Vandy looking to become bowl eligible
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt's first shot at bowl eligibility starts on the road at the defending national champions.
* Vanderbilt defeated Miami (Ohio) 24-13 to improve to 5-3 and one victory away from being bowl eligible. The Commodores are looking for their first postseason berth since 1982.
* The Commodores went 4-8 with a 1-7 mark in the SEC. Vanderbilt suffered many close losses, including a three-point loss to Alabama, a two-point loss to Arkansas and a six-point loss to Florida.
* Vanderbilt has one of the weakest traditions in the SEC. The Commodores haven't had a winning season since going 8-4 and appearing in the Hall of Fame bowl in 1982.
* The Commodores' 2007 recruiting class was ranked 87th in the nation by Scout.com.
How Vanderbilt can win
* The Commodores will not lack confidence. Vanderbilt learned it can play with the SEC's big boys last year when it won at Georgia. The Commodores also played Florida tough, losing 25-19 in Nashville. The Commodores must utilize Earl Bennett's playmaking ability against Florida's soft secondary, and control the clock. Vanderbilt also leads the SEC in sacks, with 24. That means the Commodores should take advantage of Tim Tebow's lack of mobility due to a shoulder injury by blitzing him consistently. Georgia held Tebow to -15 yards rushing Saturday.
Worry about this guy
* Earl Bennett. The junior wide receiver became the top career pass catcher in the SEC last week. Bennett broke Kentucky's Craig Yeast record of 209 receptions. Bennett is third in the SEC in receiving yards per game at 79.9. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Bennett has the rare combination of size and speed.
Vanderbilt's top 5 NFL products
* 1. Jay Cutler (QB, 2002-05): Cutler was taken 11th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, the first Commodore selected in the opening round since 1986. Cutler, now in his second season, is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
* 2. Will Wolford (OT, 1982-85): A first-round pick in 1986, Wolford enjoyed a 13-year NFL career playing for the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. He played in 191 games.
* 3. Corey Chavous (DB, 1994-97): Chavous was a second-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998. He has 20 career interceptions in 141 games. Chavous plays for the St. Louis Rams.
* 4. Corey Harris (S, 1988-91): A journeyman, Harris played for six teams in 12 NFL seasons. He has 11 career interceptions and played in 183 career games. Retired in 2003.
* 5. Jim Arnold (P, 1979-82): Averaged 42.3 yards per punt in 12 NFL seasons. Played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins.
- Brandon Zimmerman
The Commodores (5-3, 2-3) are shooting for their first bowl game and non-losing season since 1982. They visit 18th-ranked Florida on Saturday, the first of a daunting four-game run to close the regular season that includes Kentucky, No. 24 Tennessee and No. 21 Wake Forest.
Coach Bobby Johnson insists his team is focused only on Florida, which has defeated the Commodores 15 consecutive times.
"As important as it is, we don't run around thinking about a bowl every week,'' he said Monday during his weekly news conference. "We try to get our team playing as well as we can and recruit as hard as we can. What happens, happens.''
Johnson noted that six wins might not be enough to guarantee Vanderbilt a bowl berth. Eleven of 12 Southeastern Conference teams currently have winning records and remain technically eligible to play in the league's conference championship. The conference has automatic tie-ins with eight bowls.
Even with six victories, the Commodores could conceivably have to hope to receive an at-large invitation to a bowl game.
Center Hamilton Holliday called it a little aggravating.
"We've always been told six wins gets you a bowl game. Now, all of a sudden, that may not be good enough. That's the way it works. We knew the SEC and the East, especially, was going to be real strong and powerful this year,'' he said.
"If it takes more than six, we're prepared to do that. It just gives us that much more intensity.''
The Commodores will place much of their bowl hopes on their defense, which ranks 14th nationally this week after limiting Miami of Ohio to 26 yards rushing last week in a 24-13 victory. Two weeks ago, the Commodores recorded seven sacks at South Carolina and held the Gamecocks scoreless in the second half in a 17-6 upset victory.
Vanderbilt has 12 sacks over the past two games and leads the SEC in that category with 24.
"It's definitely not a fluke,'' defensive tackle Gabe Hall said. "We practice harder than any team in the nation. That's my opinion.''
Vanderbilt might receive its biggest challenge in Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who leads the Gators in rushing while also ranking as the SEC's third-most efficient passer. The Commodores say Tebow's willingness to run the ball makes Florida's offense unique.
"He's got a target on his chest,'' Johnson said. "When he starts running, everybody wants to get a shot on him. The next thing you know, nobody is covering the receiver. They're very smart and take advantage of that.''
Hall said a quarterback willing to risk his career on each play must be respected.
"He's not trying to dive. He's lowering his shoulder. He's taking on middle linebacker. This guy, he does it all,'' Hall said.
Now Vandy can see if it can slow Tebow down.
Contact Brandon Zimmerman at 352-374-5051 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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