NCF Nation: Ryan Hamilton
|Charles Small/US Presswire|
|The Commodores defense, led by cornerback D.J. Moore, are second in the country to North Carolina with 11 interceptions.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's not in Bobby Johnson's makeup to come out and say it, but he doesn't really need to.
Turn on the tape. Look at the numbers. Talk to other coaches and check with the NFL scouts.
Vanderbilt's secondary is playing as well as any in the SEC right now and rates favorably with any defensive backfield in the country.
"We know each other pretty well and play together pretty well ... and we're pretty good," said junior cornerback D.J. Moore, a first-team All-SEC selection a year ago. "With the way our defensive line and linebackers are getting up the field and pressuring the quarterback, it just opens up a lot more big plays for us."
The Commodores are second in the country to North Carolina with 11 interceptions. All four starters have at least two picks, and junior safety Ryan Hamilton is tied for the SEC lead with three.
All four starters in the secondary are also among the top six tacklers on the team.
Johnson admitted back in August that he had a lot of confidence in this secondary, and that confidence has been on display during the Commodores' 5-0 start.
Moore said they're playing more man coverage than they ever did last season. Also, the Commodores haven't held back in going after the opposing quarterback. They lead the SEC and are tied for sixth nationally with 16 sacks.
"When you have defensive backs who can guard people, you can call any defense you want to," said Moore, who also leads the country in punt return average (28.5 yards per game) and is one of the most exciting multipurpose players in college football.
Teams haven't been able to throw away from Moore, either. On the other side at cornerback is junior Myron Lewis, who has equally good cover skills. Lewis' interception down the sideline sealed the 14-13 win over Auburn last Saturday.
"We love going after the quarterback. That's what we do," said Lewis, who already has three sacks and is a blur on the corner blitz. "If we don't get there, we feel like we're good enough in the secondary to cover. We have faith in each other."
The glue in the Commodores' secondary is senior safety Reshard Langford, another guy with NFL potential who hits like a linebacker.
"We like our secondary," Johnson said. "We've got experience back there, and we can do a lot of things with them. We felt like we were pretty good back there last year."
Vanderbilt secondary coach Jamie Bryant has been able to take that unit to an even higher level this year.
Langford thinks their best is yet to come, and it may have to be when you consider some of the offenses (Florida and Georgia) the Commodores still have to face.
"We have confidence we can play with anybody, and that's the way we're playing," Langford said. "I know there are still some doubters out there, but we're not going anywhere."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Vanderbilt junior safety Ryan Hamilton can do the math. After all, he is going to school at Vanderbilt.
The Commodores have lost 21 games since he arrived on campus in 2005. They've lost 11 of those games by a touchdown or less. During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, they lost four games by three points or fewer, and three of those games were decided in the final seconds by kickers.
"We just couldn't close out games," Hamilton said.
Notice he used the past tense. Again, he's a Vanderbilt guy. He knows the difference between past and present tense.
And the present is all that matters to these Commodores, who're unbeaten, nationally ranked for the first time in nearly a quarter century and bracing for their most anticipated home game since ...
Well, let's just say it's been a while.
How are they doing it?
Fittingly, with smarts, discipline, an opportunistic approach and an attitude that screams out: We could care less what's happened around here in the past.
"We're still a pretty young team," said Hamilton, who had three interceptions in the Ole Miss win. "A lot of the guys here now weren't around for all those games we couldn't close out. This is a new team, a new Vanderbilt. We don't lose those games anymore."
Indeed, the No. 19-ranked Commodores (4-0, 2-0 SEC) head into their game with No. 14-ranked Auburn on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium -- complete with ESPN's College GameDay on hand -- doing all of the things right that it takes to win those close games. Both of their SEC wins came by a touchdown or less.
Here's their formula: They're tied for first nationally in fewest penalties per game (2.75) and interceptions (10). They lead the SEC in turnover margin (plus-9) and sacks per game (2.75). They're tied for the SEC lead with Georgia in red zone offense (scoring on 16 of their 17 chances) and are second in the SEC in red zone defense (allowing only four touchdowns in 11 chances).
In both of their SEC wins, they either scored a touchdown on defense or set up a touchdown with a big play on special teams.
Simply, this is a well-coached, fundamentally sound football team that believes. And don't think the Commodores don't have talent, either. Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has upgraded the recruiting, and there's a higher caliber of athlete on campus now than ever before.
Time to dole out the helmet stickers in the SEC. There were some tough decisions, too, because there were so many outstanding performances this week. Before we get into the individual accolades, how about a shout-out to the unbeaten Vanderbilt Commodores. Bobby Johnson's bunch rallied from a 10-point deficit at the half to win 23-17 at Ole Miss and become the only SEC team with two league wins:
Jarrett Lee, QB, LSU: What a comeback for the redshirt freshman in the second half. He missed his first five passes in the first half, including a horrific interception that was returned for a touchdown by Auburn. But when Andrew Hatch was knocked out of the game in the third quarter, Lee came storming back like a seasoned pro and threw two clutch touchdown passes to rally LSU to a huge 26-21 road win. His 18-yard scoring toss to Brandon LaFell with 1:08 left was the game-winner. He was 4-of-4 on that final drive.
Ryan Hamilton, S, Vanderbilt: It's been a different player every week stepping up for Vanderbilt's defense. Hamilton was the guy Saturday. The junior safety tied a school record with three interceptions, returning one of those 79 yards for a touchdown, as Vanderbilt held off Ole Miss 23-17 to remain unbeaten. Hamilton also recovered a fumbled punt, one of six turnovers collected by the Commodores.
Alabama's offensive line: The Crimson Tide were back to full strength in the offensive line against Arkansas, and that was bad news for the Hogs. Alabama rolled up 328 yards rushing and averaged 9.4 yards per rush. Running back Glen Coffee had 162 of those yards. In its first four games, Alabama has rushed for 947 yards compared to its opponents only 220 yards.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: The Georgia coaches promised more of Green, and he was glad to oblige. The talented freshman had a breakout game with 159 yards on eight catches. He dominated the first half with seven catches for 150 yards and had a hand in all three touchdown drives. He caught the final touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to give Georgia a 21-3 lead. It's safe to say that the Bulldogs have found their go-to guy.