Nov. 18, 2013
November brings the annual return of warm-weather clothing to Middle Tennessee and signals the start of the holiday season with Thanksgiving a little more than a week away. For a long time on Vanderbilt's campus, the 11th month of the year also meant the Commodores were in store for disappointing finish to the football season. How disappointing? Try five wins over the course of a 15-year period. From 1996 through 2010, Vanderbilt posted a 5-46 record during the month of November.
And there wasn't a single outlier. Vanderbilt never won more than one game during the month.
Vanderbilt's November struggles now seem to be a part of the distant past. Under Head Coach James Franklin, Vanderbilt's fortunes have completely changed in the month of November to the point that the month is affectionately known as "Dorevember" by Vanderbilt fans.
Since 2011, Vanderbilt is 8-2 during the month. For perspective, Vanderbilt won a total of eight games during the month of November from 1994-2010. During the last three years, the 8-2 record during November is tied for third best in the league behind only Georgia (10-1) and South Carolina (8-1). Alabama is also 8-2, while LSU is 7-2.
Vanderbilt's two losses in November came in Franklin's first season. Since the final game of the 2011 regular season, the Commodores have reeled off seven straight wins during the final month. The win streak is second in the SEC only to South Carolina, who has won eight straight games.
In the last two seasons, Vanderbilt is 6-0 in November - a record matched only by Texas A&M. South Carolina has played one less game and is 5-0. Georgia and Alabama each have one loss.
During Vanderbilt's current seven-game win streak during the month, the Commodores have outscored their opponents 260-95.
While some teams are regressing due to the wear and tear of the season, the Commodores are getting better.
"I think the biggest thing is our routine: 1-0 every single week," Franklin said. "We don't approach whether it is a non-conference game, a conference game, or a rivalry or a bowl game any different, and I think that consistency in our routine and in our approach has helped us. The other thing is, we don't really change our plan. We are a fundamentalist program and I think in the long run that is going to help you get better throughout the season, individually and collectively, and we have been able to do that."
The success has continued during the 2013 season. Vanderbilt opened the month with a 34-17 win at Florida on November 9 and defeated Kentucky 22-6 last Saturday. This week, the Commodores will look to continue their late-season success with a trip to Tennessee on Saturday (6 p.m. CT, ESPN2).
A win in Knoxville would be Vanderbilt's first since 2005 and would give the Commodores eight straight wins during the month for the first time since the 1923-24 seasons.
Because of their recent success, the Commodores have played with an extra dose of confidence in the final month of the season. November has become Vanderbilt's best month, and the players feed off each win.
"I think confidence with wins is infectious," quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels said. "I think what we've done at the end of our seasons is we've grown so much, that we are to a point where our confidence is at an all-time high - we've seen ourselves win, we've seen ourselves prove that we can win games. We just believe in ourselves and believe in our coaches."
Part of that belief has been fostered by the team's aggressiveness on the field. Following Vanderbilt's 51-28 loss to Missouri on October 5, Franklin made it a point of emphasis that the Commodores needed to get back to their aggressive ways which had become their identity the previous two seasons.
The change in the team's aggressiveness was evident in the next game against Georgia - a 31-27 win. The Commodores ran a fake field goal for a touchdown and added constant pressure to the Bulldogs, which contributed to three turnovers. The turnovers have continued to come since that game. After having just seven takeaways in the first six games, Vanderbilt now has 18 in its last four.
"They weren't coming to us, but we stuck to it and now they are coming," linebacker Karl Butler said of the turnovers. "We are just going to stick to the game plan and hopefully the turnovers will keep coming."
The philosophy of trying to create turnovers hasn't changed, but Vanderbilt's emphasis on playing more aggressive has. And the aggressiveness has helped give the team an identity during another November charge.
"We are going to draw on what we did last year, in terms of being more physical and more aggressive, playing like we don't really have anything to lose," offensive tackle Wesley Johnson said. "That's what we did last year and I think that's where we are going this year."
Matthews Nearing Another Record
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews is closing in on yet another record. Last week, Matthews set a personal best with 12 receptions and also became the first player in school history to top 1,000 yards receiving two times. Up next, Matthews is on pace to overtake Earl Bennett for the most receptions in school and SEC history, and it may happen this weekend. Matthews has 233 career receptions, three shy of Bennett's record of 236.
Matthews was also named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award Monday. The recognition and records are nice, but Matthews has always been about the team first, and it is a fact that is not lost by his teammates.
"He's very mature about the fact that he doesn't need the receptions or numbers to be happy at the end of the day," Carta-Samuels said. "For him, all that matters is a win or a loss. If he can see his teammates having success, he's really excited. If he can see his teammates have success, if he can allow his teammates to have success because of him - he takes great respect and pride in that."
Looking Ahead: Wake Forest
After traveling to Tennessee this weekend, Vanderbilt returns home to face Wake Forest on November 30. The SEC announced Monday that the game will be played at 11:21 a.m. on SEC TV. The game will also be Senior Day for the Commodores. Wake Forest is 4-6 overall with a home game against Duke this Saturday.