Coach Derek Mason and his coaches believed all along. Through the tough losses in the SEC to South Carolina, 13-10, in the home opener, the 13-6 loss to Florida at home and the road loss to Kentucky, 20-13, where we played some good football, but just came up on the short end of those games.
But Coach Mason, the coaches and the players kept believing things were going to change and put in their best practice week of the season leading up to the Georgia game last Saturday. And this time the Vanderbilt Commodores were not going to be denied, particularly linebacker Zach Cunningham. Zach, the redshirt junior from Pinson, Alabama, posted 19 tackles against the Georgia Bulldogs and made the game saving tackle on fourth and one when Georgia handed the ball off to the swift as a deer Isiah McKenzie on a jet sweep. Some people questioned why Georgia didn't call Nick Chubb or Sony Michel's number on the play, and that's fair, but it didn't matter to Commodore nation. McKenzie was churning around the right side of the line and he looked like he was going to get the first down when Zach came out of nowhere and knocked him on his backside short of the first down marker securing the massive victory for the Dores.
Zach, along with an unbelievable effort from safety Ryan White and the rest of the defense, and an offense that got the job done led Coach Mason to his first road victory in the SEC. It was hard fought and well earned by Coach Mason and his troops. So proud of them and for them. This was a game changer for Vanderbilt football.
Ryan added 12 tackles, cornerback Torren McGaster posted 9, Ja'karri Thomas, who's done a super job at linebacker in place of the injured Nigel Bowden, had 8 and safety LaDarius Wiley added 7. LaDarius had one of the plays of the game with a huge zero blitz sack on Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason. It was a perfectly timed defensive call by Coach Mason, who doesn't blitz a ton, but employed this call perfectly where Wiley, a safety, blitzed right through the middle and dropped Eason for a huge loss on third down and left Georgia out of field goal range. The Dawgs were on our 24 and LaDarius sacked Eason for an 11 yard loss, and put the Dawgs, who don't have a super field goal kicker, out of his range. That was during the third quarter and we ended the quarter with Georgia in front, 13-10. But that was a huge stop for our team. They had scored on an Eason to another super Georgia freshman, tight end Isaac Nauta, for 17 yards early in the third period.
But in the fourth quarter with 13 minutes left, we started our own drive. Kyle Shurmur hooked up with super freshman Kalija Lipscomb for 27 yards to get the ball to the UGA 46. Then on 3rd and 12 at the UGA 48, Coach Andy Ludwig may have dialed up his best play call of the season. With Georgia bringing a ton of heat on Kyle, he dropped a screen pass to Ralph past the rushing defenders. Ralph caught it and dashed 37 yards to the UGA 11. Three plays later, Khari Blasingame took it in from 2 yards after bulling over the Dawgs on a couple of runs before the TD. We went up 17-16 and Zach and the defense's heroics secured the victory to move us to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. And one thing I forgot to mention, and it was on the opening play of the game, Darrius Sims fielded the opening kickoff and returned it 95 yards to the Georgia four. Ralph took it in two plays later to give us a 7-0 lead which was huge. Getting out of the blocks for our guys was a major deal. Then we knew we could win this football game. Darrius also had a beautiful 18 yard run on a jet sweep later in the game. Would love to see D Sims keep getting involved in the offense, and of course, on special teams. He's an explosive play waiting to happen every time he touches the football.
I want to personally apologize to Coach Mason and the players for picking against them at Georgia. I was wrong. I've just decided from now on that on my all sports blog I am going to refrain from picking VU games. I have too much of a vested interest in the program and I'm too dedicated to Coach Mason and our team to pick against us. That won't happen again.
Zach was named the Walter Camp National Player of the week for his performance Saturday. That's huge. Through 7 games, Z leads the SEC and is fourth nationally with 81 tackles. He also is tops in the conference and third nationally with 13 tackles for loss. His 19 tackles were the most by a Commodore since October 23, 1999 when former stud linebacker Jamie Winborn posted 20 against South Carolina in a VU victory. Winborn went on to being named an All American as he finished the season with 141 tackles. Zach could very well be on that pace. Zach is a superb football player. We have a ton of stellar players on our defense. Zach is an All American and a first round draft pick when he decides to go out, hopefully in 2018. But if he's ready, 2017. Zach and Darrius were also selected as SEC players of the week. Zach, of course, on defense, and Darrius on special teams.
