Vanderbilt does not simply want to win the turnover battle. It wants three more takeaways than its opponent.
So far, the Commodores are 0-for-2, just like their record.
Unlike last year, when it led the nation in interceptions and ranked in the top 10 in turnovers for nearly half of the season, Vanderbilt (0-2) has just two takeaways through two games.
“It is disappointing,” linebacker Karl Butler said. “We know our strengths and that is one of our strengths. ... You just can’t go out there during game day and expect it to happen. You have to do it throughout the week [in practice] to make a habit.”
The Commodores failed to record a turnover against Northwestern last weekend and head into Saturday’s game against Presbyterian (1-1) ranked 10th in the SEC with a -1 turnover margin.
“We see it as room to improve and we have a lot of room to improve,” safety Javon Marshall said. “As good as our defense is we can continue to work on the little things — stripping the ball, being in the right position, not to make big hits but make interceptions instead of big hits. ... We’re going to start going for the ball more often — like last year.”
Through the first four games of 2011, Vanderbilt led the country with 14 interceptions. The Commodores finished the season with 19. But cornerback Casey Hayward, now with the Green Bay Packers, accounted for seven interceptions, which tied for a school record.
This fall, coach James Franklin said the takeaways will be a result of a collective effort.
“Casey Hayward is a special guy. He had unbelievable instincts. ... They came in bunches last year. We probably got a little spoiled by it,” Franklin said. “I still think we can have the same type of production but it is going to have to come from a more overall team concept. But we want to get our hands on the ball as much as we possibly can.”
• QB update: After practice Wednesday, Franklin said his depth chart hasn’t changed “to this point” and Jordan Rodgers is still his first-team quarterback.
He said Rodgers, backup Austyn Carta-Samuels and true freshman Patton Robinette all have competed better in practice this week. Against Northwestern, Rodgers lost two fumbles and completed just 51.5 percent of his passes as Vanderbilt scored just 13 points for the second straight week.
“I’ve been very appreciative of Jordan and his attitude,” Franklin said. “I know it’s very important to him. He’s worked extremely hard all offseason. We’re just going to keep plugging away and trying to get better. ... Last year, the quarterback probably got way too much credit. The head coach probably got way too much credit. This year, the quarterback is probably getting a little too much blame. The head coach is getting the right amount of blame.”
Neither Rodgers nor Carta-Samuels were made available to the media.
“It’s just a distraction,” Franklin said. “… I’ll answer those questions, let those guys focus on the game and playing well.”
• Carries for Norman: Last weekend, injury plagued running back Warren Norman played in a game for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010.
The former SEC Freshman of the Year did not rush the ball but played in one series. Franklin said his workload will increase this week.
“He’ll probably get a few carries,” he said. “If those carries go for a lot of yards, he’ll get more. If they don’t, somebody else will. That hasn’t changed. You practice well in practice, you’ll play in games.”
• Ladler could play: Safety Kenny Ladler did not practice Wednesday but Franklin said he might on Thursday. He also isn’t counting out the possibility he’ll be available for Saturday’s game.
The junior free safety, who leads the team with 16 tackles, left last weekend’s game with an undisclosed injury. On Monday, Franklin said Ladler would not play against Presbyterian. But now, Franklin said he could be available.
“He is doing very, very well,” Franklin said. “Everything has come back great. He is in really good shape. If we have to play him this weekend I think we can do that.”