All season long, Head Coach James Franklin has preached the team's approach of taking every opponent one one week at a time, and treating each game as a one-week season. Well, his approach has never meant more than it does this week.
There is one game left on the schedule Saturday at Wake Forest (2:30 p.m., ESPNU). A win and the Commodores are bowl eligible; a loss and the team will get to spend their holiday break with friends and family.
"More than ever, it is a one game season," defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. "We win this week, we keep playing in December and January. If we lose, we are done. There is a lot of motivation especially for the seniors because we want to put them out in a winning way in a bowl game."
Vanderbilt is 5-6 on the season, while Wake Forest is 6-5 overall. The Demon Deacons have already clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008, and the Commodores will look to do the same for the first time since 2008 as well on Saturday.
"It is an important game for us because it determines the fate of our season," running back Zac Stacy said," but at the same time, we are not going to change anything. We are going to come in with the same mentality we've been coming in with all season. Nothing is going to change. We are going to prepare like we always do and go from there."
Wake Forest and Vanderbilt have played three of the past four years with the Commodores coming out on the short end each time. Last season, Vanderbilt lost 34-13 on Senior Day, just hours after learning that Robbie Caldwell would be coaching his final game.
"Last year was obviously a different situation," Lohr said. "Your coach gets fired just hours before the game, it kind of changes the mentality going into it. It was a whirlwind. This year is an entirely different scenario. We were 2-9 going into that game; this year we have an opportunity to make it to a bowl game."
One key to Saturday's game could be the familiarity Franklin and other members of Vanderbilt's staff have with the Wake Forest program from their time at Maryland. Both schools play in the ACC, and Maryland had won two of the previous three meetings entering this season, including a 62-14 drubbing in 2010.
"There is a little bit more familiarity, but on the same hand, they probably have a little bit more familiarity with us," Franklin said.
Both Vanderbilt and Wake Forest are improved teams this year after meeting with identical 2-9 records last season. Franklin credited much of Wake Forest's improvement to sophomore quarterback Tanner Price. The QB is completing 62.3 percent of his passes and has 19 touchdowns to six interceptions this season.
Franklin Responds to Tennessee's Postgame Celebration On Sunday leaked video footage from Tennessee's postgame locker room celebration appeared on YouTube. In the clip, Dooley was quoted as saying, "the one thing that Tennessee always does is kick the (expletive) out of Vandy."
Coach Franklin was asked about the video on Monday and said Vanderbilt players can expect to see a lot of that clip next season. Watch Video
"We'll talk about it next year a lot," Franklin said. "We'll talk about it as much as you guys want to talk about it next year. We'll watch it as many times as we got to watch it next year. That's a wound that I'm going to leave open that's not going to heal. I'm going to leave it open for a year and we'll discuss it next year."
Franklin attributed the celebration to a sign of progress with Vanderbilt's program.
"I look at it as respect. Some people act like they won the Super Bowl and they beat a team that the two previous years had won four games total. Obviously we're closing the gap and threatening some people and making some people uncomfortable, so we'll see. But we'll leave it at that and move on. But we'll have a lot of discussions about this next year when the time is right."
Also attending Monday's press conference were running back Zac Stacy and defensive tackle Rob Lohr. Both were unaware of the video at the time of the press conference. But you can be assured it will only be a matter of time before they see it.
"I had no clue about that comment, but that is definitely motivation for next year," Stacy said.
"It is a rivalry game and I'm not going to say much about it," Lohr said. "The game is over and we will talk about it again next year. I'm sure they are going to see a different outcome next year."
Franklin Hears from the SEC Franklin said on Monday that he received a phone call earlier in the day from the Southeastern Conference in regards to the ruling made on the final play of the game. But if it were up to him, he'd rather not hear afterwards about a mistake.
"I'd rather not know," Franklin said. "We were on the bus ride back and it is what it is. I got the e-mail and that was nice, and I got a phone call (Monday), and I appreciate. Those guys are great to work with. They are very respectful. They call and we have a good conversation, but it doesn't change anything. We still have to live with the results of what happened on the field and move on."
