Franklin keeps quiet on bowl talk, turns attention to Arkansas

Monday, October 24, 2011 at 6:24pm

Before the season began, it was a feat that to many might have been far-fetched. With a favorable schedule, however, bowl eligibility wasn’t out of the picture for Vanderbilt.

With only five games left, that possibility is inching closer and closer to becoming a reality as the Commodores need just two wins to lock up their second bowl bid in the last 29 years.

Just don’t talk to first-year coach James Franklin about it.

“I actually went out in the parking lot the other night after the game [on Saturday against Army, a 44-21 win] and one of the coaches' wives said something to me about that and I kind of gave her a look like, ‘We’re talking about Arkansas,’ ” Franklin said. “Luckily the coach was there and he kind of pulled her away and gave her the message. The message will be consistent with everybody.”

Sticking to that tunnel vision message — starting every week at 0-0, preparing for Elon just as it would for Alabama, playing six seconds at a time — has paid off for the Commodores (4-3, 1-3 SEC) so far.

The road gets tougher the next two weeks with No. 8 Arkansas (6-1, 2-1) coming to Nashville on Saturday. Then the Commodores play at Florida (4-3, 2-3) on Nov. 5.

After that come games against Kentucky and Tennessee, which have identical 3-4 records and are winless in the SEC. Vanderbilt ends the season at Wake Forest, which is a surprise 5-2 and second in the ACC.

“Nothing is guaranteed in the SEC,” quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. “We have seen that in the past two years. We haven’t had a good winning percentage so we need to focus on each game. We have quite a bit of tough opponents coming up at the end of the season. It is not going to be an easy road.”

Vanderbilt last played in a bowl game in 2008, edging Boston College 16-14 in the Music City Bowl. It was the Commodores’ first bowl victory in 53 years and first bowl appearance since losing to Air Force in the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1982.

When Franklin was hired last December, reaching a bowl in his first year was not a goal that was discussed among the coaching staff and players. Seven games in, he still avoids the topic — with not only the media but with his players and coaches.

Yet, there would be no underplaying the significance of Vanderbilt making it back to a bowl after two consecutive 2-10 seasons.

“It would be huge,” Rodgers said. “It is always huge for a program to get to a bowl game. Being Coach Franklin’s first year, it would be a great tribute to him. But just the fact that we are 4-1 at home right now, we’re winning some big games, we’re putting points up on the board, I think that is getting people excited. That is getting us excited.”

• Tate adjusting: It appears sophomore Wesley Tate is beginning to reach a comfort zone at wide receiver.

The Hendersonville native moved from running back to the slot position during August preseason camp. After making just one catch in his first two games, he has 13 over the last five contests. He is second on the team in receptions (14) and third in receiving yards (120). He caught three passes for 38 yards against Army.

“It is not a concern for us anymore,” Franklin said. “Early on, at the beginning of the season, we felt like we could only use him in certain plays and certain situations. We don’t have any concerns about that [now]. More than anything, he is more comfortable in his role and responsibilities.

“What I think he needs to do, like a lot of our guys, is ... learn how to play fast without the ball ... so when he does catch the ball he has created separation. That is when the big plays come.”

• Seymour honored: Left guard Ryan Seymour was named the SEC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week, the league announced on Monday.

The junior from Kingsland, Ga., recorded seven knockdown blocks and was part of a unit that opened up huge holes for running back Zac Stacy and Rodgers. The Commodores finished with 344 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. The line also did not allow a sack.

Vanderbilt quarterbacks have been sacked just once in the last three games after having gone down 16 in the first four games.

 Game time: The SEC announced that Vanderbilt’s Nov. 5 game at Florida — like this Saturday’s against Arkansas — will kick off at 11:21 a.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network (Channel 14).