Bobby Johnson could just wring his hands over the number of injuries sustained by his Vanderbilt football team this season.
Then again, he might get hurt doing so.
The most two significant injuries sustained in Saturday’s 36-17 victory over Rice, after all, involved the hands, which have been problem areas this season. Wide receiver John Cole (broken hand) and strong safety Sean Richardson (torn thumb tendon) both underwent surgery on Sunday.
Johnson estimated that as many as 10 scholarship players currently are unavailable because of injuries or other issues since the end of last season.
“That happens in football,” Johnson said Monday at his weekly press briefing. “You just have to go and work through it the best you can.”
Cole had the best game of his career with seven receptions for 67 yards and a 31-yard touchdown run despite his injury. He played the entire contest but had difficulty catching the ball late.
Richardson was limited to a season-low two tackles.
Johnson said neither situation is season-ending and that there is the possibility Richardson could be back in action as early as this Saturday against Ole Miss (6 p.m., Vanderbilt Stadium, ESPNU).
“(Richardson), obviously, would be in a cast, but that’s asking a lot (of someone) to have surgery on a Sunday and then play the next Saturday,” Johnson said. “… (Cole) we hope can come back fairly quickly. I doubt if he can play this weekend.”
One of the Commodores’ first injuries during preseason camp was to safety Jay Fullam, who sustained a torn tendon in his hand. That one required immediate surgery, and Fullam has not yet played.
Linebacker John Stokes also had a hand injury during preseason camp and played with a cast for a time.
Also injured against Rice was defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone. He hurt a knee, which will be reevaluated in coming days before his status is determined.
“Just like just about every football team at this time of the year, our depth is going to be challenged,” Johnson said. “There’s not much you can do about it. You try to mix-and-match at places the best you can. I think our coaches have done a good job of that already.
Four times on Saturday, Vanderbilt started drives in Rice territory. Two ended with field goals, one with a punt and only one with a touchdown.
In the last three games they have gotten inside the opponents’ 20-yard line eight times and have scored just three touchdowns with four field goals.
“We were given several short fields by the defense with turnovers,” Johnson said. “When we start playing people like Ole Miss, we’d better start taking advantage of that or we’ll be kicking ourselves.”
The Commodores are seventh in the Southeastern Conference in total offense at 367.8 yards per game. However, they are last in the league (88th in the FCS) in scoring offense at 23.2 points per game.
Johnson said senior running back Jared Hawkins made it through the Rice game without injury.
Hawkins rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries after having missed the first three games of this season with a foot injury.
“He was sore, and understandably so,” Johnson said. “(During the game) he looked fresh. He looked ready to go and hungry to make some good runs. He made some good runs.
“ … It’s great to have Jared back, not only for the depth but for the experience he gives us in every situation.”
Johnson won his 29th game as Vanderbilt coach, which tied him with Ray Morrison for fourth all-time. … Vanderbilt has won its last two against Ole Miss. The last time it defeated an SEC opponent in three straight times was when it won five in a row versus Kentucky from 1991-95. … Freshman kicker Ryan Fowler has made five straight field goal attempts after having missed his first two of the season.