Vanderbilt will face its toughest test of the season Saturday when the Commodores travel to South Carolina to play the 10th-ranked Gamecocks on ESPN2 (6 p.m. CT). Vanderbilt has been focused on playing in a road environment since spring practice when music and crowd noise was first pumped into the speakers, but this week Franklin expects to dial it up a few more notches with the team's first road trip this weekend.
"We are going to do a lot of things in practice to make our guys feel as at home as possible," Franklin said. "We are going to have the South Carolina fight song playing at practice extremely loud. We are going to have crowd noise going on at practice as loud as we possibly can. Whatever effects and sounds they have going on at their stadium, you are probably going to hear those across campus this week. We are going to do as much as we can to get our guys prepared to be in a hostile environment this week."
At the crux of Franklin's decision to emphasize practicing in crowd noise are his experiences as an assistant at other schools.
"I felt like I had learned from past experiences where I felt like we had implemented noise into practices too late."
Because the sound has been pumped into practice for an extended period of time, the players believe they have already taken great strides in preparing for Saturday's road environment.
"I think that it helps us be it that we've been (pumping in noise) since spring ball and through preseason camp to get acclimated to the crowd noise and I think it will really pay off for us on Saturday," quarterback Larry Smith said.
The crowd noise Vanderbilt pumps through the speakers during practice is reminiscent of white noise and sounds very repetitive. Because of this, it has gotten on the player's nerves at times, but that is not a bad thing.
"It is really annoying ... kind of unbearable at times, but at the same time it is going to be just as loud on the road so I think we will do fine because we've been kind of acclimated to that for some time now," Smith said.
In addition to the added work with crowd noise, Smith should also benefit from his past experiences. As a senior, Smith has played in virtually every environment in the SEC, including during a night game at South Carolina in 2009.
The comfort level Smith feels Saturday will be different from most of the team, which is why Franklin is taking out all the stops.
"What we are going to do because I don't think it has been loud enough, we are going to find every speaker we can on this on campus," Franklin said. "We are going to have a DJ setup out there ... maybe some bands playing.
"We are going to set them up all around the field to make sure it is as difficult of a situation for our players to communicate - especially on the offensive side of the bal - as we can. Hopefully we get to the game and there is nothing that is going to shock them; nothing that is going to catch them off guard."
Statistically Speaking With the majority of teams now having three games under their belts this season, there is beginning to be more substance to the NCAA rankings. Just where do the Commodores rank among the national leaders?
Vanderbilt ranks in the top 26 nationally in seven of the 17 primary team statistical categories. The Commodores' highest national rankings are fifth in turnover margin (plus-6) and pass efficiency defense (80.2).
Vanderbilt also leads the SEC in turnover margin and sacks (2.67).
Stop, Thief! Through two games, Vanderbilt already has 10 interceptions, surpassing the nine it had all of last season. Franklin credits an entire team effort, from the coaching staff to the defensive line and secondary, for the interceptions, but he also knows the team has been fortunate with some of the picks.
"Let's be honest," Franklin said. "Some of the 10 interceptions we have, the balls are just falling out of the sky into their hands. Our defensive line is doing a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback. I think (defensive coordinator Bob) Shoop is doing a great job of calling the game and allowing us to be successful. I think (defensive backs coach Wesley) McGriff has made a real difference in our corner's confidence. I think it is a combination of all the factors."
Wilson Credits Hayward At the forefront of Vanderbilt's play in the secondary has been cornerback Trey Wilson, who has three interceptions, including two that have been returned for touchdowns.
He has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks this season. However, Wilson is quick to deflect the credit to the other side of the field where preseason All-SEC defensive back Casey Hayward lines up.
"Casey has a reputation for getting his hands on the ball so they know if they take their chances over there it is like Russian Roulette," Wilson said. "So of course they are going to take their chances with me."
Marcus Lattimore Praised South Carolina's team is loaded with playmakers between wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Devin Taylor, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and running back Marcus Lattimore, but it was Lattimore who received the most praise from Franklin on Monday.
Lattimore already has 534 yards rushing in three games this season and leads the country with an average of 178 yards per game. Last Saturday against Navy, Lattimore gained 246 yards on 37 carries.
"Marcus Lattimore is as good as it gets in terms of a combination of size, speed, vision and balance," Franklin said.
Lattimore has gained more than 100 yards in each game this season and represents the largest challenge Vanderbilt has faced this season on the ground. Just how do the Commodores stop Lattimore?
"I don't know if you do," Franklin said. "I think Marcus Lattimore is going to play well. They are going to give him the ball enough that he is going to have some statistics."
Franklin did note there are two areas in particular that he would like to see improvement in by the defense: pursuit and tackling. Both will significantly impact how well Lattimore is contained.
Offensive Line Revels in Ground Performance After a preseason filled with position changes and then the loss of starting guard Jabo Burrow after the first game, Vanderbilt's offensive line has had to come together quickly as a unit. Coming off a disappointing performance against UConn in which the Commodores surrendered seven sacks and gained just 118 yards on the ground, Vanderbilt's o-line had what center Wesley Johnson called the best game of the season so far last Saturday.
The Commmodores racked up nearly 300 yards (281) on the ground against Ole Miss and surrendered just two sacks. The performance was something Johnson said the line took a lot of pride in.
"First of all, all five of us I feel like played a pretty good game," Johnson said. "The receivers were blocking well. Zac was making good reads, Larry had a lot of good runs."
The yardage total was the fifth-most at Vanderbilt Stadium against an SEC opponent and the most since 1992. It was also the eighth-highest total against an SEC foe and the most since the Commodores gained 286 yards at Kentucky in 1994. Junior tailback Zac Stacy led all ball carriers with a career-high 169 yards.
Smith Remembers 2007 Win Although he was redshirting in 2007 and was not on Vanderbilt's trip to Columbia, senior quarterback Larry Smith vividly remembers the game - a 17-6 win over the sixth-ranked Gamecocks.
"I remember that I actually went home that weekend and I was cheering up and down the whole house as I listened to the game. It was really exciting."
Cole Out Saturday Franklin said junior wide receiver John Cole would miss his second straight game Saturday due to injury. Cole is expected to return in time for Vanderbilt's game at Alabama on Oct. 8.
Wesley Tate Impressing With John Cole injured, Wesley Tate has stepped up and earned a starting spot against Ole Miss at wide receiver. Tate had four catches for 26 yards against Ole Miss.
"I've been impressed with him," said Franklin of Tate. "Moving him to receiver was another way for us to get a big, strong, fast, athletic kid on the field. I think the biggest thing for him, and its kind of like a basketball player, is learning to play fast without the ball."