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November 6, 2010

''Embarrassing''

NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Embarrassing.

That's what coach Robbie Caldwell called Saturday's performance.

Quarterback Larry Smith agreed.

None of the 33,848 fans in attendance at Dudley Field on Saturday-most of whom were Florida fans-would have argued.



Vanderbilt fans could make a long list of bad football games they've seen over the last half-century. Saturday's 55-14 loss to Florida would easily make the short list.

Just when you think a season that's gone horribly wrong can't get much worse, it does.

The three previous weekends, Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas-teams with a lot more talent than the Commodores-beat them with sheer talent. And without question, that was part of the problem against the Gators.

But this time, VU added its own startling cornucopia of mental and physical gaffes.

They happened from start to finish, and there are more of them than anyone could care to count. Or, at least, care to remember.

From a fake field goal that went awry, to a pair of blocked punts, an astonishing array of dropped kickoffs and passes, missed tackles, poorly-thrown passes, turnovers… you name it, and if it was bad, the 'Dores probably did it in the game that clinched the program's 27th losing season in the last 28 years.

And just when you thought Vandy's bad offense couldn't perform more poorly than it has, it did. The Commodores registered just 109 total yards, with about a quarter of that coming on a drive in the game's final two minutes.

"Rough day at the office," understated coach Robbie Caldwell afterward. "We got beat in every phase: offense, defense, special team, in every way."

Caldwell said in the post-game press conference that he should have had a premonition as to the type of day it would be when, because he'd left the lights on the night before, his truck wouldn't start for game-day trip to the stadium.

Insert your own punch line here. But other than Caldwell's usual assortment of folksy, self-deprecating post-game humor, there was nothing to smile about for Commodore Nation on Saturday in what was a mismatch from start to finish.

Florida's Chris Rainey set the tone early by blocking a punt early in the first quarter, giving the Gators the ball at the VU 3. Mike Gillislee scored from three yards out on an option pitch from two plays later for the game's first score.

Then came the Gators' 34-point, second-quarter explosion alone was enough to do Vandy in. The Gators had 198 yards of offense in that quarter alone, which wound up being 89 more than the Commodores put up the entire afternoon.

The period included two touchdown passes from John Brantley, another from Justin Reid, a 45-yard fumble return from Terron Sanders, and Solomon Patton's return of a blocked punt were the scoring plays in a period that, if you went to the restroom, you might well miss a couple of touchdowns.

UF might have added more, had coach Urban Meyer not elected to run reserve tailback Emmanuel Moody for four plays on its the last drive of the half, including one up-the-middle on a 4th-and-4 from the VU 17 in lieu of a field goal.

By the break, the Gators had out-gained VU, 249-65.

The Commodores finally got on the board four minutes into the second half, when Ryan van Rensburg blocked a punt, and Javon Marshall scooped it up and dove in the end zone from four yards.

It was the 'Dores first blocked punt for a score since 2000.

The joy was short-lived, as Gillislee broke a number of tackles and rumbled down the left sideline for a 43-yard touchdown run on the next drive.

A 6-yard touchdown run by Reed added to the carnage, putting UF up 55-7 with 3:47 left in the quarter.

For the few hundred Commodore fans who dared to stick around to the bitter end-and yes, I mean that literally-there was one more moment to cheer about at the end.
Jared Funk found Jordan Matthews in tight coverage in the end zone, and the true freshman made a remarkable, one-hand catch with 39 seconds left to finally give VU an offensive touchdown.

Even that was bittersweet for Commodore fans, who had to wonder where Matthews-who's clearly the most-talented wideout VU has-has been all year.

The only other time the VU offense got even remotely close to scoring came when VU failed to convert on a fake field goal, as kicker Ryan Fowler failed to connect on a pass deep in UF early in the first quarter.

It's clear that Commodore fans aren't buying what the team is selling at the moment. At kickoff, there were probably no more than 5,000 VU fans in the stands, and that number maybe--maybe--doubled by game's end.

Of those who didn't show, many were vocal on the message board towards a coaching staff that's not getting results. Much frustration is directed at Caldwell, but frankly, a lot of it should be directed at his predecessor, Bobby Johnson, for leaving Caldwell, who's tried everything under the sun, with a mess he can't seem to fix.

Unlike Johnson, Caldwell doesn't seem to have the gift for keeping things from getting out-of-hand: the 'Dores have now lost their last four games by a total of 133 points.

To make matters worse, Caldwell may now be without tailbacks Stacy and Wesley Tate in addition to losing Warren Norman the week before. That leaves him with just one true tailback in Kennard Reeves, though Caldwell said they may give Micah Powell and Eric Samuels a try there if needed.

Seemingly out of answers, Caldwell tried to find one more headed into next week's trip to Kentucky.

"We gotta find that burning desire to compete, and get ready to roll," he said.


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