By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin preaches on 6 seconds. He wants his Commodores thinking ahead only for the 6 seconds it takes from the snap of the ball to the whistle.
No more, no less.
With the Commodores 2-0 and hosting Ole Miss in both teams’ Southeastern Conference opener Saturday, that is a little tougher for those around long enough to know to enjoy being undefeated. Another win would top the 2-10 marks of each of the past two seasons and match the 3-0 start of 2008 when they went 7-6.
“Once you’re 2-0, you can start acting like you’re 2-0,” Vandy receiver John Cole said. “You’re an undefeated team, and the confidence is very evident with every team member and across campus. That’s something we really haven’t had much of in the past. That’s us showing we’re a new team, and everybody’s interested. We put too much work into this ever since coach Franklin has stepped on campus. We really don’t want to lose.”
That’s what worries Ole Miss (1-1).
The Rebels have lost four of the past six in this series and watched Vanderbilt get its lone SEC win over them a year ago. Ole Miss defensive end Wayne Dorsey said he thinks everyone is ready to play Vanderbilt, especially those who remember last year’s 28-14 loss in Oxford. Mix it with being the SEC opener, and the Rebels can’t wait to hit the field in Nashville.
“It’s definitely the biggest game of the season,” Dorsey said. “It doesn’t get bigger than this because you have to get off to a good start in the SEC. First SEC game is critical, and with them coming in last year and beating us, we have to get that one back.”
SEC openers have been a struggle for both these teams. The Commodores are 5-25 over the past 30 years, though 2-4 since 2005. Ole Miss is trying to snap a seven-game skid in SEC openers dating back to 2003 when the Rebels beat Vanderbilt 24-21 in Nashville.
“It is always very difficult and (a) tough league,” Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said. “Anybody can beat anybody in any three-hour period. It is in between that time that you have to be your best. If you eliminate turnovers, play defense and execute on special teams you have a chance to win.”
Vanderbilt has been very good at forcing turnovers early. The Commodores lead the SEC in turnover margin and also in sacks where Tim Fugger leads the league with three sacks. They also have returned an interception for a touchdown in each of the first two games, and they held Connecticut to 193 yards total offense in last week’s 24-21 win.
“James Franklin has brought in a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” said Nutt, who sat next to Vanderbilt’s new coach during league meetings earlier this year. “They are believing right now and are doing a good job. Winning helps that. Winning is the best medicine there is to give you confidence and what you need. They are playing very hard, fast and with a lot of confidence.”
Vanderbilt did give up a punt block for a touchdown in the win over Connecticut, and now the Commodores must defend Jeff Scott, who rushed for three TDs and returned a punt for another in last week’s 42-24 win over Southern Illinois. Vanderbilt is allowing an average of 86 yards rushing so far, and Scott downplayed his performance last week against an FCS program.
“I still feel like I have to prove myself,” Scott said. “This is going to be a big game this week. (It’s) the SEC. The difference is guys are two steps faster, three times bigger, and they’re actually smarter or whatever.”
Franklin has been lobbying Nashville fans to come out and support his Commodores. They had about 5,000 more in the stands for UConn than the opener against Elon, but still were a few thousand short of being sold out. The Commodores travel to South Carolina and Alabama next, so a win Saturday is crucial to any chance at their first bowl since 2008.
Larry Smith was 5 of 7 for 90 yards passing with a TD in the first quarter against UConn, and the senior quarterback said it is a bit hard not to look ahead. But he believes Franklin will have them grounded before kickoff.
“Hopefully, everything will work out for us if we keep that mindset of one game at a time,” Smith said.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report.