Vanderbilt’s players and coaches remember vividly one of their more forgettable performances of 2008.
At 5-0, ranked among the top 20 teams in the country and coming off a nationally televised victory over Auburn the Commodores traveled to Mississippi State and lost more than just a game.
They also lost momentum.
A 17-14 defeat in a game they led only once began a four-game losing streak that threatened their prospects for a bowl bid and a winning season. Vanderbilt eventually recovered and achieved both, but with the return meeting on tap for Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium (6 p.m., Fox Sports South) the bad memories from that contest have not diminished.
“We owe these guys,” senior center Bradley Vierling said. “We know that. This whole team knows that. We’re fired up about that. It’s redemption week for us. It’s big-time for us. This is a huge game for us.”
Mississippi State has a new coach — and a staff that includes former VU assistant David Turner — but has a defense that returns 12 players with starting experience.
That unit gave up 49 points last Saturday in a loss to Auburn. The Commodores, however, pointed out that they managed just seven first downs and 107 yards of total offense — both season-lows — in Starkville.
“When we played them last year, their defense really shut us down,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “It looks like they are a veteran group on defense and return a lot of starters from last year's team. We have to figure out how to move the ball on their defense.”
It’s easy to figure what effect a defeat will have this time.
At 1-1 following a 23-9 loss at LSU last Saturday Vanderbilt is in danger of falling below .500 for the first time since November 2007 and of starting 0-2 in the conference for the first time since 2006.
Not to mention the fact that a loss will do nothing to wipe away the memory of last year’s meeting.
“We were 5-0 going into the game and then (to) come up short …the first loss of the season,” quarterback Larry Smith, who did not play in that game, said. “(The) offense didn’t play that well. Defense played pretty good.
“It kind of hurt last year. We had the momentum going into that game and losing ended up hurting our season.”