7:30: Vandy can't have missed tackles like that one. It was going to be third and long, but because of the mistake, BC gets a cherished third-and-1.
7:13: First down, Eagles.
6:35: Good sticks being delivered today by VU's linebacking corps. Now, third-and-7 for BC at midfield.
5:53: Looks like it will be fourth and inches. Sneak.
5:19: Yes, BC sneaks, and the Eagles move the chains. Jagodzinski and the BC offensive braintrust smartly using short, safe passes with Davis. It's a perfect way to neutralize Vandy's pass rush.
4:50: Another drop for the Eagles. At least four so far.
4:40: How can VU lose track of BC tight end Ryan Purvis? With Davis being flushed out of the pocket, that should be an easy cover for Vandy's back seven. Instead, an easy first down to the VU 28.
3:14: So, so important for the Dores to hold BC to a field goal here…
3:05: Reshard Langford plays assignment football and hogties Davis. Tremendous play, and an important one. Third and long again.
2:32: Purvis gets another first down. Jagodzinski clearly drawing up the Xs and Os in ways that Vandy isn't adjusting to.
1:34: Good reactions by Vandy's defense. Third-and-goal from the 4. Watch Purvis, and stay home. Timeout, BC.
1:34, during the timeout: A few basic things to look for here, other than Purvis. First, have someone key on Davis as a runner. Provide containment on the quarterback. Second, look for running back Montel Harris, or anyone else coming out of the backfield. I wouldn't expect BC to be willing or able to throw a slant or some other pass to a flanker. Here we go…
1:27: Harris scores, catching a pass on the right side of the end zone just past the pylon. That's a big wound for Vandy Nation. BC moves the ball down the field with dump-offs and checkdowns, little else. Ugh. You just knew that the failure to score a touchdown would become a factor at some point, didn't you?
0:37: BC without timeouts, and Vandy gets the ball first in the second half. Just take it to the locker room, Coach Johnson.
0:00: He does. For a one-point game, this sure feels like a downer half for Vandy. Not hard to understand why.
Halftime: Boston College 7, Vanderbilt 6.
13:09 left, third quarter: Finally, a third-down conversion. Exhale, Commodore fans.
12:59: Larry Smith's only bad throw of the day. No worries, kid.
12:50: Nickson, in to run the ball, shows a lot of power to go along with his speed. Very impressive play, down to the BC 31.
12:09: Sigh. That end-around took FOREVER to develop. FOREVER. BC dumps it for a seven-yard loss. I don't mind the call, but there has to be crisper execution.
11:32: BC sacks Smith, and now it's third-and-21 at the 42. Just get 15 yards or so to set up a field goal try.
10:52: Good grief. Third-and-21, this early in the second half, just isn't worth the use of a timeout. It's far more valuable to keep that timeout than to take a five-yard flag and deal with third-and-26.
10:46: Smith forced that ball, and was lucky to avoid a pick. Time for Mr. Upson to down a ball inside the 10.
10:35: WOW! After a few agonizing minutes of nerve-wracking tension, the officials rule that Upson's punt touched a member of BC's punt-return team, and that the Dores were able to recover the ball for a touchdown. I didn't see the touching of the ball in real time, and I didn't see it from the high camera behind the end zone, but the camera angle from the northeast corner of LP field, near the goal line, clearly showed the ball hitting a pair of white pants squarely on the right thigh. When you're Vandy, and bowl games come along once every 26 years, you take this and sing from the rooftops. Makes up for the lack of a pass interference call that stopped a VU drive in the first half. 13-7, Dores.
9:43: Strong secondary play from Vandy. Davis had seven or eight seconds to throw, and couldn't find anyone.
9:43, after the penalty: Good catch of the false start by the BC receiver. Now third-and-10 instead of third-and-5. Gotta get a stop here.
9:33: Who makes the cash-money play, a brilliant open-field tackle on Montel Harris? Why, it's D.J. Moore, who else? Evidently, the injury hasn't been too bad.
7:56: Smith took too much time there on a third-and-4, and Vandy has to punt. I'd like to see the Dores do a lot more quick-hitting passes to take the pressure off Smith. If VU can play offense on the edges, and not between the tackles, they can move the ball.
7:46: Oh, no! Jamie Graham catches an Upson punt that probably would have bounced a good 10-15 yards downfield. Can't have mental mistakes like that.
7:08: First down, Eagles. As long as the Dores don't commit a huge turnover—and to their credit, they haven't—this game is in the hands of Vandy's defense.
