Vandy gains yards but no win vs. 'Bama

Monday, September 10, 2001 at 1:00am

Never have so many yards meant so little.

The Vanderbilt offense put up 396 yards and the Alabama offense countered with 357, but in the end neither team could capitalize within the 10-yard line to score a touchdown. The Crimson Tide prevailed 12-9 in an afternoon of dueling field goals in front of 37,318 fans at Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Steve Crosby called an outstanding game filled with reverses, fake reverses and a failed trick play that would have meant a certain touchdown with approximately 1:30 left in the game had quarterback Greg Zolman not mishandled a pass from wide receiver Dan Stricker.

"We stayed pretty much with our basic package most of the time," Zolman said. "Alabama has a defense that plays hard and is extremely fast. We just tried to handle that as best we could and make some plays."

Crosby, as exhausted physically and mentally as any player who suited up for the game, admitted frustration that the Commodores struggled to find the end zone.

"The no huddle offense is good for us in keeping people confused and on their toes," Crosby said. "Alabama didn't really play us as close to as fast as they played UCLA and I think that is a tribute to what we do on offense. On the other hand, sometimes I think we get worn out by the time we get to the green zone and we make a dumb mistake.

"We get down there and we don't do what we need to do. Whether it is a bad throw, a missed handoff or a missed block, we seem to have a tendency to self-destruct a little bit. I don't know what to say about it.

"We had the one turnover on the 21-yard line (a second quarter fumble by Stricker) and it just killed us. That should have been a touchdown. We had a couple of other chances that we missed. We just made some decisions today that were bad where we had opportunities. We don't always take advantage of those plays and I don't know why. It is beyond me."

There were some bright spots like freshmen Brandon Smith and Jason Mathenia, who filled the gap left by M.J. Garrett who was kept on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, and running back Lew Thomas who had 10 carries for 89 yards. Smith and Mathenia both made their first career receptions _ a 14-yarder for Mathenia and a 42-yard catch for Smith. Thomas had a career in total rushing yards and his 31-yard run in the second quarter was also a career high.

"It comes down to making the plays in the end and we didn't get it done," said Zolman who completed passes to eight different receivers with 17 receptions and no interceptions on 34 tries for 253 yards. "Alabama has great athletes and they just stopped us down there. It's frustrating, but you have to give the credit to their `D'."

Thomas agreed that what he called "bonehead" mistakes in the green zone were the problem for the Commodores.

"We would fumble, hit the person with the ball or drop the ball," Thomas said. "We need to keep the cohesiveness we have when we start those drives and get to the green zone and keep it going.

"We're going to have to work on that in practice. The coaches will put us in those situations. We'll work on a lot of green zone plays and try to work out the kinks for next week."

Stricker thought the Vanderbilt offense kept the Alabama defense off guard. But he also was frustrated by the team's failure to score a touchdown on a day when the Crimson Tide was primed to be beaten.

"Scoring in the green zone is a must, especially against an SEC opponent," Stricker said. "We've just got to hold it together and believe in ourselves. It kind of breaks your back when it happens. But you have to have a lot of poise and character to put those plays behind us.

"It's pretty heartbreaking to drive the ball all the way down the field and not score a touchdown. Both offenses are probably scratching their heads and asking, `what could we have done better?'"

One of those was the trick play that could have made the difference in the game. Zolman admitted that he had a sure six points if he made the catch. In the end the Commodores were forced to try another field goal in an effort to tie the game and Chuck Folino, who made his first three attempts (20, 25 and 38 yards), missed wide on a 37-yarder that would have tied the game.

"I got knocked down as I was getting out of there and I never regained my balance," Zolman said of the botched play. I found the ball at the last minute and just dropped it.

"I thought it was a great call. It has worked for us in the past. There was some space to run if I would have caught it. There were about four of our bigger guys in front of me."

Like the rest of the Commodores Zolman goes back to the drawing board this week hoping to find a way to beat the Ole Miss Rebels Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in Oxford. He admits that opening the season with two losses doesn't make that preparation any easier. Ole Miss is 1-1 overall, 0-1 in the SEC. Vanderbilt is 0-2, 0-1 in the conference.

"It's extremely tough," Zolman said. "These losses get old and they hurt. We're used to responding to adversity around here so we don't have any other choice. We have to step up and keep working harder to get better. We're close."

Vanderbilt at Ole Miss

Saturday, 11:30 p.m.


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