Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vanderbilt Losing, but Not Quitting; Gators Face Commodores Program That Has Lost 22 Consecutive Southeastern Conference Games

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vanderbilt Losing, but Not Quitting; Gators Face Commodores Program That Has Lost 22 Consecutive Southeastern Conference Games

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael DiRocco, The Times-Union

GAINESVILLE -- It has seldom been easy for Vanderbilt to win football games, and 2003 is no exception.

The Commodores have had just four winning seasons since 1959, the last one coming in 1982, and have won more than three games only once (1999) in the last nine seasons. They're are 1-8 and 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference heading into today's game against No. 17 Florida at Florida Field.

If Vanderbilt does not beat Florida -- the Commodores are 24-point underdogs and have not won in Gainesville since the first game of the series in 1945 -- it will be the school's 23rd consecutive SEC loss, a streak that's the third longest in league history.

Yet, despite the dubiousness of that losing streak and the agonies of yet another losing season, coach Bobby Johnson has seen no signs of quit in his young team.

"I am impressed and proud of the way our guys work every week," said Johnson, who's in his second year at the school after eight years of success at Furman. "We don't talk much about our streak in the SEC. We know that the SEC is a great conference . . . and there's no dishonor in losing to an SEC team. We knew we were behind most teams in the league and we had a lot of work to do to catch up to them.

"It weighs on me. It weighs on the players. But you only have two alternatives. One is to give up and one is to go forward, and so far we've chosen to go forward."

That's what Johnson is taking from this season. Despite a long list of reasons to give up, the Commodores have refused to. That kind of commitment, especially from a team that has no senior starters and only three on the two-deep depth chart, is a solid foundation for the future, Johnson said.

It has not been easy, though. The Commodores opened the season by losing 24-21 to Ole Miss when kicker Jonathan Nichols made a 54-yard field goal with 32 seconds to play, and then routed Chattanooga 51-6.

Optimism was high, especially with struggling 0-2 Auburn coming to Nashville. Maybe a .500 record wasn't out of the question.

The Commodores haven't won since.

"It's definitely tough," sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler said. …

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