NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt has been waiting a year for another chance at LSU.
The Commodores trailed 16-9 at Tiger Stadium with 1:35 left in the third quarter last season, but their drive stalled at the LSU 23 when a bobbled ball was picked off. The Tigers held on to win, 23-9.
New Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell remembers it well, even though he was overseeing the offensive line in that game. Running back Zac Stacy, a freshman a year ago, feels the Commodores should have left LSU with a victory.
"We all know what LSU's all about. They're also beatable," he said. "We've just got to come in with a mentality of trying to dominate them as much as we can, and I think we'll be fine."
The Commodores (0-1) get their next shot Saturday night against the 19th-ranked Tigers (1-0) in the SEC opener for both teams. Vanderbilt is trying to win its third conference opener in five years, but history isn't in their favor, just like in its other series in this league.
The Tigers have won six straight against Vanderbilt and 10 of the last 11. The last five games have been especially dismal for the Commodores -- they've scored 28 combined points.
Vanderbilt wants to get back to 2008, when the Commodores knocked off some Top 25 opponents and won a bowl game, rather than the injury-ravaged squad that limped to a 2-10 finish last season after that loss in Tiger Stadium. They have lost nine straight with an opening 23-21 loss to Northwestern, another game they feel they should have won if not for a bad call late.
With Larry Smith looking more comfortable at quarterback, they rolled up 432 yards total offense. LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said the Tigers must improve on their pass coverage.
"From what I remember last year, Vanderbilt was more of a spread team. We had a lot of young guys playing on defense," he said. "The effort was there. It's just a matter of those young guys getting acclimated to the players around you. We controlled the line of scrimmage. The only thing we did poorly was give up a couple of long pass plays."
LSU coach Les Miles is focused on his own team after the Tigers had five turnovers in their 30-24 win over then-No. 18 North Carolina in the Georgia Dome. That helped turn a 30-10 lead into a 30-24 squeaker with the Tigers batting down passes in the end zone as time expired. He even pitted his first-team units against each other a bit in practice this week.
His message to his Tigers? Finish.
"When having the opportunity to be ahead in a game as we did against North Carolina, we'd like to finish and make sure we take the opportunity to take victory away from our opponent and finish the game," Miles said. "So we're really working on ourselves as well as a very, very quality opponent in Vanderbilt."
LSU's biggest weapon aside from quarterback Jordan Jefferson or receiver Russell Shepard is cornerback and returner Patrick Peterson. He set a school record with 257 yards on returns, and Miles said they have thought about using him on offense as long as he doesn't cramp up like he did against North Carolina.
"He's a guy you don't want to kick to that's for sure," Caldwell said.
The Commodores may try to counter with their own returning sensation. Warren Norman, the SEC freshman of the year who returned three kicks for touchdowns last year, is a week healthier from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and should play more. They also have Eric Samuels who averaged 34 yards on kickoff returns himself in the opener.
This is the first time since 1995 that LSU has opened the season with its first two games on the road. That's a lot of travel for a young team with eight first-time starters and a total of 18 making their debuts a week ago. Vandy is just as young with 19 Commodores playing in their first college game.
That might be why both teams struggled with penalties. LSU had eight for 65 against North Carolina, while Vanderbilt had nine for 91.
Miles thinks his Tigers realize how their careless mistakes kept them from putting away their first win.
"It's very evident in how ... we're approaching this game that there is a reminder that was a very, very difficult victory a week ago when it should have been taken out of their hands or the opponents' hands by us," he said.
Caldwell is confident his young Commodores will learn from their mistakes, too.
"I see the glass half full rather than half empty," Caldwell said. "We're going to get out after it and let the chips fall where they may."