“We are Vanderbilt students, we ought to be pretty sharp,” coach Robbie Caldwell noted on Monday.
After one game as a head coach, he expects his players to play smarter; it’s something the program is known for.
Vanderbilt is generally among the SEC’s best in regard to penalties. Last Saturday against Northwestern the Commodores were flagged nine times for a total of 91 yards. Last season, the Commodores averaged just 50 penalty yards per game.
“It’s very disappointing because we’re normally the most disciplined team in the SEC when it comes to penalties and we will get back to that,” Caldwell said.
Running back Warren Norman views penalties as one of the most disappointing things about the 23-21 loss at home. He called it a mental issue and said that the two 15-yard personal fouls the Commodore’s received were uncharacteristic.
“We feel like that’s our biggest issue right now,” Norman said. “We’re beating ourselves instead of the opposite team beating us. That’s something we’re going to work on in practice this weekend and hopefully get straightened out before (this) Saturday.”
VU outgained Northwestern 432 to 365. With penalty yards added, the numbers even up to Northwestern 456, Vanderbilt 472.
Moreso, there is a deflating aspect to stopping a drive, only to see it continue when a flag is thrown. Caldwell noted the penalties detract from the efforts of the defense.
“Those mistakes continued some drives and added some more yards to it that would have been a stop,” he said.
Even so, Caldwell doesn’t want to alter anything about one play that accounted 15 of the 91 penalty yards.
Safety Jay Fullam laid a shoulder-level hit on Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa on a third down during the last drive of the game. Officials determined the hit was high and called Fullam for personal foul. The penalty extended the Wildcat’s drive and VU never got another chance to win the game.
Caldwell said he doesn’t blame the officials, but he liked the play by Fullam, who also was called for a late hit earlier in the contest.
“Let me put it this way, I would tell Jay Fullam to make those same plays exactly like he made them,” he said.
But many of the Commodores’ penalties were simply mental lapses. One was the result of Vanderbilt having too few linemen while punting. Caldwell attributed that gaffe to inexperience.
“That’s not very smart on our part,” he admitted. “That was our fault. One was a young person the first time he’d ever played in a college game. First game jitters, I had them too.
Caldwell noted that he expects mental errors to reduce as young players get used to the field. The return of experienced players will help the process as well.
Caldwell expects junior cornerback Jamie Graham to return from a groin injury this week. Wide receiver Tray Herndon and offensive tackle Ryan Seymour will see action against LSU after missing due to academic reasons.
“In all stages of the game we’ve made some mistakes that can certainly be corrected,” Caldwell said. “We had a lot of first time players out there on that field and several of them first time starters. I’m not complaining and I’m not crying, I’m excited because they’ll learn from this.”