Vanderbilt's first victory of the 2010 season sprouted from an unlikely spot -- its own 4-yard line.
It was from there that quarterback Larry Smith and Co. finally got the chains moving Saturday against Ole Miss and -- eventually -- began to put points on the board. By the end of play Saturday, VU put up twice as many points as the Rebels in a 28-14 victory.
The Commodores scored just three points a week earlier against LSU. Their first four drives against Ole Miss were all three-and-out. So when Rebels' punter Tyler Campbell placed the ball deep in Vanderbilt's end, a Zac Stacy touchdown seemed miles—not just 96 yards—away.
But Smith and his offense buckled down and got focused.
“It was great to see one [drive] go that distance,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “It’s very hard to do that in college football, I don’t care who you are. I was very proud and it was a good boost for the offensive line as well.”
A first down handoff yielded only a yard. Then Smith stood his ground until tight end Brandon Barden separated from the defense on the right sideline and confidently let it zip.
The 17-yard completion bought the Commodores some breathing room. It also got Smith going.
“We were just focused on one down at a time,” Smith said. “Second play we went play-action and Barden got open and got us off our goal line. That was huge for us, and momentum building; the play to Barden was the key to the whole drive.”
The drive eventually lasted 13 plays and used three minutes and 39 seconds of game time. Vanderbilt has been a run-first team in 2010 but nine of those plays were passes.
Smith went 4-7 for 49 yards. Three completions, including two pressured third-and-5, went for first downs.
The first third-down conversion was an inside slant to John Cole.
“[On third down] I’m just trying to hit whoever’s open and read the coverage,” he said. “We’ve got certain plays for certain coverages. With Cole I read man coverage and he did a good job to beat his man inside and get the first down.”
On an ensuing third-and-5, Smith kept his cool when the Ole Miss secondary locked down on his receivers. He used star running back Warren Norman as a safety valve and a short dump on the left side turned into a 14-yard first down.
Two snaps later and VU was on the board courtesy of a 35-yard touchdown by Stacy.
The momentum even carried over to Vanderbilt’s next possession, when Smith completed his next two passes.
Smith finished the game complnine-for-19 for 73 yards. He also rushed five times for 35 yards, including a game sealing 15-yard touchdown run in the forth quarter.
His improvement in game management was noteworthy.
Smith was sacked six times for a total loss of 46 yards against LSU. Several of his 10 incompletions against Ole Miss were intentional throwaways.
“I got sacked six times against LSU, so the mental clock in my head started ticking,” he said. “I knew that I couldn’t be back there all day taking sacks because sacks hurt the offensive line momentum-wise.”
Those incompletions went a long way to helping the Commodores win, but he needed to connect on some throws for the team to go 96 yards for its first touchdown.
* VU's next scheduled game Oct. 2 at Connecticut. The team will take full advantage of the open week to lick its wounds.
Caldwell said defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone (high ankle sprain) and Barden (plantar fasciitis) were both doubtful for UConn. Norman also sat out of Tuesday’s practice out of precaution. He had arthroscopic knee surgery August 25.
“We’re healing people,” Caldwell said. “And working, but shorter periods. We’re trying to improve one phase of the game every day. If we can do that this week and get our game plan in next week, we’ll be ready to go.