QB Jay Cutler (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)

2003 Statistics

Coach: Bobby Johnson
4-20, 2 years
2002 Record: 2-10
at TCU LOST 14-30
at Mississippi State LOST 21-30
at South Carolina LOST 24-35
at Florida LOST 17-35
at Tennessee LOST 0-48

2003 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2004 Outlook

Late last season, the Vanderbilt players, coaches and fans got a taste of what could be. A 28-17 victory over league-foe Kentucky erased a horrid conference losing streak, caused celebration in the streets of Nashville and prompted actual optimism heading into 2004. With 21 returning starters, including the likes of Cutler, Geisinger and Haye, that sanguinity is warranted.

With an enrollment of just over 6,000 for the entire school, it is a miracle that these guys field a competitive team in a conference as strong as the SEC. They usually surprise a few, and with such experience, they have the wares to do so this year more than ever. This private research university will play tougher football than many are used to seeing, so don't go to sleep when they pop onto TV screens, or you may miss the glass slipper coming off.

Predicting a run at the conference championship would obviously be a little much, but the 'Dores do have enough talent, depth and experience to earn a winning season (and a possible bowl appearance). After winnable non-cons, early season clashes with South Carolina and Mississippi State will tell the tale. Simply put, it looks as if Vanderbilt will carry enough credence to be taken serious in the SEC. All things considered, that's a definite start.

Projected 2004 record: 5-6
LB Moses Osemwegie (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)
QB - 3.5 DL - 2.5
RB - 3 LB - 3
WR - 3 DB - 3
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Jay Cutler, 327-187-13, 2347 yds., 18 TD

Rushing: Norval McKenzie, 162 att., 639 yds., 5 TD

Receiving: Erik Davis, 41 rec., 638 yds., 8 TD

Scoring: Erik Davis, 8 TD, 48 pts.

Punting: none

Kicking: Patrick Johnson, 1-2 FG, 9-9 PAT, 12 pts.

Tackles: Moses Osemwegie, 102 tot., 58 solo

Sacks: Jovan Haye, 9 sacks

Interceptions: Dominique Morris, 3 for 54 yds., 1 TD

Kickoff returns: Kwane Doster, 26 ret., 21.8 avg., 0 TD

Punt returns: none


OFFENSE: Nick Getter-TE, Tom Sorensen-C, Tolga Erturgul-K
DEFENSE: Abtin Iranmanesh-P, Ronald Hatcher-PR

Junior Jay Cutler is the most underrated quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. Though he doesn't receive as much hype as counterparts David Greene and Chris Leak, Cutler had more touchdown passes in 2003 than either. While he plays a bit unrefined at times, his spontaneity and aggressiveness makes him special. His dual-threat ability also makes him tough to predict, and therefore defend. In addition to being a fine athlete, Cutler is a field general with a commanding presence. He has the talent to truly lead Vanderbilt up the conference standings. Reserve Steven Bright played sparingly as a freshman but will have to fend off newcomer Chris Nickson, the state of Alabama's reining "Mr. Football". This all bodes well for Vandy.

Running Back
The Commodores have two viable options at tailback. Former SEC Rookie of the Year Kwane Doster and leading rusher Norval McKenzie both return. Doster is arguably the more talented of the two, but his production slipped as a sophomore. That slump allowed McKenzie a chance to showcase his talents. The now-senior responded well. He does not have the playmaking skills of Doster. McKenzie will begin as the starter, but if Doster is motivated, look for the job to be his once again before October. Fullback Matthew Tant is an oft-utilized force in short-yardage/goal-line situations, both when being thrown to and handed off.

Junior Erik Davis has firmly established himself as one of the lead targets in the SEC. He has prototypical size and is the leader of a deep and talented Vanderbilt rotation. By stretching the field, Davis will allow his peers to thrive in the intermediate passing game. In addition to being Cutler's favorite deep threat, Davis has also become his favorite option in the red zone. Senior Brandon Smith is a viable compliment. He is more of a possession-type receiver who thrives on productivity and efficiency. Big man Marlon White is an imposing third option who is a matchup problem for any corner in the league. Vanderbilt's crop of receivers, though, isn't comparable to others in the conference. But since they return most all of last year's set to go with the same QB, mediocre will get better - how much better will go a long way towards the team's overall success.

True freshman tight end Brad Allen is highly-touted, and should see playing time early. Junior Dustin Dunning is the starter, but hasn't proven to be a ball-hawk by any stretch. This dimension is vital for the entire receiving threat to be legitimized.

Offensive Line
Following a season of inconsistency and inexperience, the offensive front has to be rugged and reliable. All five returning to open have spent time starting. Senior tackle Justin Geisinger, a pre-season all-American by some, is the blindside insurance many QBs wish they had. He and Cutler work well together, as evidenced by the Vol's low sacks-allowed total. Sophomore Steven Brent is an undersized, but feisty, center. It was nice that they spent so much energy protecting Cutler, but averaging fewer than four per carry makes their work cut out for them. Cutler and the WRs need a running game to set them off.

Just in case you missed the point, Cutler is Vanderbilt's offensive catalyst. The offense will go as far as he can take it. He has to get help from the line's ability to go helmet-to-helmet with the SEC's best and open running holes. Hopes are that Doster, who was a versatile force as a freshman, will return to form, allowing the offense to be more open and unpredictable. Historically speaking, the Vanderbilt offense has lacked firepower (ranked 78th in total offense). But their sudden spark won't be a surprise anymore, so we will see how this unit responds with opponent's levels turned up. With so many players from before, they will still achieve as expected.


