Roanoke's Around the SEC: VU's Best and Worst

(Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE)

The 2013 campaign threw us some curveballs. There was a bumpy start followed by another impressively strong finish. When I look back on this season years from now, here are the ten plays I think I'll remember most fondly – and least fondly. Oddly, this is a year where the single worst and best plays will likely be the same for everyone.

The 2013 campaign threw us some curveballs. There was a bumpy start followed by another impressively strong finish. When I look back on this season years from now, here are the ten plays I think I'll remember most fondly – and least fondly. Oddly, this is a year where the single worst and best plays will likely be the same for everyone. The rest may be a little arbitrary – so I will give my own reasoning.

Best Plays of 2013

1. Patton Robinette fakes a jump pass in the waning moments of a chilly night in Knoxville and proceeds untouched to the end zone to beat UT. Like many great and memorable plays, this winning TD was only possible because of several notable contributing efforts: a late defensive stop of UT on third and 1 near midfield, the incredible "short spot" over-rule, ACS to Matthews to get us into the red-zone – and the "set up" Robinette jump pass for a TD the week before versus Kentucky.

2. Fourth quarter comeback versus Georgia sealed with huge turnover. Our turnover-fueled comeback versus the Bulldogs was a highpoint – and turning point – of the season. Still, even as we clung to a slim 31-27 lead, Aaron Murray had 3 minutes left to engineer a winning touchdown drive. After Georgia opened the drive with a first down, Murray hit bruising RB Brendan Douglas for a decent gainer – but Jake Sealand flew in to strip the ball and Andre Hal pounced on it. It began to sink in – we were going to beat Georgia.

3. Looking back, the game at Florida was likely our best overall performance of the year. We forced a bunch of turnovers, played solid D, and executed effective offense. A stunned Gator crowd sat through half-time down 17-3 expecting a determined second half turn-around. On Florida's opening drive of the half, Andrew Williamson reeled in a juggling INT and rumbled 38 yards to the Florida 4 yard-line. Our wildcat attack wasted no time, as Jerron Seymour punched the ball in for a back-breaking score. This time, we could confirm the upset early. It was our day.

4. Jordan Matthews' 4th down catch versus Ole Miss. In a frenetic fourth quarter, with time waning and trailing 32-28, Vandy was down to 4th and 18 at its own 24 yard-line following a sack. We could not risk punting the ball back to Ole Miss – so ACS dropped back and unloaded a beautiful 42-yard bomb to Jordan Matthews. On the following play, ACS hit Steven Scheu for a stunning 34-yard touchdown. Alas, we scored too quickly, but for a brief moment, anything seemed possible. Even as things later unraveled, ACS established himself in this game as a solid SEC qb.

5. Jordan Matthews' unbelievable 4th down catch versus Wake. In a slight hangover performance in which we had dominated Wake – but through turnovers and mistakes still trailed 21-20 down to our final possession – it is 4th down again at midfield. ACS' 25 yard heave to Matthews is a prayer – two defenders are draped over Matthews and have him sandwiched. I do not know how our leading all-time receiver saw the ball, let alone caught it. Brilliant – and all the more memorable because Carey Spear nailed the game-winning field goal moments later.

6. Adam Butler blocks UK extra point, Steven Clarke scoops it up and returns it for a score. Kentucky is done scoring for the day. This was not only a textbook special teams execution, but a giant momentum shift and wake up call. Following the Florida win, we opened the UK game poorly. UK's first drive was an improbably easy buzz-saw. Special teams flipped the switch and we gritted out the ugly win over the Wildcats. This "ugly win" theme became a trend the following two weeks as well.

Worst Plays of 2013

1. What can anyone say? We spent the entire season haunted by Jeff Scott's 75-yard fourth quarter TD run on opening night. Euphoric after our late go-ahead score, everything suddenly went wrong on this play. Half our defense seemed fooled, out of position or at an unlucky angle. Nightmare. Ole Miss finished 7-5, we finished 8-4. Imagine if we could have that one play back.

2. The INT. This was a bad year for INT's. The most crushing one was not a pick-6, but a rally-crushing goal line grab. After staking South Carolina to a 28-0 lead, we had clawed our way to within 35-25. Following a forced turnover, Wesley Tate gouged the Gamecocks for 30 yards in 3 carries. Inside the 5 yard-line, we threw a timing pattern and SC timed it perfectly. The comeback was basically over.

3. Trickeration gone wrong. I do not mean to focus on INT's here – but they did tend to be our worst plays in several games this year. The bar-none ugliest was a trick "split line" or "Emory & Henry" formation that we tried with a 14-10 lead against Georgia. Before the ball had even left ACS' hand, Shaq Wiggins broke on it. He sprinted into the end zone going the wrong way. Our lead was gone. I screamed at the television.

4. A pick-6 tie. The momentum-crushing INT to open the second half at College Station and the disastrous pick-six thrown with the lead against Wake. The latter, a tipped ball, nearly cost us the game.

5. The bad start. If there was a negative theme to the season, it was our penchant for slow starts. We only lost four games. But in each of them, things went wrong early. Basically, this was a year where we won if we did not dig ourselves a hole: we fell behind Ole Miss, 10-0; SC, 28-0; Mizzou, 20-0; and A&M, 28-0. That is a cumulative score of 86-0 out of the gate in games we lost this year.

Other Notable Trends

It was also the Year of the Bye. Our staff made the most of our byes – oddly, each bye followed a 50+ point defensive melt-down; but both times we got a week to heal, we regrouped, and followed up with wins versus Georgia and Florida. Nice work.

Last, but definitely not least, if you want to know what set this team apart from all other Vandy squads – and every team in America this year – it was our astounding success on fourth down conversions. We were 21 of 27 for a 77.8% conversion rate. Our 21 fourth down conversions led the nation. Many a drive got a second life through a fourth down gamble. Our success on fourth down is a reflection of our coach, and his faith in our players.

Next week we should know our bowl destination, and perhaps a few additional post-season highlights are yet to unfold?

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