Gritty Commodores prepare for UF
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin finally has notched his first road win in the Southeastern Conference, a rarity for the Commodores.
Not that they get time to celebrate only the school's fourth SEC road win since 2008. Vanderbilt hosts fourth-ranked Florida on Saturday.
"We're talking about a team that's doing it well in all aspects," Franklin said Monday about the Gators. "They're well-coached, they have schemes that create conflict, and they're not going to give up yards. They're going to run it down your throat and they're going to play with a toughness and physicality."
Still, road wins have been so few and far between at Vanderbilt that a little celebration was deserved. Vanderbilt has the SEC's worst record in conference road games since 1992 at 14-68 counting the win over Missouri. That 19-15 win at Missouri marked Vanderbilt's first road win since at Mississippi in 2010 and only the fourth since the Commodores won at Ole Miss and at Kentucky in 2008.
"Being able to win in the conference on the road is very challenging," Franklin said. "If you look historically, I don't think there's any doubt that we realize the importance of winning on the road. Missouri's won a lot of football games in the past 12 years. It was awesome. It was a great trip back."
The celebration pretty much ended when the plane landed back in Nashville. A few hours of sleep, and then Franklin and his coaches got busy breaking down the Gators. Franklin spent most of his time talking about how impressed he is with the Gators (5-0, 4-0) and how coach Will Muschamp has put his stamp on the Florida program.
"There is toughness in this team," Franklin said of Florida.
The Gators will be the third Top 10 team Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2) has played this season, and that tougher schedule is why the Commodores have one less win through five games than in Franklin's debut last year. The Commodores lost 17-13 to then-No. 9 South Carolina in the opener and were routed 48-3 by then-No. 5 Georgia.
The Commodores traditionally didn't play Florida until November. But with the SEC's expansion, the schedule got moved around so that Vanderbilt now opens a three-game home stand with Florida, an opponent Vandy has not beaten since 1988, though the Commodores rallied in the second half before losing 26-21 to the Gators last season.
Senior defensive tackle Rob Lohr said they learned a valuable lesson in that game on the need to start strong and finish well.
"That's kind of the mentality our defense has taken," Lohr said. "We can't give up plays at the end of the first half and end of the fourth quarter. We just have to step up, kind of like we did against Missouri. We were able to able to get them off the field and win the game, so that's kind of our mentality."
The schedule eases up for Vanderbilt after Saturday with none of the remaining teams currently ranked. The home stand wraps up with visits from Auburn, Massachusetts before trips to Kentucky and Mississippi. Vanderbilt concludes its home schedule against Tennessee before traveling to Wake Forest.
Franklin keeps arguing that his Commodores are better than 2011 when they started 3-2 before finishing 6-7 and reaching the private university's fifth bowl game.
Through the first five games, the Commodores are statistically better in several categories, though the defense is giving up more than 70 yards rushing per game at 179 yards per game. Offensively, they are averaging 121.8 yards more per game while protecting the quarterback a bit better too with three fewer sacks.
"I know I throw some things out there a lot, and you think I'm just trying to sell us on some dream, but it's reality," Franklin said. "We're getting better."