A Tired Refrain: Put This Season To Bed

When life throws nothing but nasty curve-balls and lady luck cozies up with other men in the casino, it's easy to want to begin the next day by not getting out of bed. Vanderbilt football will fight again, and a renewed commitment to acquiring talent must soar into action now, but in terms of the . . .

on-field events that characterized a thoroughly miserable football season, let's just slip under the covers and hide. No one will want to revisit the 12-game trail of tedium that just passed through Nashville.

Saturday's season-ending 31-16 loss at Tennessee wasn't defined by poor effort – Vandy played hard – or the lack of a plan from the coaching staff – Mackenzi Adams looked like he knew what to do in this contest, and the offense moved the ball a fair amount between the 20s – but this 15-point setback against the Vols hurt with an achy-breaky familiarity.

The latest downer against the Children of the Checkerboard was bad for reasons that have become depressingly regular in VandyVille. In a game that witnessed bursts of high quality and stretches of stellar play, the Commodores hiccupped when they needed to make a strong and confident statement. When introduced to the betting table with lady luck, the Dores sweated and stuttered and allowed the enemy in orange to write the same old script.

It was predictably yet painfully ironic that Tennessee's offense didn't score a single point after halftime in this game. The Vols – who appeared headed for last place in the SEC East after the first half of the season – have never hung their hat on offense in the first year of the Lane Kiffin era. Based on UT's utter lack of output following the intermission, an outside observer would have thought that VU could keep this contest close. Ah, but if you're an outsider without knowledge of Vanderbilt's wrenching football history, you wouldn't have been able to understand why the second half set up as nothing but a cruel tease.

You see, the Vols didn't need to post points in the second half, for the outcome of this game was – if not decided – strongly influenced by the events that dominated the final minute of the first half.

Again, the narrative was all-too-recognizable for Vandy fans who would just as soon stay under the sheets this week and pull the pillow over a cranium that just can't take another tumble against Tennessee.

With the Dores facing a 4th and 2 at the UT 38 with just over 40 seconds left in the first half, the visitors held in their hands a very realistic chance of reducing (if not eliminating) Tennessee's 17-10 advantage. Vandy had earlier erased a 10-0 deficit, and was once again marching downfield with an eye on a meaningful score just before halftime. The course of events in a greatly encouraging second quarter gave ballast to the Commodores' outlook, because an ugly first quarter offered the possibility that this night would turn into an unmitigated disaster for the VU crew.

While it's true that one would not call this game a horrible one – a train wreck supreme with absolutely no redeeming value whatsoever – the following few plays certainly detracted from its overall standing in the pantheon of Commodore football history.

On that defining 4th and 2 – the kind of play that regularly crops up in visits to Neyland Stadium – receiver John Cole couldn't cradle a slant pass from Adams, who agonized over the missed connection while the Neyland throng roared its approval. In a scene somewhat akin to the LSU game, when Alex Washington's drop turned into defeat, Vandy chose to give instead of receive. But as bad as Cole's inadequate display turned out to be, even more misery stood right around the bend for the Johnson Boys.

With only 35 seconds left in the half, the Vols – again, not the most potent pigskin passers in the SEC, to put it mildly – steamed downfield to rock the Dores with a ringing series of blows. With passes of 12, 13, 6 and 16 yards, alongside a roughing-the-passer penalty on VU's Greg Billinger, Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton took his teammates into the end zone in 30 seconds flat. When Crompton hit Luke Stocker with a scoring strike at the five-second mark of the second quarter, the Vols gained more than a 24-10 lead. They once again asserted the mental ownership that's been so unmistakable in this sadly lopsided series.

Sure, Tennessee wouldn't score on offense in the second half (the Vols' only post-halftime tally was a window-dressing pick-six with three seconds left in the game), but with Vandy rattled and shaken, most of the battle was done. VU would get to the Tennessee 2 near the end of a furious fourth-quarter foray into the "Orange Zone" (as they call it in Knoxville), but another untimely lapse – a false start on 1st and goal – threw a monkey wrench into that temporary surge as well.

Vandy pushed and prodded on Saturday, advancing and exerting with sincere passion and persistence. In the middle of the fourth quarter, Tennessee fans weren't thinking their team would lose, but it also merits mentioning that the Vols weren't exactly celebrating a blowout win. The Dores kept charging at the checkerboarded end zones in this house of horrors, but just when they needed to deliver a dagger, they could only find an old, worn butter knife instead.

Tennessee, on the other hand, had the six-shooters in the holster… at least at the end of a first half that gave form to this in-state showdown.

So ends a season that never recaptured the magic of 2008.

Hauling in talent is the foremost answer to Vanderbilt's on-field ailments, but as this loss to Tennessee showed, playmaking ability is also a product of superior composure in significant situations. The culture change that's still in progress at Vanderbilt University – and was hardly finalized one year ago, as this 2-10 trek so plainly makes clear – must involve more than just the acquisition of special specimens.

Otherwise, a lot of Dore diehards will feel the urge to stay in bed at the end of the 2010 campaign.

Nighty-night, folks. Rise and shine tomorrow, with an eye on all-around improvement in the year to come.

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