Catching Up, Catching On: LSU Review

Week two will not bring forth polished performances… especially not from a new set of quarterback-receiver combos playing a night game in a hostile SEC lair. One can only hope that after Saturday's experience at LSU, Vandy's pitch-and-catch precision will emerge.

Can anyone really be too disappointed with Bobby Johnson's ballclub after this past weekend's 23-9 defeat at the hands of Les Miles's Tigers? Yes, it's oh-so-tempting to curse the fates and lament a bobbled ball by VU's Alex Washington. That bobble turned into a tide-tilting interception for the home team with 13:41 left in the fourth quarter of a 16-9 game, with Vandy driving near the LSU red zone. After the pivotal pick, the Bayou Bengals were never seriously threatened, as they tallied a touchdown and walked to the locker room with a 14-point win. Anyone who watched this game could tell when VU's moment of opportunity arrived and then just as quickly departed. Pangs of regret have been known to emerge when a chance for a monster upset goes begging.

This contest, however, shouldn't fit into the land called "What Might Have Been." This was a grow-up game for Larry Smith, the field general, and the men assigned to catch his passes. While Smith wasn't responsible for Washington's mishap, it's not as though VU's newest starting signal caller lit up the Louisiana night. With only 88 yards passing, Smith clearly shared in the struggles experienced by an offense that will undeniably play second-fiddle this season to the Dores' dynamic defense. If winning is a team effort, losing is no different, and so it stands that every member of Vandy's offense has its work cut out as week three approaches.

The most important thing to realize about this LSU loss is that its place on the calendar can make it a gateway toward greater results. When Vandy has stumbled in the annual late-November game against Tennessee, it has been hard, if not impossible, to derive any positive meaning or value from such a setback. November losses merely usher in the chill of an upcoming winter and deepen the gloom of a locker room. September losses are very different creatures; they can cast a long and ominous shadow over a program, but only if the boys on the field allow negativity to infest the football complex on campus. If a team is well-adjusted—and the trajectory of Vanderbilt football over the past several seasons suggests it is under coach Johnson—it will use a tough, grinding early-season loss as an ally, a companion on the 12-game slog through Autumn.

When Smith and his receivers do their film study, review their performance in Baton Rouge, and return to the practice field in preparation for Mississippi State, they'll re-immerse themselves in the basics of timing, proper reads, angles, and all the other components of an effective passing game. The rapport between thrower and catcher will be shored up; mutual trust will be reinforced; and, after going up against longtime nemesis John Chavis—who knows Vanderbilt inside and out after many years by Philip Fulmer's side—Vandy's air-attack athletes will have received the best education they every could have hoped for. November defeats simply stink and sting; September slip-ups can get the attention of less-than-fully-proven players, catapulting young men from early-season uncertainty into the more comfortable realm of mid-season serenity.

This is the journey that must be made by a quarterback and his receivers. If the Commodores can catch up, catch on, and simply do a whole lot of catching in the weeks to come, the Johnson Boys will bounce back boldly… not just in this month, but against the rest of their SEC opponents. This defense will certainly keep the Dores in almost every game they play; just a pinch of firepower from the other side of the ball will be enough to lead this team back to a bowl game.

There's one other aspect of this evolving drama which bears mentioning: If Vandy can turn things around in the passing game, the late, great actor Jimmy Stewart will smile from his heavenly perch.

Why? Once VU begins to fling the football around the ballpark with distinction, the phrase, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" will fall sweetly upon the ears of a delighted fan base, and conjure up delight instead of depression.

Yes, there will come a time in the future—it could arrive this upcoming Saturday, it could arrive in midseason, it could even arrive in November against the Vols—when Larry Smith will see Alex Washington in the red zone or the end zone late in a close game. If Washington can cradle the pigskin in such an instance, thereby lifting VU over the threshold and into the winner's circle, this LSU loss will bear fruit for the Commodores. When that moment occurs, a seemingly wasted weekend in Tiger Stadium won't seem so useless anymore.

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