James Franklin is off to a hot start as the Commodores advanced to 2-0 after beating UConn on Saturday.
Perhaps more important, however, is the way the 'Dores won. After coming out of the gates with 14 points in the first, Vandy let UConn get back in the game in the second half with two untimely mistakes. In the third quarter, Richard Kent's punt was blocked as the 'Dores were pushed back against their own end zone, and was recovered in the end zone by UConn's Byron Jones for a touchdown that brought the score to 14-13. Then in the fourth quarter, Larry Smith was clocked on 3rd and 8, forcing him to fumble. The ball was scooped up by Yawin Smallwood and returned 64 yards for a touchdown. UConn then converted to bring the score to 21-14.
But where other Vandy teams might have wilted, this one stood strong, thanks to the help of an extremely opportunistic defense. Casey Heyward intercepted a pass from UConn QB Johnny McEntee and returned it 50 yards for a TD to tie the game with 6:45 left in the fourth. Then, with 2:56 left, Carey Spear drilled a 31 yard field goal to give the team it's winning lead at 21-14.
The game was a display of strong defensive effort. Vanderbilt held UConn to 193 total yards, allowing just 104 yards through the air. Additionally, Vanderbilt picked three balls off thanks to the efforts of Hayward, Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall. Vanderbilt also sacked McEntee five times, with Tim Fugger picking up two, and Rob Lohr picking up one to go along with his 3 other tackles for loss.
Offensively, Vanderbilt still sputtered, but showed some big play burst that simply lacked under the old regime. Larry Smith's 42 yard strike to Chris Boyd off play action in the first quarter was a thing of beauty, as was his nice 31 yard loft to John Cole. Freshman Jerron Seymour showed a tremendous amount of burst as the Commodores are attempting to rest Warren Norman for as long as they can. However, it was difficult to find positives in the offensive performance after the first quarter. Vanderbilt allowed Larry Smith to be sacked seven times, including a couple real whoppers. At that rate, we'll need every QB on the roster simply as an injury concern. Larry started out the game 5 for 6, but finished the game only 12 for 24 for 141 yards, the majority of which were gained in the first quarter.
Still, there are signs that the Vanderbilt program is on the rise. ESPN now projects the 'Dores to make a bowl game, which may be a bit premature, but is certainly viable after Vandy's first 2-0 start since the 2008 season. All in all, fans in VSL Nation should be pleased with the opening to the James Franklin era, and also with the fact that Coach Franklin himself is not pleased (and thus expects more).