Vanderbilt has won two straight games and are two wins shy of reaching bowl eligibility for the second straight season, but don't tell that to the Commodores. The team has used the same one-game-at-a-time approach since Day 1 and has no reason to alter its approach as the calendar flips to the final month of the regular season.
On Monday, James Franklin was asked about the current standing of the team through eight games, and given his answer, it is obvious that having selective amnesia is still the preferred approach each week.
"It's an opportunity for us to get a win this weekend, which would make us 1-0," said Franklin when he was asked about the team's 4-4 record. "The significance of the games we played before and the significance of the ones we play after, I have no idea. I don't know who we play the following week, I don't know how many wins we have right now."
The mindset of taking each game one week at a time is also not lost on the players. Many members of the team remember all too well what 2-10 seasons feel like and will do whatever it takes to give themselves the best opportunity to win each Saturday.
"The only opportunity we're looking for is to play Kentucky," junior offensive tackle Wesley Johnson. "We just want to beat them. That's our goal going into this weekend; can't get into much more than that."
The team doesn't want to hear about what happened two weeks ago or what is taking place two weeks from now, let alone bowl talk.
"It is kind of taboo to talk about it," Johnson said of bowl games. "I think it is one of those things that is good about the kind of culture we have around here: guys don't like to talk about it. Because we can't afford to look ahead to the week after Kentucky."
It's definitely a tunnel-vision approach, but it has proven to be successful for Coach Franklin and the Commodores, and as the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
A Tale of Two Teams
It cannot be deciphered from Kentucky's 1-8 overall record or 0-6 mark in the SEC, but the Wildcats have been decisively better at home than on the road.
Kentucky is still just 1-4 at home with its lone win coming against Kent State (47-14), but the Wildcats are scoring nearly 20 points per game more at home than on the road, and have a margin of defeat of just 1.4 points per game at home compared to 30.25 points on the road.
The point differentials are skewed a bit due to non-conference games, but a difference is also noticeable in SEC play. Earlier this season, Kentucky led South Carolina 17-7 at the half and trailed Georgia by two at intermission. The Wildcats lost both games, but were very much in the game.
In SEC play only, Kentucky is averaging 18.33 points per game at home compared to just 5.6 points per game on the road. The Wildcats are also giving up 8.7 fewer points per game at Commonwealth Stadium.
"They're a team that is very aggressive and I bet they're hungry for a win, so we're expecting their best this weekend," Johnson said.
Updates on Stacy, Jelesky and Nichter
It's becoming that time of year where injuries begin to stack up for many teams, and on Saturday Vanderbilt dealt with a few of their own with running back Zac Stacy leaving in the first quarter and offensive guard Josh Jelesky and defensive tackle Colt Nichter being held out of action. Despite the brief setbacks for all three players, Coach Franklin said Monday that he expects the three to make the trip to Lexington.
"(Zac) told me he'll be ready to go. He told me he could have gone back in on Saturday, as well as our trainers," Franklin said.
Regarding Jelesky and Nichter, Franklin said: "Both those guys, we plan on being back."
Franklin also praised his offensive line for its play without Jelesky on Saturday. He noted that Ryan Seymour and Chase White played three positions on the line against UMass.
"I think Herb (Hand) and the line have done a really good job and embraced the identity that they have to be able to play multiple positions," Franklin remarked.
Rodgers Nearly Owned QB Record
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers had his most efficient game as a Commodore Saturday against UMass. The senior completed 17-of-21 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. The 80.9 percent completion percentage was easily the best of his career, and was nearly the best in school history.
The school record is held by Hank Lesene, who completed 81.8 percent of his passes against Georgia in 1961. With one more attempt and completion, Rodgers would have tied Lesene for the school record.
"I thought Jordan played really well after watching the tape," Franklin said. "The one thing that is a shame is that we did miss two easy throws that would have set us up for more opportunities and would have (given) him an opportunity to break a school record, which really isn't a big deal, but it would be a cool thing for him."
Rodgers' previous best outing came at Florida last year when he hit 67.8 percent of his passes (19-of-28). Before the UMass game, his most accurate performance of the season was against Auburn when he connected on 60 percent of his passes (15-of-25).
"I was happy for (Jordan) to play well because he deserves a good game like that because of how hard he works," Johnson said. "
Eliminating Costly Penalties
Vanderbilt matched a season high with 11 penalties for 80 yards against UMass. Many of the uncharacteristic penalties occurred in the first quarter and prevented Vanderbilt from getting on the scoreboard until 5:34 remained in the opening frame. Franklin said Monday that penalties were definitely a concern, but that they are correctable mistakes. Getting them corrected soon is a good thing for the Commodores' chances going forward and even better for Franklin's blood pressure.
"We definitely can clean it up," Franklin commented. It was definitely frustrating. I thought I actually had a vein that was going to explode in the middle of my forehead in the middle of the game."
Johnson shared Franklin's frustrations and attributed the early penalties against UMass to a lack of focus.
"I think that was us just not being ready to play," Johnson said. "We weren't as focused as we needed to be coming out of the gate."
Ever since South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a gruesome injury to his right leg on Saturday, many players and coaches from throughout the SEC have passed along their best wishes to the All-America candidate, who also missed the end of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
On Monday, Vanderbilt offensive tackle Wesley Johnson shared those same sentiments with the media.
"He's such a great player and he's a really classy guy, too," Johnson said. Everybody around the league has a lot of respect for him and it was tough to see that happen."
Johnson said that he and others saw the play before the UMass game, and it made him appreciate each snap he gets to play.
"Never in a million years would anyone have thought that he would have got hurt like that on that particular play," Johnson reflected. "It made us be more appreciative of what we have and it helped us to realize that we have to take advantage of every opportunity we get."