Ryan Schulz
Schulz: Defense looms large

Sept. 17, 2011



What began as a defensive battle quickly turned into a one-sided affair in the second quarter as Vanderbilt scored 21 straight points and would lead 30-0 before Ole Miss got on the scoreboard. It was a dominant performance by the Commodores, which is something that hasn't been said much in recent years. In fact you have to go back to 1971 to find the last time Vanderbilt had beaten an SEC school by as sizable of a margin.

For the first time this season, everything appeared to be clicking between the offense, defense and special teams as the Commodores controlled every phase of the game. However, if there was one side that maybe outshined the others its was on the defensive side of the ball. The Commodores intercepted the Rebels five times and allowed Ole Miss to reach the red-zone just one time. Even Ole Miss' only score came with 2:15 to play, long after the game had been decided. Had it not been for Ole Miss' 47-yard touchdown pass at the end of the game, Vanderbilt would have held its second straight opponent to under 200 yards of offense.

For the third straight game, Vanderbilt's defense also scored a touchdown. With 4:38 to play in the first half, Trey Wilson picked off a pass by Zack Stoudt and returned it 52 yards to the house. Wilson would add one more pick at the end of the second quarter and now has three on the season.

"I told the coaches when they got here that, 'if you give me a chance, I won't let you down,'" Wilson said. "I try to make the best of this opportunity. They believed in me and put me back onto the field and I'm paying them back by making plays."

Vanderbilt's five interceptions give the team 10 for the season, surpassing the nine it had all of last season. The Commodores also have recovered two fumbles and are winning the turnover battle 12-6 so far this season.

"You'll win a lot of games with five takeaways and through three games to have 12 takeaways is very exciting for us," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said.

The Commodores entered the game with a focus on stopping Ole Miss' diminutive running back Jeff Scott, who also led the nation in punt return yardage. The defense refused to let Scott or anyone else on Ole Miss beat them on the ground as they surrendered just 85 yards rushing. Scott was limited to just 43 yards on 15 carries.

"I think (Jeff) Scott is a tremendous back who I have a lot of respect for and there were a few plays where he was running around everywhere and it looked like we had 13, 14, 15 guys on the field," Shoop said. "That's our aim. That's what we are trying to do."

With Scott held in check and Brandon Bolden at less than 100 percent, Ole Miss was forced to turn to the air, and the Commodores preyed on the Rebels when they did. In addition to Wilson's two picks, Sean Richardson had the first of his career and Javon Marshall and Eddie Foster also added one apiece.

The defensive backs are making plays in the secondary, but a lot of the credit for the interceptions must go to the defensive line. Time and time again, Vanderbilt's defensive players found their way into the Ole Miss backfield and disrupted plays. The defense finished with nine tackles for a loss, including one sack and also added four quarterback hurries.

After looking exhausted at times on the defensive line last season, the Commodores' line has looked stronger than the opponent's offensive line in every game this season.

Franklin has Emotional Press Conference
To say Saturday's win meant a lot to Head Coach James Franklin would be an understatement. Franklin spent the first 30 seconds of his press conference holding back tears of joy following Vanderbilt's SEC-opening win.

His eyes reddened, Franklin began the press conference by saying the win was for Chancellor (Nicholas) Zeppos and Vice Chancellor (David) Williams before being overcome by emotion (watch here).

Franklin has said time and time again that he wears his emotions on his sleeve and has that if there is a word that would be describe him, it would be emotional. Vanderbilt's team has seen the emotion all season and on Saturday, the public saw those emotions spill over for the first time.

After a 16-second silence as Franklin gathered himself, he continued his opening statement.

"That win is for our kids. That win is for our coaches and how hard we've worked. I'm really, really proud of these kids. That win is for our normal fans who have showed up for a long time looking for something to believe in."

The emotion he displayed Saturday is part of what the players have fed off of this season. Before speaking with the media, Franklin delivered an emotional message to the team.

"It just lets us know that he is giving it his all," quarterback Larry Smith said. "We know we are going to out there and fight and give it our all for him and it is really exciting. I'm glad to have him as our coach."

Stacy has Career Day
Vanderbilt's rushing attack was clicking today as Vanderbilt racked up 281 yards on the ground. Leading the way was junior running back Zac Stacy, who compiled a career-high 169 yards on just 11 carries. Stacy gained 77 yards on one play when he gashed Ole Miss' defense to give Vanderbilt a 30-0 lead. The touchdown was reminiscent of Warren Norman's 80-yard touchdown run against Ole Miss last year.

Stacy's previous career best was 133 yards in the first game of his career against Western Carolina in 2009. Stacy also added two catches for 17 yards. At the start of the game, Stacy and freshman Jerron Seymour rotated offensive series. Seymour ended up gaining 60 yards on 16 carries, including one touchdown. But it was Stacy who finished with the big game he needed after being held to less than 60 yards in the previous two games.

"Zac actually called it a couple of days ago," Larry Smith said of Stacy's performance. "He said he was overdue for a good game and a touchdown and he did that today. We really needed Zac today and he did an excellent job of stepping up."

Aggressive Play Calling Continues
If there is one thing we've learned about Vanderbilt's offense the first three games, it is that the Commodores are going to be aggressive.

In the first quarter, Vanderbilt went for it on fourth-and-10 from Ole Miss 40, and turned the ball over on downs. However, no damage was done as the Commodore defense held on Ole Miss' next possession.

With 6:40 to play in the second quarter, the Commodores ran the Statue of Liberty with Larry Smith pump faking a pass down the field before handing the ball off behind his back to Stacy who scampered 26 yards on a second-and-14.

In the third quarter, it was Stacy attempting a pass to none other than Smith in the end zone, a play that was also run against UConn. Smith dropped the pass against UConn, but this time, the ball was delivered a second too late and was intercepted by Ole Miss.

"I've said since I've arrived on campus that we are going to be aggressive on offense, defense and special teams," Franklin said. "To think we are good enough to just line up, hand the ball off and run inside zone 50 times a game, we are not. We are going to have to be creative. We're going to have to be aggressive. We are going to have to put our kids in situations to be successful and take some risks and take some chances."

The plays have added to the excitement of watching the Commodores. As much fun as it has been to watch, it has been even more enjoyable to execute on the field.

"I think we start licking our chops a little bit," said Smith when he hears a trick play called. "We like to call them money plays as part of our regular offense, and we are going to run them each and every game."

Franklin Makes History
With Saturday's win, Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin made history by becoming the first coach since Ray Morrison in 1918 to win their first-ever conference game at Vanderbilt. Morrison's win came against Kentucky (33-0) while both teams were a part of the SIAA. Morrison later became the VU head coach again in 1935, and defeated Mississippi State 14-9 in his first game against an SEC foe.

Franklin is the first Vanderbilt coach to win his first three games at the helm of the program since E.H. Alley went 5-0 in 1943.

Franklin's win was also a first by a first-year head coach in the league sicne Mike Shula in 2003 against Alabama. Assuming Florida holds off Tennessee, Will Muschamp will match Franklin's feat Saturday as well.

You can follow me on twitter logo 15x15Twitter @SchulzRyan




 

 

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