Sept. 16, 2013
Vanderbilt's football team hits the road again this week when the Commodores travel to Foxborough, Mass., to face UMass at Gillette Stadium. The game will kick at 11 a.m. CT and will air on ESPNews.
The meeting is part of a two-for-one series with UMass. The Commodores (1-2) topped the Minutemen (0-3), 49-7, last year at Vanderbilt Stadium and will meet again in Nashville next season.
Trips to the Northeast are not unusual for Vanderbilt. In 2009 Vanderbilt played at Army and in 2010 the Commodores played at UConn. But Saturday's game will be the first time in 50 years that the Commodores will venture to the state of Massachusetts.
The only two times Vanderbilt has played in Massachusetts came in 1963 when the Commodores lost, 19-6, at Boston College and 1912 when the Commodores lost, 9-3, at Harvard. The loss in 1912 was Vanderbilt's lone loss of the season and came in a year when the Commodores posted triple digits in its first two games of the season, steamrolling perennial powers Bethel, 105-0, and Maryville, 100-3.
Playing at Gillette Stadium
In 2012, UMass officially made the move from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. At the time, the Minutemen also moved their home games from McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst, Mass., to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., where the New England Patriots play.
The move provided UMass with a significantly larger seating capacity of 68,756, compared just 17,000, and also was a boost in amenities.
All of UMass' home games are again at Gillette Stadium this year. However, in 2014 there are plans to play a portion of home games back on campus at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, which has been undergoing a significant renovation.
It will be the second time in two years Vanderbilt has played in an NFL Stadium. Of course, in 2012 Vanderbilt played at LP Field - home of the Tennessee Titans - against NC State in the Music City Bowl.
Gillette Stadium is located approximately 30 miles south of Boston and 90 miles east of UMass' campus in Amherst.
The stadium opened in 2002 and is also home to the MLS' New England Revolution. The playing surface used to be natural grass, but was replaced with FieldTurf in 2006.
One Extreme to Another?
Last week, Vanderbilt played in front of a raucous crowd of 80,000-plus at South Carolina. Saturday, the crowd could be vastly different.
In its one home game against Maine, the Minutemen drew 15,624 fans. In five home games in 2012, UMass averaged 10,901 fans.
"I do think a lot of times when you play in certain situations that you need a mature football team," Franklin said. "We talked about it yesterday that it could be a completely different atmosphere than we faced last week. We have to be a mature football team and we have to bring our own energy."
Carta-Samuels Actually Knows Tom Brady
Tom Brady will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He is known by many worldwide, but there aren't a lot of people who can say they actually know Tom Brady.
Austyn Carta-Samuels can. At Monday's press conference, the Vanderbilt senior nonchalantly slipped in a comment about knowing Brady when he was talking about his excitement for playing at Gillette Stadium Saturday.
The answer caught everyone in attendance by surprise and Carta-Samuels was immediately asked to elaborate.
"My quarterback coach growing up through high school, his name is Tom Martinez," Carta-Samuels explained. "He passed away, unfortunately. He was Tom Brady's quarterback coach. Tom Brady went to a rival high school growing up in my area. I've met him and had some experiences with him."
Carta-Samuels attended Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, Calif., and Brady attended Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif.
Reflecting on His Interception
Vanderbilt dug itself into an early hole as South Carolina scored the first 28 points of the game. However, in typical Vanderbilt fashion, the Commodores refused to lay down the rest of the way and cut the deficit to 10, 35-25, with 13:59 to play.
Vanderbilt had an outstanding opportunity to trim the South Carolina lead even further when Taylor Hudson's punt hit off South Carolina's T.J. Gurley, who was blocking during a return. The loose ball was recovered by Darrius Sims at the South Carolina 37-yard line.
Behind a strong rushing attack, Vanderbilt marched all the way to the 5-yard line, where they faced a third-and-goal.
On the play, Austyn Carta-Samuels dropped back and fired toward Jordan Cunningham in the end zone. The pass was intercepted by Jimmy Legree with 8:41 to play, and Vanderbilt wouldn't get the ball back until 55 seconds remained in the contest.
Carta-Samuels discussed the interception Monday.
"It is on me," Carta-Samuels said. "I own that. As a quarterback, I made the decision to go there and in that situation, I will learn from it."
Slow Starts Negatively Impacting Commodores
Against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt had an early turnover and a short punt which enabled the Rebels to build a 10-0 lead. Against Austin Peay, the Commodores managed only a field goal in the opening quarter. Last weekend, Vanderbilt faced a 28-0 deficit in the second quarter.
The early deficits have made it an uphill battle for the Commodores, which is something they vow to change.
"We've just got to start fast," defensive end Walker May remarked. "(Twenty-one) points in the first quarter ... that hurts; that puts everyone in a bind. To come back from that is really hard to do. We have to start fast and really come out with a determination and fly to the football."
In order to prevent slow starts, Vanderbilt's coaching staff has emphasized starting more quickly in practice.
"We talk about everything starting on the practice field and that is where it is going to be focused on the most," Carta-Samuels said. "I think if you put too much pressure on yourself or us as a unit to start quickly, sometimes you will make more mistakes."
Coach Franklin isn't panicking. The Commodores have played two ranked opponents and with time, he believes the slow starts will soon be a thing of the past.
"I think we stick to what we've been doing," Franklin said. "I think we need to make plays earlier in the game on offense, defense and special teams. And I think we have to make sure that our kids understand: we are a blue collar program. We've said that before and we can't afford to give plays away, to give quarters away. We have to come out and do what we are supposed to do for four quarters. We are just going to emphasize it and keep practicing and I think it will take care of itself."
Tate Provides a Lift as Reserve
Wesley Tate was Vanderbilt's starting running back during the Commodores' first two games. But against South Carolina, Jerron Seymour earned the start and Brian Kimbrow was the second running back to get a carry.
The lack of carries in the first half seemed to have lit a fire under Tate, who ran with an attitude when he received his first carry in the third quarter.
Vanderbilt gained just 31 yards on the ground in the first half. In the third quarter alone Tate had 39 yards. For the game, he totaled 71 yards on 10 carries.
"He gets the eye of the tiger sometimes," Carta Samuels said. "When we got in the huddle there and he came back out on the field, I could see in his eyes that he was frustrated. With what? I don't know, but it is good to see that look. He ran like a bull and he ran hard.
"When No. 24 does that, he is tough to stop. I don't know who can stop him in this conference. I'm excited to see him run like that for the next nine games because he definitely flashed what he can do on Saturday."
Coach Franklin noted Tate's strong performance as well and hopes to see his play carry over to the rest of the season.
"I thought Tate came in and ran hard and ran angry," Franklin said. "He's got to do that every single week and every single day at practice, and be more consistent.
"I think the fact that we have three backs that we feel pretty good about is a positive for us. And we are going to keep going into this with whoever practices the best and then whoever plays the best will get the most carries."