The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Vanderbilt Commodores are coming off a highly-disappointing week-one loss, and they will open SEC play on Saturday against the 19th-ranked LSU Tigers, who are fresh off a drama-filled victory.
LSU took on fellow ranked foe North Carolina in Atlanta to open the season, and while the Tar Heels were missing several key players who are under investigation by the NCAA, the game lived up to its billing as a gem. The Tigers opened up a 20-point lead in that clash but held on for a 30-24 victory, as a UNC pass was broken up in the end zone as time expired.
"We had the opportunity to win a game in a very convincing style and our football team wasn't good enough to do that," said LSU coach Les Miles after the tilt.
Miles carried a 51-15 record through five seasons at LSU into this campaign, and while his team did post nine victories last season, losses to the top teams on the schedule left many wondering if the program had fallen back to the pack, and is no longer worthy of being considered elite.
As for Vanderbilt, it certainly fought hard in front of the home crowd last weekend, but the result of the opener against Northwestern was a heart- breaking 23-21 setback. That loss spoiled the debut of new head coach Robbie Caldwell, who has taken over the reigns of the program from the retired Bobby Johnson. Caldwell inherits the leadership of a program that won just two games last season, but he doesn't seem discouraged by the opening loss.
"I'm very proud of the effort overall," said coach Caldwell after the tilt. "We could have gotten down but we played a very good football game and I'm very excited that we came back and had a chance to win it."
LSU owns a 21-7-1 series advantage over Vanderbilt, including victories in six straight meetings between the programs.
In the first half against UNC, the LSU offense was impressive, and Jordan Jefferson seemed to have complete command under center. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they failed to score a single point over the final 30 minutes. Jefferson finished 15-of-21 for 151 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. Steven Ridley posted 81 rushing yards, while Rueben Randle paced the receivers with 71 yards on four catches, including one touchdown.
LSU only had possession of the ball for 25:25 and recorded 313 total yards, numbers that fall short of expectations considering the amount of talent missing from the UNC defense in that game. The Tigers lost four fumbles in the tilt, and that was simply unacceptable.
Defensively, LSU surrendered 436 total yards to North Carolina, almost all of which came through the air. The Tigers yielded a mere 24 rushing yards on 33 attempts, and it certainly helped matters that their four sacks totaled 46 yards in losses. There is significant room for improvement in the secondary, as UNC completed 28-of-46 tosses for 412 yards without an interception.
The star of the game for LSU was returner Patrick Peterson, who ripped off a school-record 257 return yards, including an 87-yard touchdown. Patterson, a cornerback, earned high praise from Miles.
"I don't know the validity of making a guy a Heisman trophy candidate," said the coach. "I would say that he had the kind of night tonight on a national level that would be put in him line for any national award including the very highest."
Vanderbilt posted 432 total yards against Northwestern last week and established solid offensive balance. The team gained 192 rushing yards at a clip of 5.1 yards per attempt and had two scores on the ground. The passing game netted 240 yards on 12.6 yards per completion with a touchdown and an interception.
Larry Smith was the man under center, and he completed 19-of-33 passes while also rushing for 48 yards. Zac Stacy ran for 69 yards and a score, while fellow tailback Warren Norman posted 46 yards and a touchdown.
"It's always disappointing especially that first loss, but like I keep saying we can't dwell on this loss. We fought hard as a team and we just need to bounce back and get ready as a team for our next big opponent, LSU."
Defensively, the Commodores allowed three touchdowns to Northwestern, one more than they could afford to surrender. The Wildcats were able to post 143 rushing yards, but it took 46 attempts to reach that mark, so Vandy can take pride in the fact that it yielded just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. The secondary struggled, as Northwestern was able to complete 19-of-21 passes for 222 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sean Richardson came up with 2.5 TFLs to lead the Commodores, and he posted eight tackles in all. Chris Marve and Jay Fullam tied for the team lead with 12 stops apiece.
Once again, Vanderbilt will play hard at home without reward, as LSU is the better team in this matchup. Jefferson needs to be more consistent if LSU has any chance of challenging for the SEC title.