Following a 1-3 start to the regular season, Vanderbilt has now won two of its last three games and is in position to move to .500 for the first time this season. But in order to get to .500, Vanderbilt must accomplish something that it hasn't done often in recent years: win two straight games in October.
The 10th month of the year has not been kind to Vanderbilt, and on Saturday the Commodores will look to win their second game in the month of October for the first time since 2007 when Vanderbilt won at No. 6 South Carolina and returned home to top Miami (Ohio). The Commodores haven't won two home games in October since 2004 and haven't won two straight home games during the month since 1998.
That could all change Saturday when 0-7 UMass visits campus for homecoming. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. CT and will air on FSN. The Minutemen are in their first season playing at the FBS level and have struggled thus far.
Despite UMass' record, James Franklin and the Commodores are not overlooking anyone.
"Everyone else talks about it, but we don't," Franklin said. "We refuse to talk about those things. I know the guys are hearing about it, but I don't feel we are at a point as a program where we should ever take any game for granted. I don't think we should ever have that approach in general. We've all seen too many upsets across the country. As coaches, we try to take the same approach every single week. We should find the positives in every game; really enjoy the wins regardless of opponent."
Given Vanderbilt's history in the month of October, a win at this stage of the season is definitely not taken for granted, even against a winless foe. And with two straight SEC road games on the horizon, any win can boost a team's confidence at a critical time.
"Regardless of the opponent, a win is a win," sophomore defensive end Kyle Woestmann said. "We're thankful every time we get a chance to go 1-0 every week and just continue to build our program every week. It's always just about one week at a time and focusing on getting that next win because that's the most important one, and as we reach each one it's just another confidence boost for us."
Busy Homecoming Weekend
If you are returning to campus for homecoming, we promise there is plenty to keep you occupied. In athletics alone, visitors will be able to see Vanderbilt's baseball, cross country and swimming teams compete at home, in addition to the football game against UMass. The baseball team is holding its annual Black & Gold Series Thursday (6:30 p.m.), Friday (6:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) at Hawkins Field.
The men's and women's cross country teams are hosting the 2012 SEC Championships at Percy Warner Park, beginning at 10 a.m. Friday morning and the swimming team hosts Alabama at 1 p.m. Friday.
Additionally, those attending Saturday's football game will also get to see a postgame fireworks show. Vanderbilt will also celebrate October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month by incorporating the color pink into the uniforms worn by the football team, marching band and cheerleaders.
To view a schedule of campus-wide events taking place, click here.
Townsend Pleasantly Surprised by Weekly Honor
When Joe Townsend saw his head coach's name pop up as an incoming call the morning of the team's off day, he didn't know what to think. One thing was for certain, he didn't think the phone call would be to tell him that he was just named the SEC's Offensive Lineman of the Week.
"I was actually at home this morning," Townsend said Monday, "and had just gotten out of the shower and Coach Franklin was calling me and I was like, 'Oh God what did I do?' And he told me and it's a great honor and I feel very honored. But at the same time, it is a unit award, it goes to all the offensive line and our team."
For Townsend, the weekly honor came in just his second-career start at center. In the team's win against Auburn, the Hendersonville, Tenn., native recorded 10 knockdown blocks in helping Vanderbilt gain 209 yards on the ground.
"He's a tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar kid who is very intelligent," Franklin remarked. "He's very appreciative and very proud of the opportunity he has at Vanderbilt. Partly, that's how he's been raised, but it's also partly from the community and Hendersonville High School. It's a great program with great coaches. I think it really reflects what we're trying to do: get great kids from great high school programs."
Hendersonville's Connection with Vanderbilt
Franklin also told an interesting story, with a Vanderbilt twist, as to how Hendersonville High School adopted black and gold as its school colors.
"I didn't know this story," Franklin said, "but I guess (the Hendersonville football team was) using t-shirts - they didn't have jerseys - and they had motor oil that they wrote the numbers on, and years ago Vanderbilt heard about this and Vanderbilt football donated jerseys to Hendersonville High School and that is how they got their colors."
As the story goes, Vanderbilt donated some of its old jerseys to the school in 1941, and Hendersonville has worn black and gold ever since.
"I think that is a great story and it just shows the connection Vanderbilt has with the community," Franklin said.
Franklin Hopes For Another Sellout
Vanderbilt has sold out two straight home games for the first time in 1996 and James Franklin would like a third when the Commodores welcome UMass to town for homecoming.
"Like I talked about after the game, (we're) really going out of our way to challenge our fans, who have been awesome, and our students, who have been awesome, to come out and support us," Franklin said. "What a tremendous statement it would make to sell out a UMass game. It is one thing to sell out an SEC game where the other SEC teams are going to travel extremely well. It is another thing to sell out a game against an opponent like UMass who has a further distance to travel to get here."
UMass is in its first year competing at the FBS level after being a part of the Colonial Athletic Association in the Football Championship Subdivision. UMass has a strong history at the FCS level, where it had made eight all-time NCAA Tournament appearances.
However, the transition to the FBS level has so far been a challenge. The Minutemen are 0-7 overall and 0-4 in the MAC. UMass is an extremely young team with 28 true or redshirt freshmen seeing action so far this season, so the future is bright. But the inexperience has been difficult to overcome thus far.
When UMass was at the FCS level, it had an all-time record of 8-23 against FBS foes, but the last triumph came in 1984 against Ball State.
UMass' program has produced many notable names over the years and its most prominent football alum is New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.
Vanderbilt's defense ranks among the best in the nation for the second straight year, and there is nothing Vanderbilt is better at defensively than stopping the pass.
Vanderbilt's defense ranks third nationally against the pass, surrendering just 142.57 yards per game through the air.
In total, Vanderbilt has given up just 998 yards passing. Should Vanderbilt's pass defense remain as stingy as it has thus far, the Commodores would finish the season with their fewest passing yards allowed since 1980.
Vanderbilt is on pace to give up 1,711 yards passing, which would be the fewest since the 1980 team allowed 1,708. The 1979 team yielded just 1,410 yards through the air. Toss in the fact that those teams only played 11 regular season games, and it would be hard to argue that Vanderbilt's 2012 numbers would be among the best in school history.