OT Justin Geisinger (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)


Returning Starters in bold
QB Jay Cutler-Jr (6-4, 222) Steven Bright-So (6-3, 230)
FB Matthew Tant-Jr (5-11, 236) Clark Lea-Sr (6-0, 240)
TB Norval McKenzie-Sr (5-11, 210) Kwane Doster-Jr (5-11, 190)
WR Brandon Smith-Sr (6-1, 185) Marlon White-So (6-4, 205)
WR Erik Davis-Jr (6-2, 185) Chris Young-Sr (6-2, 190)
TE Dustin Dunning-Jr (6-5, 245) Jonathan Loyte-So (6-4, 255)
OT Justin Geisinger-Sr (6-4, 330) Ryan King-Jr (6-7, 310)
OG Brian Kovolisky-Sr (6-7, 292) Merritt Kirchnoffer-Fr (6-5, 315)
C Steven Brent-Jr (6-3, 282) Adam Dossett-So (6-3, 290)
OG Mac Pyle-Jr (6-4, 312) Josh Eames-Fr (6-5, 300)
OT Brian Stamper-So (6-5, 295) Kenan Arkan-Jr (6-7, 300)
K Patrick Johnson-So (5-11, 180) Nathan True-Daniels-Jr (6-2, 198)



Defensive Line
Few adjectives better describe end Jovan Haye than disruptive. The senior thrives at creating chaos and is one of the better defensive playmakers in the conference. Haye doesn't have enough pure speed to rush the passer; he relies on innovation and desire instead. He is an accomplished run defender as well as being a sack threat needing double-teaming. The rest of the line is somewhat mundane. Senior tackle Robert Dinwiddie has been hindered by injuries, while the other ends have not shown any consistent ability to rush the passer. In a move to try all options, sophomore Ray Brown is the other inside starter, a status he earned through his intuitive spring performance. This was a poor run-stopping unit last year, and with all starters somewhere on the depth chart, there is no one to blame when they don't get it right.

Towards the end of '03, the group began to play as a unit, and with all three starters returning, that progressive success will carry over. Junior Moses Osemgewe is the unquestioned leader. He is a relentless, keenly aware defender with a knack for contact and collision. He showed the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage as a sophomore as he collected 10.5 sacks from his outside linebacker spot. Oft-injured Otis Washington is a fireplug at middle linebacker. He can be a force in run defense, but he lacks in coverage, the cause when he is replaced by redshirt freshman Jonathan Goff. Herdley Harrison mans the other outside position and is somewhat anti-climatic compared to his unit peers. Early in the year, especially, this group was demoralized at times. They must get tougher for the Commodores to improve.

Defensive Back
With four returning starters and a budding star in junior Kelechi Ohanaja, Vanderbilt will now boast one of the top backfields in the conference. Ohanaja is a complete player at free safety. His skills allow sturdy strong safety Andrew Pace to thrive. The corners are led by junior Dominique Morris, and with all their corners standing at 5'11'' or taller, they have enough size to play with anyone. Nickel Bill Alford is the group's speedster. With increased experience and rising confidence, their 15 INTs from '03 should only increase.

Vanderbilt needs more consistency from their front seven. Haye is genuinely all-American at defensive end, and Osemgewe is strong, but the supporting cast will struggle to step up. Opponents have run on the Commodores almost at will, a symptom sure to tell the tale of this entire defense once repeated. The defensive line and linebackers play with little continuity, which won't allow the coaching staff to be more flexible and more aggressive with their defensive schemes. There is viable talent in the secondary, but only potential up front. For Vanderbilt to escape the cellar, it must come to fruition.


DE Jovan Haye (PHOTO CREDIT: Vanderbilt Athletics)


Returning Starters in bold
DE Jovan Haye-Jr (6-3, 280) Richard Freeman-So (6-5, 245)
DT Robert Dinwiddie-Sr (6-5, 286) Ralph McKenzie-Jr (6-4, 310)
DT Ray Brown-So (6-2, 296) Matt Clay-Sr (6-2, 302)
DE Aaron Carter-Sr (6-3, 278) Chris Booker-Jr (6-4, 245)
SLB Herdley Harrison-Jr (6-2, 236) Curtis Gatewood-Fr (6-3, 220)
MLB Otis Washington-Jr (5-11, 242) Jonathan Goff-Fr (6-4, 230
WLB Moses Osemwegie-Jr (6-0, 220) Kevin Joyce-So (6-3, 212)
CB Dominique Morris-Jr (6-1, 195) Cheron Thompson-Jr (5-10, 188)
CB Bill Alford-Sr (5-9, 180) Lorenzo Parker-Sr (5-11, 190)
SS Andrew Pace-Jr (6-0, 200) Ben Koger-Jr (6-1, 202)
FS Kelechi Ohanaja-Jr (6-1, 200) Ronnie Swoopes-Jr (6-2, 200)
P Kyle Keown-Fr (6-0, 185) ..




These areas could be the ultimate downfall of the team. There are major questions at both kicker and punter, with few answers in sight. Vanderbilt earned the distinction of being the worst kicking team in the league last season, making only six field goals at a 50% rate. Sophomore Patrick Johnson will be given a chance, and he can only help their two blocked tries and the team's longest of 38-yards improve. Punter Kyle Keown has done well in practice but has never kicked in a game. The return game isn't exciting, although Erik Davis and Kwane Doster both have enough speed to be potent. The volatile nature of these unknowns makes prognosticating difficult. But, again, special teams could make or break their season.