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