It was ugly, but it was a win.
And more importantly, it was a big, flashing neon sign that this Vanderbilt team is not SOV.
Our crack S&S statistics team has come up with a statistic that surprised me -- even considering who we've played so far. To this point in the season, after four games, the Commodores (3-1, 1-1) are outscoring their opponents by an average of almost 12 points. Vanderbilt averages scoring 28, and their opponents have averaged 16.25.
That's great news for Coach Johnson and his staff to take to our boys as they prepare for Auburn this weekend (more on that, below).
Maurice Patton gets the gist right in his game summary piece from Sunday's Tennessean: "the win ... didn't qualify for any style points. But [the Commodores] weren't looking for any, either."
And in fact, though the team as a whole didn't look that impressive, the defensive performance turned in by the Black-and-Gold was outstanding. You may not have noticed, but Eastern's lone touchdown was the lowest offensive performance by a Vanderbilt opponent since 2004 (and yes, EMU is a cupcake, but we sure have played some other cupcakes since Eastern Kentucky in '04, and the stat still stands).
There were some great tidbits out of the game Saturday night, including the fact that Earl Bennett is now tied for fourth in the SEC's all-time receiving records -- and only two yards shy of Vanderbilt's record.
Another important stat from Saturday night was Bryant Hahnfeldt's performance in the kicking game. After missing a 36-yarder, he went on to score 9 points on a 22-, a 27- and (surprisingly, at least from my experience) a 45-yarder. In four games, Bryant is 7/10 after going 8/17 all last year.
And how often does a Vanderbilt coach have something like this to say after a 23-point win? I'll help you out: not often.
Coach Johnson wasn't the only one unhappy with Chris' not-so-hot performance against the Eagles. Chris blames himself for the Eastern Michigan air raid that lead to four interceptions on Dudley Field.
I have to agree with Mark that no one can serious consider benching Chris. No one can argue that Mackenzi is a more dangerous threat to Chris, especially taking us into Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Plains. He may have had a bad week, but he's still our QB going into week 5 (or, I suppose I should say game 5 and week 6 -- you knwo what I mean).
In the City Paper today, Brett Hait has a great piece highlighting the Vanderbilt defense's new reputation as the SEC's second-best defense. And yeah, Brett, I did a double-take when I read that, too.
At the Vanderbilt Hustler, Tim Robinson (freshman engineering major from Boquet, Penn.) focuses in on the Commodores' rushing attack. I have to say that two weeks of rushing games like that has my confidence up a little bit (of course, we have to look at the defenses we played -- Auburn's "War Eagle" won't exactly be like EMU's Eagles).
There is a ton of other newspaper stuff, but I think we'll divide things up topically today, instead of according to source-medium.
On VandyMania, we get a nice recap of the EMU game, along with a look ahead to the challenge we face against the War Eagling Tigers. J2M also presents his weekly Stunners, and they've got Jonathan Goff's picture up.
There's some stuff on VandySports, including a recap of the EMU game, but (this is becoming a mantra), I can't get to it (perhaps someone from VS might offer me a free membership to entice my legion of loyal S&S readers to subscribe to VS?). Or not.
Which brings us to Coach Johnson's press conference post-EMU. I think his opening remarks bear out what I had to say about "SOV" earlier: "We had some good things going on in that game [against EMU] and some not so good things. It was good to win when you don't do everything right."
Amen to that. This game against the Eagles really is a big sign of where our program has been and where it is going. When I was an undergrad at Vanderbilt -- especially in my early years -- losing a game against a team like Eastern Michigan would have been a very real possibility. If, in those days, we had not played our very best, even against a supposedly-inferior team like EMU, there would have been a good chance for the "upset" (like Temple or multiple MTSU debacles).
The fact that we can go out onto the football field (in front of 37,000 people for a MAC team -- that had to be all Vandyfans), play poorly, and still win, means that we really are starting to get somewhere.
Rod Williamson, at the Athletics headquarters (since we can't call it a department) has a newly updated Commodore Notebook that asks some interesting questions about who should get special treatment: season ticket holders or NCC big-wigs -- or both?
Over on Save the Shield, PhillipVU has a lot to say about the EMU game and what it teaches us about Chris and the team. Very good post; here's an excerpt:
"In any case, I’m squarely in the alarmed-but-hopeful camp regarding Chris Nickson’s play. Auburn is even more of a hometown SEC opponent for Chris than Bama -- Brundidge is in the south of the state, near Troy. But aside from the opponent, ego can be a good force if it drives him to work hard to avoid letting down the team like he did last night."
Phillip isn't the only person that's got Auburn on the brain. On Vanderbilt Sports Line, Seamus O'Toole tells us about the Good, the bad, and the Auburn. The best quote out of the piece? "We're four games in and due to put all the pieces together for the first time this season." Book it.
SennSM also has some thoughts about the ugly win at home and the trip to the loveliest village on the Plains. He makes a good point that the 11:30 a.m. LF Sports start-time definitely favors us: both times Auburn has been shocked this season have come in the 11:30 time slot, and we Commodores (and their faithful fans) are perennial LF Sports early game fillers (though more on that in a bit).
On Best of the SEC Blogs, we get a nod to Phillip's previously-mentioned article and BestOfSEC credits the Vandy D as the 2nd best in the conference.
So we might as well start talking about Auburn.
First up, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where Tony Barnhart notes that Vanderbilt could use a playmaker besides Earl Bennett. Umm, yeah. Anybody up for it?
The Mobile Press-Register's Evan Wooderby seems to have read our minds in writing about Auburn's hopes to avoid a letdown after their big win in the Swamp, and he highlights this quote from Coach Tuberville: "For a couple weeks, [our players] couldn't get anyone to talk to them, and now they're the talk of the campus. If we think about [the win against Florida] too long, we'll start this thing over again next week, talking about how we could have played better if we'd gotten the [Florida] game out of our minds."
My advice to the Tigers? Keep reliving that final kick, when you had your arms interlinked, and the mighty Gators fell....
The Birmingham News seems to think that Vanderbilt's defensive performance thus far was a fluke, because they write that Auburn will get a chance to showcase their running backs against us this week. I mean, c'mon, that's a bit presumptuous.
Finally, one of the most curious emails I received with regard to S&S this week came from (I'm assuming) the webmaster of the College Football Belt championship. They have a preview of our game against Auburn, along with some analysis of both teams.
My question? Who in the world are these people?
Lastly, tonight, as alluded to earlier, it was announced today that ESPN2 has picked up the VU-Georgia game for national television! When's the last time we got our homecoming game on national TV?
That'll sure make BYX look good when Roy Stone wins most outstanding senior (and gets the crown from Jay Salato). Err-- umm, oops. My bad.
Who's going to Auburn! Let's see if we can't get that SEC record above .500 -- I do not want to see Toomer's rolled this week.