NASHVILLE-- The Vanderbilt Commodores have now won six games in three years. So why the subdued reaction following Saturday’s 19-7 victory over Division 1-AA Eastern Kentucky?
“We were a little down after the game,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw for a touchdown and ran for another. “I don’t think we were as happy as we should have been. We got in the locker room and Coach gave us a speech and we got fired up about it. A win is a win. It was a tough game.”
Indeed. Eastern Kentucky ended up outgaining Vanderbilt 460 yards to 366 yards and ran 72 offensive plays to Vanderbilt’s 59. But Vanderbilt prevented Eastern Kentucky from scoring on five of six trips inside the Vanderbilt 40, and that proved to be the difference in the game.
“We needed a win,” said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, whose team improved to 2-5. “I don’t care how it happened. We came close several times this year and didn’t get it. Sometimes you’ve got to fight. Eastern Kentucky put up a great one. We had to fight for it and earn it.”
Vanderbilt’s final defensive stand came on fourth-and-goal at the one. Eastern Kentucky threw a pass into the end zone that tight end Patrick Bugg dove for. As he rolled over the ball popped out, leaving the Colonels trailing 19-7 with six minutes to play.
“I caught the ball, and when I rolled over the ball popped out because I rolled on the other guy,” Bugg said. “I had possession. I was very surprised by the call.”
The Commodores called on Kwane Doster to ice the game, and the junior running back blasted out runs of 14 and 29 yards to get Vanderbilt out of trouble. Doster finished the game with 117 yards on 15 carries in his first true start at running back of the season.
“We made plays when we had to,” Cutler said. “Kwane ran well. Offensively, we wanted to put up some more points, but we’ll take it.”
Vanderbilt scored the final points of the game on the first drive of the third quarter, marching 77 yards in 11 plays before Jeff Jennings scored from a yard out. Vanderbilt’s two first-half touchdowns came from Cutler, who threw a four-yard pass to Brandon Smith, and ran one in from 55 yards (Vanderbilt’s longest score of the season).
Eastern Kentucky’s touchdown came on a 45-yard catch and run by running back C.J. Hudson, who took a screen pass from Josh Greco, broke a tackle and raced down the right sideline to the end zone.
“We helped them out a whole bunch with missed tackles,” Johnson said. “I haven’t seen that many missed tackles in a game that we have won.”
The Commodores got out of trouble in the first quarter when Cheron Thompson forced a fumble and Andrew Pace recovered at the Vanderbilt 35. Two missed field goals by Eastern Kentucky also helped the cause.
Greco completed 20 of 29 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown and Hudson ran for 107 yards on 22 carries for Eastern Kentucky (3-4). The Colonels converted 8-of-16 times on third downs, including several times on long yardage.
“We had a horrible day on third-down,” Johnson said.
Linebacker Moses Osemwegie felt like Vanderbilt’s defense should not be satisfied with the victory.
“We missed a lot of tackles,” Osemwegie said. “We need to work on that in practice. I think we’ll have a big session on that when we get back. It feels good that it is a win, but we made a lot of mistakes. We know we have to improve.”
Eastern Kentucky felt good about its effort against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
“We were inside their 15-yard line three times without scoring,” said Eastern Kentucky coach Danny Hope. “This is basically a lack of execution. We are only a freckle away from being one of the top teams in 1-AA football.”
The Commodores (2-5) travel to Baton Rouge next week to face defending national champion LSU next Saturday at 7 p.m. LSU was 4-2 (2-2 in the SEC) heading into Saturday evening's clash with Troy.
Bill Trocchi is online editor for Athlon Sports.