Monday Musings: Finishing strong

Nov. 4, 2013

Monday's Press Conference

After a week off, Vanderbilt returns to the field Saturday when the Commodores travel to Gainesville, Fla., to meet the Gators at 11 a.m. CT on FSN. Vanderbilt and Florida are 4-4 overall with four regular season games to be played.

Florida has won the last 22 meetings between the two schools, but the games have been decided in the fourth quarter the last two seasons. In 2011, Florida jumped out to a 17-0 lead before the Commodores stormed back to get within six with 10:54 to go and later pulled within five with 1:16 to go. Last year, a field goal by Carey Spear pulled Vanderbilt within seven with 2:35 to play before the Gators put the game away with a 70-yard run by quarterback Jeff Driskel.

The Commodores will not see Driskel this time around. Instead, Vanderbilt will get its first look at junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, who has filled in for Driskel since he suffered a broken leg on September 21. Murphy is averaging just 113.9 yards per game through the air, but has also done damage with his legs, scoring three touchdowns on the ground.

Vanderbilt is expected to go with Patton Robinette at quarterback again after he made his first-career start at Texas A&M.

Robinette will be tasked with going against the SEC's second ranked defense. The Gators are surrendering 290.8 yards per game and allowing just 17.1 points per outing.

"I think their offense is doing some nice things, but I think their defense is playing at a really, really high level, and I think their D-line is an issue for people," Vanderbilt's James Franklin said.

Florida's defense will be the best the Commodores have faced to date. Last year, the Gators held Vanderbilt to 17 points. Vanderbilt is currently on a record streak of scoring at least 24 points in 14 straight games.

Saturday's game will mark the beginning of the final quarter of the regular season. Under Franklin, the Commodores have proven to get stronger as the season progresses. In two seasons, Vanderbilt is 6-2 in the final four games of the regular season. Last year, Vanderbilt closed the season with seven straight wins, including a 4-0 mark in November.

The beginning of Vanderbilt's stretch run comes off a bye week, which Vanderbilt is 2-1 after under Franklin. Vanderbilt has won two straight games following a bye, including a 31-27 win over Georgia on October 19. The Commodores also won at Missouri in 2012 and lost at Alabama in 2011.

"We were able to give our veterans a lot of down time, guys that have played a lot of reps," Franklin said of the week off. "I think we held 26 players out from practice. We took a different approach in bye week No. 2 compared to bye week No. 1. I had never really been through a two-bye week season before."

The Commodores hope the added bye will give them an extra boost to help them continue their late-season success.

"I do think the fact that we were able to take care of our older players and get some of our less experienced players some reps; I think that helps us," Franklin said. "Emotionally and physically, we are going to go into this game as a coaching staff and players as refreshed as we have been in a long time."

Matthews Congratulated by Bennett
Against Texas A&M, wide receiver Jordan Matthews became the SEC career leader in receiving yards. Matthews is now setting himself up to tackle another SEC record - career receptions. Matthews is currently second in league history with 216 career catches and is just 20 catches from tying the record held by former Commodore Earl Bennett . Bennett set his mark of 236 catches in a career that spanned from 2005-07.

Matthews hasn't spoken much about the records he has broken this season or during his career, and has instead focused on the game ahead or the game that was just played. On Monday, Matthews was asked about any congratulatory phone calls or text messages he has received since the Texas A&M game, and he revealed that he heard from Bennett earlier in the day.

"That's huge for me because that's pretty much been my big brother," Matthews said. "Even though he wasn't here (when I was), he is a guy that I really looked up to. For him to say that to me, that really meant a lot."

Praising Stacy
Zac Stacy tallied his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game Sunday in St. Louis' loss to the Titans. On Sunday, Stacy carried the ball 27 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 51 yards receiving. The performance came just a few days after his breakout game against Seattle on Monday Night Football when he rushed for 134 yards on 26 attempts.

For anyone who watched Stacy up close during his four-year career at Vanderbilt, the success he is having at the next level doesn't come as much of a surprise.

"I knew it was going to happen," Matthews said of Stacy's success. "It didn't matter what round he was taken in. It's not about where they take you, it's where you take them.

"He would always come to practice straight focused, always in the film room, always working hard, didn't say much, but always brought his hard hat," Matthews added.

Franklin opened his press conference by praising Stacy, who departed Vanderbilt as the school's all-time leading rusher.

"I'm really happy for Zac Stacy," Franklin remarked. "It's exciting to see some of our former players going on and doing wonderful things."

Garnham Returns to Depth Chart
Senior linebacker Chase Garnham hasn't played since the opening game against Ole Miss, but is expected to make his return this weekend at Florida.

Garnham was back on the depth chart released Monday as a backup middle linebacker to Jake Sealand.

"He's on the depth chart because we are expecting to play him," Franklin said. "Having him back, just from an experience standpoint, I think is huge."

Garnham was second on the team with 84 tackles last year and also registered seven sacks.

"We will see how this week goes," Franklin added. "We will try to get him a few plays in this game and build on that from there."

Just seeing Garnham back on the field could provide an emotional boost for the Commodores.

"From a leadership perspective, he is a vocal guy who has been there and has been in the fire," defensive end Walker May said. "It's really exciting to hear his voice, and if he gets back, it is going to be awesome."

Special Teams and Ball Security
With four games to go in the regular season, Vanderbilt ranks favorably in a number of statistical categories, but there are two in particular that jump off the page. Most notably, the Commodores are the best in the country in kickoff return defense. Vanderbilt is allowing just 13.92 yards per kick return. Kicker Carey Spear has 44 kickoffs and 31 have gone for touchbacks. Of the 13 kicks opponents have been able to return, they have only totaled 181 yards in returns. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is averaging 19.0 yards on kick returns and has returned 32 kicks.

Vanderbilt also ranks second in the nation with just two fumbles lost. Florida State is tops in the country with just one fumble lost. In comparison, Vanderbilt lost 13 fumbles in 2012 and 10 in 2011 under Coach Franklin.

Dating back to the 1946 season - the last season when the statistic is readily available - the fewest fumbles Vanderbilt has lost in a season are six. The six fumbles occurred in 2009, 2000 and 1947. Of note, the final fumble statistics for 1974, 63, 62, 61, 60 are not available.

What's Ahead
After playing at Florida on Saturday, Vanderbilt will return home to face Kentucky on Nov. 16. The game will be televised on SEC TV and will begin at 11:21 a.m. CT.

It will be the fourth game in a row in which the Commodores will play before noon.



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