6:05: BC is able to move the pile and get eight on a second-and-10. Poor tackling created a good down-and-distance for the Eagles here… Darlron Spead injured for VU.
5:44: The Eagles try to cram the ball up the middle, but the Dores prove to be stout.
4:57: That was fourth and a very long yard, at least a yard and a half, and with VU loading the tackle box, I expected BC to go outside with Davis on a play fake or bootleg. But Jagodzinski tries to run it between the tackles, and the Dores are all over the play. Tremendous stand. Now VU has to get points, period.
4:23: WHY IS NICKSON THROWING THE BALL????!!!!! WHY????!!!!!
4:10: VU tries bubble screens on back-to-back plays, and the Eagles smother the third-down effort. You try the same play over and over again when it works, not when it doesn't. Time for Mr. Upson to do his thing again.
3:32: Sure enough, Upson is up to the occasion again. He pins BC at the 3. If Vandy wins, Upson ought to get at least a share of MVP honors. I'd split a ballot with D.J. Moore if it were up to me…
2:40: BC with a crucial first down in terms of staying within six. Vandy still in good shape in terms of keeping the Eagles off the board, though.
1:04: The Eagles started with Davis on this drive, but they're now going with the power game and trying to lean on VU's defensive front.
0:00: If you told any Vandy fan that the Dores would be leading by six after three quarters, you'd have received a vote of unanimous and unconditional acceptance. Can't argue with the hand being dealt here.
End of third quarter: Vanderbilt 13, Boston College 7.
Start of fourth quarter: Another missed tackle. (Grits teeth.)
14:33: Davis throws an intermediate out pattern across the field, an NFL throw the quarterback isn't able to execute. Vandy will give BC that play all day. The Eagles will commit turnovers if they try it again.
14:15: Harris is picking up steam. BC's running back is gaining yards after the first point of contact. VU not sticking with the same authority seen earlier.
13:48: Myron Lewis steps in front of another out pattern and knocks it down. Notice how everything BC's getting from its passing game is to running backs and tight ends. Nothing is going to the flankers. As long as Davis is throwing to his wideouts, Vandy always has a ready answer. It's when Harris slips out of the backfield, or Ryan Purvis becomes a checkdown, that the Eagles get passing yards. Notice, too, that the aforementioned Purvis—the key player on BC's only scoring drive so far—has been silent in the second half. That's great coaching by everyone on the defensive side of the ball.
13:39: VU's Alex Washington will learn to not give the safe signal when he's about to field a bouncing punt. No penalty on the play, but several lost yards for the Dores, just the same.
12:20: Good call, but BC stops Jamie Graham short of the sticks on third and long.
11:39: Was it just me, or did BC jump offside on that punt? I could have sworn I saw a white-shirted interior lineman lurch into the neutral zone at the time of the snap. No call, and BC recovers a fumble of its own punt. Upson cranked it, though, preserving field position for his team. A 54-yard net on the punt. Sensational stuff. Upson is dominating this game in much the same way that Florida State punter Graham Gano controlled the first half of his team's Champs Sports Bowl win over Wisconsin.
10:47: Nice. Langford immediately hits Purvis and limits BC to a two-yard gain. Didn't see that in the first half.
10:05: NO! While it's certainly good that the Dores just forced another Eagle punt, it's very disappointing that cornerback Casey Hayward dropped a relatively easy ball at midfield. The supremely catchable interception falls harmlessly to the turf, and VU is deprived of a drive start in BC territory. The Dores could really use a field goal to get an all-important two-possession lead. Much like the first half—and much like VU's whole football history—not putting a game away will come back to bite you later. Go up by nine (at least) instead of remaining in a position where a touchdown can get you beaten.
9:12: Okay, it's third-and-6. Time to do something that combines ball security and aggressiveness. Try an end-around or an option reverse.
8:33: No, it's a flat pass, and BC easily defends it. At least the clock keeps running. I realize that Vandy's best chance here is to try to win the game 13-7, but with that having been said, the Dores have far too much time left to be sitting on a lead. You can't play not to lose. Yes, play smart and run the clock, but find aggressive running plays that can spring people loose for big-gainers. Mix safety and boldness.
7:46: Bob Davie of ESPN agrees: Brett Upson for MVP. He just kicked a ball that—like a baseball on Astroturf in the Metrodome, circa 1985—kangarooed over BC's return man, giving the Dores 20 extra yards of field position. A 58-yard net. Fabulous.
