Auburn and Vandy will kick off the SEC season at 11:30 a.m. in a game that will be televised regionally by Jefferson-Pilot. Auburn hasn’t lost a football game to the Commodores since President Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was in the White House, but last season’s 24-21 victory was more exciting than expected.
Tuberville says his heavily favored Auburn team can’t just show up on Saturday morning and expect to win their conference opener and improve the record to 2-1. “They have some good football players,” Tuberville says of the Commodores, who are also 1-1. “With Coach (Bobby) Johnson being there with a new staff, you can tell they are playing with a lot of enthusiasm and I am sure a lot of confidence after coming off that win last week over his former team, which I know a lot about going to play against your former team after leaving the year before. I am sure that was an emotional win for them and they are looking forward to this week’s game.”
The 2002 Commodores have new looks on offense and defense with the new staff that came from Furman to see if they can succeed where Woody Widenhofer and his group had not. Opening day was ugly as the Commodores were blitzed 45-3 at Georgia Tech. However, last Saturday the Commodores struck early and often in pounding Johnson’s former team, the Furman Purple Paladins, 49-18 in Nashville. “They got off to a slow start, but played well last week,” Tuberville says.
Vanderbilt played one of its best games of the 2001 season when the Tigers escaped Nashville with an exciting 24-21 victory. Part of that excitement resulted when Vandy was given a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a pass from now-departed quarterback Greg Zolman to wide receiver Dan Stricker, who is back for his senior year to continue his assault on the Vandy all-time receiving records. One of his receptions tied the game at 21-21 last year even though he didn’t actually come down with the football in the field of play like is normally required to score a touchdown. As a matter of fact, he didn’t actually catch the pass, either, but that didn’t prevent the competency-challenged SEC officiating crew from signalling a touchdown so the game was tied at 21-21.
That fourth quarter TD set the stage for Damon Duval to win it for the Tigers with a 49-yard field goal with 2:58 to play.
Senior Damon Duval
Duval will be back for the rematch and is looking at the contest as a personal opportunity to bounce back from last Saturday when he missed both of his field goal tries. That was quite unexpected for the preseason All-American, who had been almost automatic on any field goal under 50 yards this season before that game. Fortunately for Duval and Tigers, the offday was just a footnote to the main story last Saturday as the Tigers scored eight touchdowns on the way to a 56-0 victory over Western Carolina.
Tuberville says he is not overly concerned about Duval’s misses. “He actually overplayed the wind on the first one,” the coach says. “On the next one, he hit too much of the right side and hooked it like hitting a golf ball. He will be fine.”
Duval says, “It is a good feeling for me that our team still won and it wasn’t a factor in the game, but it definitely still eats at me because I shouldn’t miss those field goals. The good thing about it for me is that I watched the film and I know what I did on both of them.”
A single field goal was Vandy’s only score when the Commodores were blitzed by a 42-margin at Georgia Tech on Aug. 31st. The Commodores eliminated many of their mistakes in week two and jumped on visiting Furman early and coasted to an easy 49-18 victory last week. Tuberville says the Tigers have to be prepared for Vandy to play this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We have four road games in conference and four home games in conference,” Tuberville notes. “This being a home game puts the pressure on us. When you play a home game in the conference, you pretty much have to win all of them.”
Under new management, look for the Commodores to still throw the ball a great deal, but more of the running package will be using the option formation with redshirt freshman Jay Cutler running the attack. The five-man front that Widenhofer brought with him from the NFL has been replaced by a four-man front on defense that is more attack-oriented.
Johnson, who has a 61-37 record in nine seasons as a head coach, will be trying to do beat the Tigers, something that no Vandy coach has done since 1955. Tuberville is definitely not eager to be a part of Commodore history. “This will be a tough game,” Tuberville predicts. “It will go down to the fourth quarter.”
The Auburn coach, who has to prepare the Tigers to have a quick turnaround after the Vandy game for a Thursday night road trip to Mississippi State, says he wants to see his team play hard and well this Saturday vs. the Commodores. “Our players respect them because you can tell they very seldom make mistakes,” he says. “That is what it is all about in football. Athletic ability is one thing, but you can go out and execute what you are doing, make plays, block the right people, line up in the right places and it always gives you a chance.
“With what they are doing on offense and defense this year, Coach Johnson has done a good job of convincing these guys early that this can fit them. This can make them a better team. They will get better and better. Obviously, they didn’t play well the first game, but they played a real good football game this past week--one of the better games I have seen Vanderbilt play early in the last three or four years.”