JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt takes Tiger by the tail - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt takes Tiger by the tail

Posted: Updated: Oct 20, 2012 7:29 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

As Vanderbilt teammates were giving the freshly minted career rushing leader Zac Stacy off the field, he ducked just in time to avoid hitting his head on a concrete overhang leading into an end zone tunnel.

Instead of Stacy seeing stars, it was Auburn that was knocked out by a Vanderbilt football team that is learning how to finish close games.

 Vanderbilt football coaches in the modern era have tried to coax their teams over the hump in games such as this one in which they match up with their opponents.

A few have had success in small doses, but never reached a point where they could slam the door on teams and race across the finish line game after game.

Second-year coach James Franklin might be on to something. It's certainly too early to induct him into the coaches' hall of fame, but his program is taking necessary steps to winning with confidence while putting losing tough losses behind them.

On the other hand, this is a 1-6 Auburn team that has gotten off to the worst start since 1952 when the late Ralph "Shug'' Jordan's team started 1-7 and finished 2-8. But while Vanderbilt has found ways to lose to lesser opponents, these West End warriors are serving notice they are like a pit bull that locks onto your leg and won't let go.

Saturday before 40,350 eyewitnesses, Vanderbilt jumped in front of Auburn and hung on to a 17-13 win that marked its second win inside the SEC.

In the process they could have driven the final nail in Auburn Coach Gene Chizik's coaching coffin. Auburn's woeful start has the Tiger faithful in a firing frenzy.

Chizik is only two years removed from delivering a BCS National Championship to The Lovliest Village on the Plains. That was in large part to the play of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and the offensive schemes of Gus Malzahn and both have moved on.

But this day belonged to Vanderbilt. It was a feel good Fall day where Vanderbilt's defense was called on to preserve the win.

"I think you make progress when you don't play your best football and still beat an SEC opponent,'' Franklin said.

"I don't think we have a belief issue,'' he added. "Our kids need to learn how to finish and win tough games. … It's why we have to keep winning.''

Winning is just as contagious as losing. The more you win, the more confidant you are when the pressure is on.

When Auburn would threaten to go ahead, Vanderbilt's defensive players held the rope. This was an Auburn team that has now been outscored 62-6 in the fourth quarter.

"That is a testament to where this program is going,'' said Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers. "A couple of years ago, maybe even last year if we don't play our best game, we didn't have a shot. … "We've got some stuff to fix, but we're definitely moving in the right direction.''

Vanderbilt didn't play the perfect game by any stretch.

It had a fourth down fake punt that looked as if someone had found a discarded fake punt play in a closet from former coach Woody Widenhofer's days.

It imploded far short of a first down, but as they did a number of times against Auburn, Vanderbilt was good enough to overcome mistakes.

That puts two SEC pelts on the board – Missouri and Auburn – and both games were eerily similar in that Vanderbilt found ways to win, not lose.

Vanderbilt's schedule now levels out, with home games against Massachusetts, Tennessee and Wake Forest to go with trips to Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Franklin preaches one game at a time, but reality tells you they are likely to be in every game the rest of the way.

And that's what they are playing for.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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