Pick a game. Just about any game. This season, there have been long stretches of play when the Commodores offense — which currently ranks 116th nationally in yards per game (336) — has failed to get first downs. By extension, that lack of advancement explains the program’s 126th ranking (out of 128 teams) in points per game (15.4).
And yet, Vanderbilt (4-6, 2-4 in SEC play) still has a chance to go bowling, thanks to a first-rate defense and a conference schedule which doesn’t involve Alabama, LSU or Arkansas. On Saturday night, Vandy pulled out a 21-17 victory over Kentucky, relying on a time-tested mix of solid defense (limiting the Wildcats to 352 yards and forcing three turnovers), clutch playmaking (two goal-line stands and a game-ending sack of Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles) and tons of touches for Commodores tailback Ralph Webb, who scurried for 113 yards on 33 carries.
Quite simply, Vandy — a popular basement pick among SEC prognosticators during the preseason — could end up as one of the top feel-good stories in college football; but that applause only comes if the Commodores beat Texas A&M (home) and Tennessee (away) over the next two weeks.
It’s an ambitious proposition. But then again, Vandy has surrendered only 48 points in its last four conference outings. The defense can make this dream a reality.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.