NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vanderbilt's first major scrimmage of the 2011 Preseason Camp produced mixed results for the offense on Saturday night at the John Rich Practice Facility.
The Commodores scored a pair of touchdowns and moved the ball down the field during portions of the 16-series, 58-play initial scrimmage and later in the third down situational scrimmage, but interceptions by the Commodore defense and numerous penalties and delay of games stunted what could've been a very productive night for a unit that is trying to improve under first-year head coach James Franklin.
"If you look at how the offense started with the skelly, very impressive. If you look at the first drive [of the scrimmage], very impressive. What we have to learn around here is how to be more consistent," Franklin said following the evening practice. "We've got to sustain it, and that's typical across the country, even in the NFL. You've got to be able to sustain, drive in and drive out.
"You can't go for a 70 yard drive for a touchdown and then come back and go three-and-out. That's on special teams, on defense, you see it across the board. We've just got to be more consistent with everything we're doing.
"Again though, I'll say that we've got a long ways to go, but comparing the spring to now, it's a dramatic difference. Dramatic."
Senior quarterback Larry Smith got things going early on, directing a 10-play, 58-yard drive that started from the offense's own 10-yard line. Smith connected with fellow senior Udom Umoh on a pair of passes for first downs. Junior running back Zac Stacy picked up a pair of first downs as well during the series and gained 30 yards on four carries drive. The series ended without points however as Smith's passes on second and third down were well defended by the Commodore defense.
Smith returned to the field four series later to direct the first team offense against the first team defense. Starting from his own 25-yard this time, Smith connected with sophomore Jordan Matthews for a seven-yard gain to begin the series and followed that up with 18-yard pass play to junior John Cole. Smith then found Zac Stacy for 11 yards and another first down to drive the ball further before connecting with tight end Brandon Barden two plays later to set up a 3rd-and-2 situation from the defense's 31-yard line.
With the play clock running down, Smith lined the offense up and found a wide open Fitz Lassing and the fullback broke away from the defense for a touchdown.
Smith finished the initial scrimmage completing 8-of-18 pass attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown. Junior Jordan Rodgers took most of the snaps with the second team, but struggled during portions of the scrimmage, throwing two interceptions to Andre Hal and Chase Garnham and experiencing a number of delay of game or illegal formation penalties.
Garnham's interception, a play in which the sophomore stepped in front of a pass intended for true freshman Jacquese Kirk, resulted in a 21-yard touchdown return by the linebacker.
Franklin said the delay of game penalties, which also occurred with freshman quarterbacks Josh Grady and Kris Kentera directing the offense during the scrimmage, were a result of a quicker play clock than the standard college rule and his plan to take panic out of the offense's mindset. The staff also pumped in crowd noise during portions of the scrimmage to see how the offense would react.
"I go with the 35-second clock in practice to try to make it tougher on them," Franklin said. "I remember last year we opened against Navy when I was at Maryland the clock was a lot faster than we anticipated, so everything I'm doing is trying to make the practices harder than what the games will be, so we're never in the position where we're in panic. Panic will never be in our game plan, so I want to make sure that we're ready for all of those situations.
"With the crowd noise, same thing. I've always felt that at other places I've been, we used the crowd noise too late and then we hadn't adjusted to it and we had some problems with it. So I wanted to make sure we got some crowd noise early and we were able to do that today as well, which I think helped us.
"I think the situations, backed up, the crowd noise, just trying to make game like situations," Franklin added. "We had the music going in warmup. We were just trying to create as many game like situations as we possibly could today. I thought in general that we got a lot accomplished today with all the situations. The coaches were on the sideline, we had to signal the plays in, we had to substitute the personnel, there was a lot of operational things that we did.
"Next time we'll actually be in the stadium for the scrimmage. We weren't able to do that today because of the grass still wasn't completely ready. Then, what we'll do is have the coaches up in the booth and we'll take it to the whole next level of the communication down to the sideline and calling the plays and all that kind of stuff. So I was very pleased in what we did today."
In Commodore offense finished out the initial scrimmage in with a four-play, 50-yard scoring drive. Freshman Mitchell Hester took a short handful from midfield, made two people miss and darted for a 25-yard gain to start the drive.
Following a 17-yard pass by Josh Grady to receiver Jameson Sackey and a 4-yard loss on the following play when Grady and Hester botched a hand-off, the speedy Florida back made another impressive outside move and fought through a facemask by the Commodore defense to power himself into the end zone for a touchdown.
Hester finished the day with 35 yards on four carries. Fellow freshman back Jerron Seymour rushed for 41 yards including a 38-yard gain, on four carries during the scrimmage periods and caught two passes for 20 yards.
Vanderbilt staged a third down situational scrimmage moments after the first field position scrimmage was complete. Starting from a 3rd-and-1 situation and extending all the way out to a 3rd-and-12, the Commodores had mixed success. Smith and the first team converted on 2-of-7 attempts, with one coming on a 40 yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews.
Overall, Smith completed 10-of-24 on the day for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Rodgers finished the day completing 7-of-16 passes during all phases of the scrimmage for 43 yards. Josh Grady completed 5-of-6 passes for 58 yards while Kris Kentera completed 1-of-2 passes for seven yards.
Vanderbilt finished off the night with two series of goal line work. Zac Stacy scored from four yards out on the first series and junior Micah Powell added a 1-yard scoring run during the second play of the second series to end the practice.
Prior to the scrimmage, the Commodores went through several periods of game prep. The team also went through a quick passing skeleton in which Smith completed 6-of-7 passes including two long passes to Matthews and Jonathan Krause.
The Commodores will take Sunday off before returning to the practice field for the program's third series of two-a-days on Monday.