Roller Coaster of a Season In his career as a player and coach, Franklin has been through a lot of up and down seasons, but none have felt like this season. The Commodores have four losses of eight points or less in 2011.
"Probably the most rewarding season I've been through up to this point so far," Franklin said. "Probably the most challenging as well just with the amount of tough losses, the unusual situations and circumstances that have happened."
The losses this season have been painful because of how close they have been, and Franklin believes the pain is increased more at Vanderbilt because of the history of the program.
"I think what happens is the tough losses at Vanderbilt sting more," Franklin commented. "The penalties that stop drives sting more because we haven't had enough wins in our history. When you have a chance to get one and you feel like you have it taken away either by your own mistakes or by somebody else, they hurt more."
Picking a Kicker The kicking game has been magnified in recent weeks as Commodore kickers Carey Spear and Ryan Fowler have struggled to find consistency. The two have missed six field goal attempts this season. Recently, the duo has made just 1-of-5 attempts with the only make coming off the foot of Fowler's from 32 yards out against Kentucky.
On Monday, Franklin addressed the kicking job and said that Carey Spear will handle the duties against Wake Forest. After Fowler's two misses at Tennessee, Spear was seen warming up on the sideline in Knoxville, where he would have likely replaced Fowler had another field-goal opportunity arisen.
"I've got no doubt that our two guys are as good as any two kickers in the country, but we've had a couple of field goals that were game-deciding field goals that were missed or have had blocked and you lose confidence."
Franklin also noted that the kickers are now getting opportunities in high-pressure situations that they have not been used to in the past.
"Those guys, although they've kicked in the past, they haven't really been in that situation with high pressure kicks that are going to determine our outcome."
Illegal Block Proves Costly Against Tennessee, Vanderbilt had a 72-yard pass play from Jordan Rodgers to Chris Boyd negated by a clipping penalty on offensive guard Josh Jelesky. As a result, the Commodores went from the UT 1-yard line all the way back to its own 14. On the next play, Rodgers was sacked back at Vanderbilt's 1-yard line. The 98-yard change in yardage over the course of two plays was something rarely seen in football.
"I've never seen the ball go from the one to the other one in two plays," Franklin said. "There have been more freakish things that have happened this season than anything I've ever been around."
In regards to the penalty itself, Franklin agreed it was the correct call on the field.
"We've had two blocks this year that were across the back of the legs, that are not what we teach and are not acceptable, and when I see it on tape it is embarrassing to me as a coach. We'll get that fixed."
Franklin went on to say that what is taking place is not a by-product of dirty play, but instead because of the max effort that is being exerted.
"It is because these kids are playing so hard," Franklin said. "It is effort, they are trying to do too much. Our kids are playing so hard and they are trying to play so well that at times they are doing too much, and they can't do that."
Penalties have been costly for Vanderbilt. The Commodores are tied for 87th nationally in penalty yardage.
Injury Report Franklin has gone over injuries during his Wednesday media session throughout the year, and said he will do that again this week. But he did provide a few nuggets in today's press conference.
He is optimistic wide receiver John Cole, linebacker Chase Garnham and offensive lineman Ryan Seymour to return this week. Seymour's return would help bolster a line that had injuries to center Logan Stewart and guard Chase White at Tennessee. Franklin will provide a status update on those two come Wednesday.
"I'll tell you for sure from a medical perspective on Wednesday, but I'm telling you Seymour is going this week because he's got to go," Franklin quipped. "If he can't (John) Cole will probably be playing guard."
Thanksgiving Practice Schedule With Vanderbilt out of class this week for Thanksgiving, the Commodores will have a different practice routine this week. In an effort to allow some players to get home to see their families on Thanksgiving, the Commodores will practice Wednesday morning. The players who will not be traveling to the game on Saturday will then be allowed to leave.
On Thanksgiving day, Vanderbilt's remaining players will again practice in the morning so the players will be able to spend the afternoon with family locally or with the coaches.