Commodores hope to feast on home cooking

Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 12:23am

Ready or not, Vanderbilt was shoved into the pool a year ago by opening the season with road games at Michigan and Alabama.

This year, the Commodores can gently dip their toes in first.

Vanderbilt opens its season Saturday against Division I-AA Richmond, the first of four straight home games this month. Not until an Oct. 6 trip to Auburn do the Commodores hit the road.

VU coach Bobby Johnson he hopes the comforts of home helps his team settle into a productive routine.

“I like it a lot,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot easier to play at home. You don’t have to get on buses, go to airports, get on planes, go through security and tote your equipment halfway across the country. It’s just a comfort zone that you get in.”

Vanderbilt, coming off a 4-8 season in 2006, is shooting for its first bowl appearance since 1982.

Players say this month’s home stand, part of a school-record eight home games this fall, will be vital in that quest.

“We definitely are excited about that,” defensive tackle Theo Horrocks said. “We have to reclaim our stadium. We haven’t been too great over there in the past, so we’re going to try to get over there and make that our home again.”

Since Johnson arrived at Vanderbilt in 2002, his teams are 10-22 at Vanderbilt Stadium. Included was a 37-13 victory over Richmond in 2005.

The Commodores, accustomed to playing in cavernous stadiums throughout the Southeastern Conference, believe they can create an intimidating environment of their own.

“I definitely do feel like it’s something we need to take advantage of,” offensive tackle Chris Williams said. “We want to make this a tough place to play. We want to make this another SEC stadium where people fear coming in here. We might not have 100,000 people, but the 35 or 40 (thousand) that we have can be really good for us.”

Johnson, who said his team is deeper and more talented than ever, said the Commodores are more prepared to play well at home.

“Most places that are tough to play is because of the team you’re playing,” he said. “It’s not because of the fans, the atmosphere or whatever. If we can put a good team on the field at Vanderbilt Stadium, we’re going to have a better chance of playing well.”

In addition, Vanderbilt welcomes a respite from practicing in searing heat. This has been the hottest recorded summer in Nashville since 1952.

“We’ve had three long weeks of getting ready in some pretty tough heat, so I think our guys are ready to play a football game,” Johnson said.

GOLD NUGGETS: Johnson said injured linebacker Patrick Benoist is not expected to practice this week or play Saturday. Benoist, competing for a starting position, sustained an ankle sprain during last Wednesday’s practice. …As part of VU’s “Nashville Night” promotion, all tickets for Saturday’s game are $12. …Vanderbilt recruited Richmond starting quarterback Eric Ward, a native of Atlanta who was named Atlantic-10 Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 after passing for 1,424 yards and 11 touchdowns.

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