7:20: BC gets a wideout open, but Brandon Robinson drops the ball. Third-and-6 from the 15. Huge, huge play.
7:07: NO! The Eagles get 30 yards. The catch was okay, but the problem for Vandy was a pair of bad angles taken on the tackle, leading to 15 run-after-catch yards.
6:38: This must be a Vanderbilt football game. The Dores, out of nowhere, come up with a busted coverage and an easy 55-yard Eagle touchdown. A freshman receiver, Colin Larmond, Jr., smokes the dependable Myron Lewis for six points. The PAT gives BC a 14-13 lead. Tens of thousands of fans wearing black and gold at LP Field have sick stomachs right now.
6:23: BC gifts Vandy with a face mask. The Dores get the ball at their own 44. This is the point of no return, and I think every VU fan knows it. Points or bust, right here and right now.
6:04: Okay, third-and-2 at the BC 48. Two things here: 1) Two-down territory. 2) Make BC's defense guess. Don't be one-dimensional.
5:21: Are you kidding me, part one: MacKenzi Adams comes in, cold turkey. Are you kidding me, part two: BC's stud pass rusher, Mark Herzlich, commits a blow with his helmet to give Vandy a first down at the BC 34.
5:11: Are you kidding me, part three: Nickson comes in (that's three different QBs on three separate plays), and chaos reigns in a confused backfield. I'm not disappointed with the QB selection on the play (I was disappointed with Adams coming into the game cold, but not here). I'm simply shocked that the VU huddle wasn't on the same page.
4:33: Larry Smith throws another dart to George Smith, just short of the sticks at the BC 25. Put Nickson in and sneak it if BC doesn't load up the tackle box.
4:00: Crap. There was a full yard to go for that first down, so the option's a good call. The problem was that tight end Brandon Barden didn't make his block. BC with great penetration to force a four-yard loss. Hahnfeldt has to nail a 46-yarder.
3:26: HE MAKES IT! HE MAKES IT! HE MAKES IT! Whether or not Vandy wins this game, Hahnfeldt has the signature memory of his Commodore career. I'm so, so happy for that young man, after all he's been through. Wonderful!
3:19: Okay, one defensive stand, boys. The offense got the job done, now finish.
2:38: On third-and-6, watch Davis as a scrambler. Stay with your man downfield.
2:33: VU gets pressure from the edges, and Davis is unable to stand and deliver. BC, in my mind, should go for it. You just don't punt late in a ballgame.
2:24: BC punts. Eagles with all three timeouts left. No, don't pass the ball here, but do try to run with a wrinkle. How about a fly sweep, the way so many spread teams do from shotgun looks?
2:11: Very, very good. Smith runs for six and forces a third-and-1. Yes, Vandy fans, if the Dores get just one stinkin' yard, they will very likely win the Music City Bowl and compile a winning season. BC uses its second timeout. Power run here.
2:08: Well, they do try the power run, but BC stuffs it for a loss. A few things about the play: 1) If you are going to try to power the ball, don't have two receivers. Use a heavy-jumbo formation with tight ends. 2) Put a receiver in motion if you are going to have a receiver. Use misdirection to show a different look or the threat of something unexpected.
2:00: BC's last stand after another fine punt by Upson. Buckle up.
1:55: Langford sees a pick glance off his hands. Gotta finish, boys.
1:36: MYRON LEWIS WITH THE PICK, AND MAKES UP FOR THE TOUCHDOWN HE ALLOWED SEVERAL MINUTES EARLIER! When one considers the fact that Boston College entered this game with an eight-year bowl winning streak, and when one considers Vandy's haunted past, the following statement—made famous in February of 1980—won't come across as cheesy or overdone: "Do you believe in miracles? YES!"
1:14: Bowl win. Winning season. Bowl win. Winning season. Bowl win. Winning season. Bowl win. Winning season. Bowl win. Winning season. Bowl win. Winning season.
0:38: Repeat those words all the way to Labor Day weekend of 2009. Keep saying them.
Five! Four! Three! Two! One!…. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Vanderbilt football gets its first winning season since 1982, its first bowl victory since 1955, and its second bowl victory of all time. Go on and party, Commodore fans. Celebrate the kind of occasion that will make you say, to your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, "I remember exactly where I was when…"
Yes, this is such a milestone moment for Vanderbilt University. The 2008 Commodore football team: Music City Bowl Champions. Final record: seven wins, six losses. Those two towering facts are now written in the history books. They're etched in stone, and they will stand the test of time.