Slow start hampers Vanderbilt football team

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 9:38 p.m. CDT; updated 11:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 1, 2012
Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin appeals to a referee during the Commodores' 48-3 loss to Georgia on Sept. 22 in Athens, Ga., a game that easily was the worst since Franklin arrived on campus in December 2010.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin says the team's open date came at a good time after its most lopsided loss since 2003.

The Commodores (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) had a week off after a 48-3 loss to then-No. 5 Georgia on Sept. 22 — a game that was easily the worst since Franklin arrived on campus in December 2010.

"We've had some very honest discussions this week and last week," Franklin said on Monday.

Coaches spent last week recruiting and comparing this year's start to their 3-1 opening a year ago. Franklin said the Commodores are playing similar to a year ago when it comes to throwing and running the ball. The big difference comes in defense: Vanderbilt forced more turnovers last year, 16 compared to just four this season.

"I think there were times last year where we played physical offenses, but we were able to get huge momentum plays at critical times," he said. "We just haven't had them right now. The competition we've played, all these different things, we're really not that far off of where we were last year."

Besides the lack of turnovers, Vanderbilt's defense has played well with the exception of the Georgia game, during which the Commodores allowed 27 points and gave up 567 yards by halftime, including 302 on the ground. Even so, Vanderbilt still ranks eighth nationally in pass defense, giving up 141.8 yards per game; and 28th in total defense, allowing 328 yards.

"We've got to come out with a mentality and a swagger that we are going to hit you in the mouth every play," defensive end Walker May said. "Forget what happens next, we're going to make it happen."

Now, Vanderbilt will prepare to visit Missouri (3-2, 0-2) on Saturday night for the first time since 1958,with each team looking for their first league win. Franklin gave the Commodores three days off last week though coaches started preparing for the Missouri game last week.

The Commodores practiced Sunday and were able to dive right into preparing for Missouri without having to look back at a game.

"There's no doubt it gives you an advantage," Franklin said.

The Commodores also need more production from their offense, especially in the red zone.

In 15 trips inside the opponent's 20 yard line, they've scored just four touchdowns, all against Presbyterian College of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Commodores have settled for field goals six times and turned the ball over three times, all by quarterback Jordan Rodgers.

The senior remains atop the depth chart this week. He lost his job to Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels before the Presbyterian game. But Rodgers started against Georgia and completed 13 of 23 passes for 218 yards with no interceptions but no touchdowns either.

Franklin said Rodgers will start against Missouri, "if he practices well this week."

"If we would probably have played last Saturday, he would have been the starter," Franklin said. "But this week stands alone and we'll see how this week goes."

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