Roy Exum: Vanderbilt Is 3-And-OH!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Vanderbilt’s football team, after posting a 2-10 record in each of the last two years and just two winning seasons in the past 30, has just emerged as college football’s “feel-good” story of the year. While the Commodores are a 15-point underdog this week to No. 12 South Carolina, Vandy is 3-0 for the first time since World War II.

Are you kidding me! What the bespectacled James Franklin has done in his first year as head coach is nothing short of amazing and, if last Saturday’s 30-7 win over SEC foe Ole Miss is any indicator at all, the enthusiastic leader could easily be in the running for the SEC‘s Coach of the Year award by early December.

To longtime Vanderbilt sufferers and guys like me who have quietly admired the gutty ‘Dores for years, the whole thing was encompassed in one hushed moment shortly after Ole Miss finally scored for the first time with just 2:15 on the clock and 30 Vanderbilt points already in the bank.

Franklin first raced to the locker room with his jubilant team and, after joyous cries and hearty hoorahs, he broke away to face reporters beneath the stadium. That’s when he finally broke down. With tears of raw emotion dripping from his face, he said, “That win is for Chancellor (Nicholas) Zeppos. That win is for Vice Chancellor (David) Williams …”

With lips twitching and his face twisted, he then stood in silence for about 20 seconds, unable to speak, before he summoned his inner reserve and continued. “That win is for our kids,” he said with fresh tears streaming down his face.

“That win is for our coaches ... and how hard we have worked. We are really, really proud of these kids. That win is for our loyal fans that have showed up here for a long time, looking for something to believe in. So I'm just really proud. I don't know what the stats are. I don't really know what the score is, but it is a win.”

Oh, it is more than that. Those who have closely watched the first black football coach in Vandy history, and the team’s third head coach in as many years, already marvel at what the East Stroudsburg State graduate has done at Vanderbilt. It is darn-near a miracle.

Franklin has already gotten 19 commitments from blue-chip high school players for next year. He’s injected enthusiasm and hope into an admittedly tired and tried band of ever-loyal boosters and he’s got players who are going crazy, like SEC Defensive Player of the Week Trey Wilson, a 5-11 whirlwind from Shreveport who had two interceptions Saturday to now lead the SEC. He returned one for a 52-yard touchdown.

Then there is this week’s SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, Wesley Johnson. A Nashville native, Johnson anchored a Commodore attack that produced 281 rushing yards and 387 total yards on Saturday and, for the record, the 281 rushing yards was Vanderbilt’s highest output against an SEC opponent in 17 seasons, dating back to Oct. 15, 1994, against Georgia.

South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore rushed for a career-high 247 against Navy for top offensive honors this week, but, at the same time, Vandy runner Zac Stacy rushed for a career-high 169 yards (10th highest rushing total in school history) on just 11 carries against Ole Miss. See what I’m saying? The Commodores are clicking with Franklin pushing the buttons.

Last week Ole Miss was favored by 3 when the game clock started, but, by the time the final horn sounded, Vanderbilt’s raging defense had rattled Ole Miss so badly there were five pass interceptions, one 35-yard snap over the quarterback's head for a safety, one timeout burned because the Rebels had 10 men on the field, another burned because they had 12 men on the field, and four false-start penalties.

Offensively Vandy ran the football 49 times for 281 yards. That's 5.7 yards per carry. The Rebels ran the ball 32 times for 85 yards. That's 2.7 yards per carry. Vandy just waxed the Rebs, I’m telling you.

To be candid, the rest of the way is rough. After No. 12 South Carolina this week comes an October that includes No. 3 Alabama, Georgia, Army and No. 14 Arkansas. In November Vandy will face No. 15 Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. That’s a Murderer’s Row, SEC style, but today James Franklin has got the Commodores believing there is a bright future ahead.

Who would have ever thought it? Vanderbilt is 3-and-OH!

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