NCAA Football Preview - Vanderbilt Commodores
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From The Sports Network By Pat Taggart, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: In 2003, Vanderbilt posted its 21st consecutive losing season. Bobby Johnson has now been with the team as its head coach for two seasons, and both ended with dismal 2-10 records. In last year's opener, the Commodores played extremely well but suffered a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to Ole Miss. Then, the next week, they took advantage of overmatched Chattanooga and rolled to a lopsided 51-6 victory. Johnson hoped that the resounding win would spark some confidence in his squad, but that simply wasn't the case. Vandy went on to lose its next eight contests, and many weren't close. The skid finally came to a halt on November 15th with a 28-17 victory over Kentucky, the only SEC win for the program. That bright spot quickly faded, however, as the regular-season finale against Tennessee the next week resulted in a 48-0 thrashing. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: With 10 returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt does have reason to believe that this season will be better than those in the recent past. Junior Jay Cutler will take the snaps under center, and he brings a great deal of versatility to the position. In addition to throwing for more than 2,300 yards and 18 scores a year ago, Cutler also ran for over 500 yards. He is exceptionally strong and should be considered among the top quarterbacks in the league. On the outside, Brandon Smith and Erik Davis will be hauling in Cutler's darts. Davis caught 41 balls for 638 yards and eight scores a year ago as Cutler's favorite target, while Smith wasn't far behind with 39 grabs for 595 yards and two touchdowns. When the team runs the football, Norval McKenzie and Kwane Doster will both get opportunities. McKenzie led the way a year ago with 639 yards and five touchdowns, while Doster gained nearly 800 yards two years ago. Up front, center Steven Brent will be the only fresh face among the starters. DEFENSE: The Vanderbilt defense returns all 11 starters from a year ago, and although the team surrendered 30 or more points on seven occasions in 2003, there is reason to believe that things will be much better in 2004. Up front, Jovan Haye will rightfully receive plenty of attention. The 280-pound end racked up 8.5 sacks a year ago en route to being named a Second Team All-SEC performer, and he should be able to match that total this year. As for the linebackers, Moses Osemwegie is coming off a campaign in which he led the SEC with 126 tackles. The versatility of Osemwegie allows the VU coaching staff to either play him inside or out. In the defensive backfield, Dominique Morris will routinely cover the opponent's top option. Morris picked off three balls a year ago and has the confidence to take his game up another notch. SPECIAL TEAMS: Considering that freshman Kyle Keown will be handling the punting duties and inexperienced sophomore Patrick Johnson will be the placekicker, the Commodore kicking game is an area of concern. Fortunately, the return game is in good hands, as Davis will field punts and Doster will run back kicks. Both players are fast enough to break loose for a long score. OUTLOOK: While Vanderbilt is not good enough to contend for the SEC title, there is a better than average chance of the team improving dramatically over last year's 2-10 record. A 6-5 mark is certainly possible, as games against South Carolina, Navy, Mississippi State, Rutgers, Eastern Kentucky and Kentucky are all winnable. The offense will be balanced and the defense will put pressure on the quarterback. Finally, coach Johnson will have reason to smile.