Monday Musings: Freeze phones Franklin

Nov. 5, 2012

Monday Interviews & Quotes

As a head coach, James Franklin's cell phone is always within reach. So on Monday morning as he sat in an offensive staff meeting, Franklin had his phone close by his side, not knowing who may try to reach him. On this day, it turned out that a phone call would come from the unlikeliest of people: Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze.

Freeze, who is in his first season at Ole Miss after a successful stint at Arkansas State, called Franklin out of the blue and congratulated him on the team's success and also offered to help if the team needed anything on its trip to Oxford, Miss., where the Commodores travel this weekend to play Ole Miss at 6 p.m. CT Saturday (ESPNU).

"It was a little bit of a surprise," an appreciative Franklin said of the phone call. "I've never had that happen to me before."

Franklin, who is also one of the newest members of the SEC coaching fraternity, has developed a good relationship with Freeze in the short time the two have been in the league together.

Earlier this year Franklin had reached out to Freeze when one of Ole Miss' players had a family member at Vanderbilt Medical Center. "I called Coach and just (asked) if there is anything we can do to help you or your player's family while they were here."

Monday's phone call came as a surprise to Franklin, who had never received a call from an opposing head coach the week of the game.

"It did catch me off guard and I don't think that is something that is common in the profession," Franklin said. "I haven't been a head coach long enough to know if it is real common. I don't remember of that happening or I haven't heard people that I've worked for talk about it, but it was a nice gesture and I enjoyed talking to him and I appreciate what he said and wished him the best of luck as well."

Freeze's success in his first season at Ole Miss is similar to what Franklin experienced at Vanderbilt in 2011. Freeze took over for Houston Nutt, who went 3-10 in his final season at Ole Miss. So far, he has the Rebels at 5-4 overall and on the brink of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009 - three seasons. Last season, Franklin guided Vanderbilt to a bowl game for the first time since 2008 - also three seasons.

Through nine games, Franklin has also been impressed by Ole Miss' play thus far.

"I think they are doing a really good job," Franklin said. "They are playing really hard on both sides of the ball; they are playing physical; they are flying around; they are being creative."

Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have similar bodies of work in terms of opponents each has lost to. All of the losses for both teams have come to opponents currently ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings. Ole Miss has losses to No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 17 Texas. Vanderbilt's losses have come to No. 1 Georgia, No. 6 Florida, No. 8 South Carolina and No. 24 Northwestern.

A win Saturday will make either team the SEC's eighth bowl eligible squad.

"They are going to come with a fight," defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. "I believe they are a lot better this year. Their offense is uptempo and they have a lot of really good skill players. Their offensive line is solid and they pack a punch. Their fast tempo is tough to adjust to, so it's a matter of us lining up and executing. It will be a challenge, but we'll be ready for the challenge."

Prepping for Ole Miss' Uptempo Offense
Vanderbilt's defense will be challenged this weekend by Ole Miss' uptempo offense. The Rebels average 70 plays per game, which is fourth in the SEC behind Texas A&M, Tennessee and Missouri.

"It's a challenge on everybody," commented Franklin on Ole Miss' fast-paced attack. "You are not going to be able to make the perfect call on defense. It is about us executing our defenses better than them."

Overall, Ole Miss is sixth in the SEC in total offense with an average of 408.2 yards per game. The Rebels have also thrown for more yards than they have rushed for. Ole Miss ranks sixth in the league in passing offense and will be just the second foe the Commodores have faced in SEC play that ranks in the top half of the league in passing offense (Georgia).

"Unless you run the same offense, it is difficult to try to show it to your guys," Franklin remarked. "We'll do some things in practice to try and create the tempo as much as we possibly can. The other thing is if we can go good against good, which we do every single week anyway, and make that a no-huddle period for our offense against our defense. That's the fastest way that we'll be able to do it."

Franklin on Joker Phillips
On Sunday, Kentucky announced that Head Coach Joker Phillips would not return in 2013. His dismissal came one day after Vanderbilt defeated the Wildcats 40-0 in Lexington. Vanderbilt has outscored Kentucky 78-8 in two meetings under Coach Franklin. On Monday, Franklin was asked about Phillips at his weekly press conference.

"I've known Joker for a long time," Franklin said. "I have tremendous respect for him as a coach. I have tremendous respect for him as a person, as a man. I wish him nothing but success in the future. If there is ever anything I can ever do to help Joker Phillips, I will bend over backwards."

Stingy Red Zone Defense
In a league known for outstanding defense, Vanderbilt's defensive unit has exemplified that reputation this year.

The Commodores rank 19th nationally in total defense, 14th in scoring defense, seventh in pass efficiency defense and third in pass defense, behind only Michigan and LSU.

"I think it's just a mentality of 11 players functioning as one," Lohr said. "That's how we look at it. We don't always have people that jump out at you on the stat sheet, but we work together well and I think we complement each other. We execute the defense and make plays. We don't really care who makes the play, as long as they're made."

Vanderbilt's defense has also been outstanding in the red zone. In fact, the Commodores are the best in the league when it comes to allowing touchdowns in the red zone. There have been 27 times in which a Vanderbilt opponent has reached the end zone, but only 10 of those times did the Commodores surrender a touchdown (37.0%).

Vanderbilt's percentage is tops in the league. Florida ranks second at 44.0%. The 10 touchdowns allowed in the red zone also ranks second in the league behind only Alabama (eight).

This week's opponent, Ole Miss, ranks third in the league in red zone touchdowns scored (21-of-30).



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