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Every time I see SEC commissioner Mike Slive at big games, he tells me the same thing, he’s not rooting for either team, he’s just rooting for the officials.
On Thursday night en route to a South Carolina 17-13 victory, Slive’s team lost.
SEC officials missed a crucial and clear pass interference call that would have given Vanderbilt a first down at the South Carolina 47. Would the Commodores have scored a touchdown to win? Maybe not, but we’ll never know.
Instead fans left fuming over the latest, greatest near miss Vanderbilt Commodore upset victory.
For his part, Vandy receiver Jordan Matthews, who produced a game high eight catches for 147 yards, dodged the controversy. “I’m not going to comment on any calls…I’ve got to get more open.”
James Franklin was less direct, but more effective, in his criticism, “You did know the SEC just came out with very clear rules about talking about the officials and what happens after games. Trying to get me fined?”
Yeah, that’s pretty clear pass interference.
In the immediate aftermath of the game I conducted an admittedly unscientific Twitter poll. For the first time I’ve ever asked anything on Twitter, 100% of the hundreds of respondents agreed. The call was blown.
So add another one to the Vanderbilt tally, a potential loss snatched from the jaws of victory.
In the coming days the SEC will acknowledge the error with a phone call and a letter to the university and Vanderbilt will continue yet another season, their 38th in a row, without a top ten home win. Way back in October 1974 an overly confident Florida Gator team rolled in to Vanderbilt and left with a loss. For nearly two generations nothing has changed. Vanderbilt’s home football stadium has remained a Bermuda Triangle of football failure. Where perfect football gameplans inexplicably failed, where once promising football coaching careers gave up the ghost, where would-be touchdown passes became interceptions.
Where the goalposts, come foe after foe, season after season, remained indomitable and unchallenged for much of two generations.
Where clear pass interference calls were missed and upset bids came to a screeching halt.
Come hell, Vandy lost, come high water, Vandy lost. Come virtually any scenario under the sun, moon or stars, Vandy lost.
Tonight a wildly ecstatic crowd that has bought in to James Franklin’s optimistic vision wanted to serve notice that a past of football failure isn’t necessarily prologue. That things can change.
But not tonight.
Not with that call.
It’s a shame really, because Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore should have been the story. Both men gutted out a win for the Gamecocks on a night when nothing else worked offensively. Shaw, in particular, kept climbing back up, trudging to the huddle, and making plays for the Gamecocks. If he doesn’t play in the second half, the Gamecocks lose this game. Time after time Shaw took vicious hit after vicious hit from the Commodore defense and refused to stay down. The Gamecocks didn’t look like a national title contender tonight — for a time it looked like my national title pick would go down earlier than any national title pick in college football history — but they did prove they have guts, tenacity and the wherewithal to win on the road in the SEC.
This isn’t your momma and daddy’s Vandy, even if the results are still the same.
Tonight Steve Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun offense was a distant memory.
This was plodding, ponderous football, the kind of three yards and a cloud of dust football that Steve Spurrier came to the Southeastern Conference to change. For Spurrier and the Cocks — who posted just 67 passing yards — tonight they’ll party like it’s 1989, the year before the visored one’s reign began in Florida.
And for Vanderbilt football fans it’s time to swallow the bitter pill, once more, of a loss that hung so tantalizingly close to one of the biggest wins in school history.
The Commodores have thrown the anchor down, next time they just need to make sure an official doesn’t move it.