Commodores Shock the Hogs

September 18, 2005

Early on Sunday four buses carrying the Vanderbilt football team rolled up to the McGugin Center on the Nashville campus. What greeted the team was a sight only slightly less improbable than the team's last-minute 28--24 road victory over Arkansas the night before: the Vanderbilt band playing the fight song and hundreds of students welcoming the return of their conquering heroes. "That has not happened here before," quarterback Jay Cutler, a fifth-year senior, said later that day. "Not since I've been here, anyway."

Two weeks into the season the Commodores--yes, the same ones who have been the perennial 'Dore-mats of the SEC--are enjoying their best start since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Having won at Wake Forest to open the season, Vandy is 2--0 for the first time since '88, and its two-game winning streak is its longest since '99.

After a deceiving 2--9 season in 2004 (the Commodores lost five games by a total of 15 points), fourth-year coach Bobby Johnson concentrated on reducing the number of hits on Cutler; Vandy quarterbacks were sacked an SEC-high 33 times last year. To address the problem, the coaches added more slants and other short throws out of the three-step-drop and shotgun packages.

So far, so good. The 6'4", 230-pound Cutler has completed 48 of 81 passes for 554 yards and three TDs while being sacked just three times. And it was a six-yard slant with 26 seconds left that gave Vandy the upset of Arkansas as Cutler and junior wideout Marlon White hooked up for their second fourth-quarter score, overcoming a 24--13 deficit.

Next up is a home date this Saturday with Mississippi, and the schedule only gets tougher, with four games down the road against Top 10 teams--LSU, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. "We can play with the Tennessees, the Georgias, the Floridas," Cutler says. "We have the talent. It's a matter of execution. We are not that far off." --Gene Menez

PHOTOWESLEY HITT/WIREIMAGE.COM SHORT AND SWEETCutler has thrived with a new array of slants and other quick passes.

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