Love this defense Coach Mason has put together. If we can get a little more pass rush from our front four, we could win quite a few more football games. We'll also need continued improvement from our offense. But Kyle, Ralph, Khari, the o line, Kalija and the receiving corps got the job done when they needed to. And we're going to keep getting better on that side of the ball.
We're now at 3-4 and have Tennessee State this weekend. They are 5-2. They have a good running, passing quarterback and some good receivers and some playmakers in their secondary. They'll be charged up to beat us, so we HAVE to be ready to play football Saturday at 6:30 PM on ESPNU. We need a good week of practice. We have some huge SEC games after that. After a bye on Saturday, Oct. 29th, we are @Auburn, 11-5, @ Missouri, 11-12, and home vs. Ole Miss, 11-19, and home vs. the Tennessee Vols on Nov. 26th. So a lot of work ahead. Like the direction we're headed though.
We did pick up a nice recruit from Florida in 6'3", 200 pound wide receiver James Bostic. James is our 11th pickup. Like James' size and he's supposed to be a really good player, so pumped for that.
Casey Hayward had a super night for the San Diego Chargers in a Chargers 21-13 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos last Thursday Night. Casey, a cornerback for the Lightning Bolts, finished the night with 6 tackles. Casey's found a home in San Diego. He is second on the team in tackles with 29 and leads the team in interceptions with 3. Casey's been super for the Chargers, who have a good team and look to be getting it together after their home victory over the Broncos. The Chargers moved to 2-4.
Andre Hal had a stellar game for the Houston Texans in a 26-23 overtime victory Sunday Night over Andrew Luck and the Indy Colts. Andre had four tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss from his safety position. Andre has posted 18 tackles and 1 int this season. He's such a solid player on a good football team that moved to 4-2 with their victory Sunday Night.
Jordan Matthews caught 3 passes for 74 yards including a 54 yarder in the Eagles' 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins Sunday on the road. The Eagles dropped to 3-2 on the season. JMatt leads the team with 22 receptions for 344 yards and two, 7's. JMatt is being the super player he is once again. Nobody works harder than JMatt. The Eagles started off fast, but have slowed down some. Like rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and JMatt working together though. The Eagles look like a playoff team.
I didn't get a chance to watch Monday Night football, but there was a chance that Wesley Johnson started at center for the New York Jets. They lost 28-3 to the Arizona Cardinals. Will check out the game today and let you know if Wes had any reps. Watched the Jets game last night. Wes didn't start. The starter. Nick Mangold played. He's really good, but Wes should get a shot. Mangold has been hurt some this season.
Jay Cutler has been out four weeks with a sprained thumb. He just can't get a break in Chicago. Hopefully, he'll be back Thursday for the Bears matchup @ the Packers. The Bears brass and fans are particularly hard on Jay. It hurts to hear the criticism of him. He's still a high quality quarterback and needs to be somewhere where he is appreciated. If not Chicago, somewhere else. He's a high caliber player and a high quality person.
If I didn't write this before on this blog, Brandt was superb at the Ryder Cup going 3-0-0. Brandt's performance was spectacular in that epic USA victory over the Europeans at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota.
Jon Curran and Luke List had outstanding tournaments over the weekend at the Safeway Open in Napa, California. Jon and Luke both finished -9 for the tournament, in a tie for 26th place, as the winner was Brendan Steele at -18. Jon is playing this week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Luke will be back in action in the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi. That tourney will be held Oct. 27th-30th.
Not sure when Brandt is coming back, but possibly the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, Oct. 27th-30th. Still see major/majors in B. Would love to see JC and Luke get victories this year and get in the mix for majors.
****I have linked this vucommodores.com site link with Joe Fisher's calls of the key plays in the game. Just go to below all the players' interviews and listen to Joe's electric calls of the game. Joe, the voice of the Commodores, is the best in the business.