Kentucky facing a new breed of Vanderbilt

Commodores have a swagger with franklin as coach, Rodgers at QB

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 12, 2011 

SEC Vanderbilt Football

Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin has instilled confidence in his players. "These kids are very, very hungry, as you can imagine," he said.

DAVE MARTIN — AP

This is not your father's Vanderbilt team.

Or your grandfather's Vanderbilt team.

Or your great-grandfather's Vanderbilt team.

It's new coach James Franklin's Vanderbilt team and it has a different swagger, a different look and some serious playmakers.

"We're going to be aggressive, we're going to fight, we're not going to be denied from trying to reach our goals," Franklin said.

Kentucky's players and coaches have seen it on film. They know they're going up against a deceptive 4-5 Vanderbilt team on the road Saturday.

"It's not the old Vanderbilt at all," UK linebacker Ronnie Sneed said this week. "The old Vanderbilt was — I wouldn't say a pushover, but when compared to some of the other teams — they didn't really put up too much of a fight. But this year, they're playing everybody close."

The Commodores, who like UK have one Southeastern Conference victory this season, lost to Florida, Arkansas and Georgia by a combined 13 points.

Compare that with the 119 combined points that the Commodores lost to those three teams just a season ago and the evolution seems more staggering.

Four of Vandy's five losses have come against ranked teams.

The Commodores feel as though they have something to prove.

"We go into every game thinking we could win, we really do," said quarterback Jordan Rodgers, brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "We worked really hard this last spring, off-season, and we didn't work hard to be an underdog, we didn't work hard to go into a game thinking, maybe we could win this. We worked hard so we could go into a game knowing we could win."

Rodgers has been a big part of the Commodores' turnaround. In the past three games, he has been responsible for eight touchdowns — four in the air and four rushing — and is averaging 301.7 yards of offense.

He has a fellow playmaker in junior running back Zac Stacy, who is sixth in the league in rushing, averaging 84 yards a game and 5.9 yards per carry.

On defense, the Commodores are second in the league in takeaways with 23; they have 15 interceptions. They are plus-three in turnover margin.

But UK believes it now has in place its own playmakers.

Offensive players like freshman quarterback Max Smith, running back CoShik Williams and receivers like Matt Roark and La'Rod King.

The Cats (4-5, 1-4) are flying much higher after a win over Mississippi, the players said this week.

"We went in there and pounded on those guys and it boosted confidence on both sides of the ball," Sneed said. "It really helped us in our confidence and showed us as long as we play together and play a complete game, we have a good team."

Both teams have something to prove and are still two wins away from a bowl berth with just three games available to get there.

"This is going to be one of those games that will come down to the wire," Sneed said. "Everyone's going to be fighting to get what they can."

It's that fight that Vanderbilt hopes to call its signature in the future.

"There are some things happening and I think there's no doubt that there's been a change," Franklin said. "Is it as dramatic and as fast as people would like it to be or I'd like it to be? No, but we're heading in the right direction, I don't think there's any doubt in that."

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