Vanderbilt fans had wondered where the risk-taking James Franklin had gone. The offensive playbook in Franklin's first two years was littered with gadget plays and deep balls that aided an offense that was sometimes short on Southeastern Conference talent at a few positions. Defensively, the Commodores blitzed and forced a lot of turnovers. As a result, Franklin went 15-11 in a start that surpassed everyone's wildest expectations.
This year, Vandy's 2-2 start could be explained by the fact that the Commodores' two losses are to a pair of Top 25 teams in Ole Miss and South Carolina. However, there was still something missing -- namely, the aggressiveness and risk-taking mentality that had defined Franklin's first two years.
If Saturday was any indication, it's back. VU churned out season-highs in yards (540), passing yards (334), rushing yards (206) and points in a 52-24 drubbing of UAB on Saturday. It also recorded a pair of interceptions, which doubled the entire team total for the previous four games.
On Monday, Franklin acknowledged the change in approach.
"It's something to build on, and I think we called the game in an aggressive manner on offense and (Austyn) Carta-Samuels played the game that way as well," said Franklin, speaking of the offensive approach and to the play of his quarterback.
Franklin also noted that Saturday's game was the first time in school history that VU had a 300-yard passer (Carta-Samuels), a 100-yard rusher (Jerron Seymour) and two 100-yard receivers (Jordan Matthews, Jonathan Krause) in the same game.
"Defensively, we were so much more aggressive and it showed up... same thing in the secondary, we weren't bailing out there, we were sitting on some routes and jumping some routes," Franklin added.
Specifically, Franklin said that Kenny Ladler's interception was a result of VU's change in defensive approach.
As to the other interception, which was recorded by linebacker Darreon Herring, Herring credited teammates Darrius Sims and Stephen Weatherly for getting pressure on the quarterback.
Two games ago, VU ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in total offense. Saturday's effort helped move Vandy up to No. 9 (416.4 ypg). Defensively, Vanderbilt sits at seventh (363.4). VU is sixth in scoring offense (34.8) and fifth in scoring defense (21.6).
The Commodores have now won 10 of their last 12 games, and have converted 16-of-22 fourth-downs in that span.
Now that Franklin's done his part, he hopes fans will, also.
"We need a home field advantage and I think that is going to be very important. They run an explosive, up-tempo offense, so being able to have a home field advantage and crowd noise will make it difficult for their offense to run," said Franklin. VU drew 32,467 fans to the UAB game, but the third-year coach is hoping for a better turnout this week.
Player notes: Jordan Matthews continues his ascension up the VU and SEC career receiving charts. With 2,873 yards, Matthews ranks 11th on the SEC's yardage list, and third on Vandy's. With 91 yards, Matthews can pass Boo Mitchell (1985-88) to become the school's all-time yardage leader, and he needs just 220 yards to pass Georgia's Terrence Edwards (1999-2002) for the league mark. On Saturday, his lone TD catch gave him 21 for a career, which tied the school record. This year, Matthews leads the league in receptions per game (8) and ranks second in yards per game (117.2).
Jonathan Krause continues to surprise with an excellent senior season. Krause ranks eighth in the SEC with 69.8 yards per game and tied for 14th with 3.8 receptions. Assuming that Krause maintains his current pace and assuming that the 'Dores go to a bowl, Krause would end the year with 49 catches and 907 yards. That would actually better the yardage mark of last year's No. 2 receiver, Chris Boyd (774).
Austin Carta-Samuels ranks fifth in the SEC in passing yards per game (244.6), seventh in passing efficiency (152.3) and fifth in total offense (257.2). Carta-Samuels, a senior, has started every game after logging just one start last year.
Left tackle Wesley Johnson, a senior who has started all 43 games during his career, was whistled for the first hold of his career against UAB.
Starting middle linebacker Chase Garnham continues to miss time with a leg injury. While Franklin won't comment on injuries, all indications are that the senior is going to miss several more games at a minimum.
Right tackle Andrew Bridges also appears to be suffering from a undisclosed injury. He didn't play the last two weeks and no longer appears on the depth chart.
Right tackle Andrew Jelks, a redshirt freshman, has started the last two games in Bridges' place.
Starting outside linebacker Karl Butler has also missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury. Butler is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart in an "or" situation with Larry Franklin, but that was also the case last week.
Vanderbilt vs. MissouriThe Commodores and Tigers each have two wins in the five-game series, with the other being a tie. That tie came in 1957, which was the only game in the series played in Nashville. That contest was played in a rainstorm, and neither team completed a pass. VU won last year's game in Columbia, 19-15. Here's a preliminary look at how the teams match up.
When Vanderbilt runs: Jerron Seymour's performance against UAB was outstanding: 15 touches, 152 yards, two touchdowns. However, the Commodores don't have a single player in the top 15 of the SEC's yardage chart this season, and rank last in the league in rushing yards per game (157.6) and 13th in yards per carry (4.5). No doubt, a weak schedule has helped Missouri rank third in the league in rushing defense (115.8) and fifth in yards per carry (3.7), but VU's Franklin praised the Tigers' defensive line on Monday, calling it the strength of the defense and singling out defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam as players to watch.
When Vanderbilt throws: Carta-Samuels was terrific on Saturday, hitting 79.3 percent of his throws for a 14.5-yard average on each attempt. With Krause emerging alongside Matthews, VU has established that it can throw the ball effectively so long as the line can protect Carta-Samuels, and the long ball has been a real weapon of late. The key for Carta-Samuels will be eliminating those one or two poor decisions each game, such as he displayed on Saturday's interception, when he locked on to Matthews even though he was surrounded by four defenders. That will be a key on Saturday, as Missouri's 10 interceptions rank second in the league. However, the Tigers have given up more yards passing (282.8) than any SEC team, though that's somewhat misleading given the 6.3 yards per attempt that opponents have registered.
When Missouri runs: Before last week's game, VU's Franklin maintained that stopping the run was the defense's biggest issue. Coming into the Missouri contest, Vandy ranks 10th (153.2 ypg, 4.3 ypc) in rushing defense and yards per carry. Vandy's biggest headache -- for three years running -- has come against mobile quarterbacks, and the Tigers have one in their own James Franklin. With 215 yards and 5.2 yards per carry, the Tigers' Franklin presents a real challenge, and ran the ball effectively vs. VU a year ago. However, Franklin ranks just fourth on the team in yards behind running backs Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy and Henry Josey, none of whom average under six yards per carry. It'll take Vandy's best defensive effort to stop Missouri on the ground.
When Missouri throws: The key for VU on Saturday could be forcing interceptions, but the Commodores have just three, and UM's Franklin has thrown just three picks in 139 attempts. Teams have been able to carve Vanderbilt up underneath, and the stats (VU has given up completions at a 65.9 percent rate, while Franklin is hitting 67.6 percent of his throws) suggest that Missouri should be able to do that as well. However, Vanderbilt did play its corners a bit tighter last week to guard against the ball-control aspect that had kept its defense on the field: VU's 99 first downs allowed is the third-worst mark in the SEC. The matchup to watch, if it happens, is CB Andre Hal on WR Dorial Green-Beckham.
Special teams: VU's Franklin lamented the fact that P Taylor Hudson has kicked too may balls to the middle of the field, but the results have still been great: VU's 43.0-yard net punting average tops the SEC. K Carey Spear connected on his fourth field goal of 50 yards or more on Saturday, and just 11 of his 31 kickoffs have been returned. VU has not broken a big play in the return game all season, but it's not allowing any, either. Missouri's Murphy is one of the nation's best kickoff and punt returners, so VU's continued ability to do that will be big.