Warren Norman and Zac Stacy know a thing or two about making big plays.
At his Monday press conference, Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell said he needed playmakers to step up at wide receiver. That’s not a concern he has at running back.
Just two games into the season, the Commodores' sophomore rushing tandem has stepped up in timely situations. Against LSU, Norman belted out a 51-yard run that put VU inside the LSU 10-yard line and gave his team a chance to cut into a 10-0 deficit. VU ultimately settled for a field goal. Down 23-15 in the opener against Northwestern, Stacy gave Vanderbilt a chance to tie it late in the forth quarter when he got loose on a 33-yard touchdown run.
A home-run rushing play takes a combination of several things.
“(You need) good blocking up front and to take advantage of a defensive blown assignment, something like that,” Norman said. “Once you get past the linebackers, there’s always the potential for a big play. That’s what happened last week.”
Big yardage running plays start with blocking up front but there is a time when the ball carrier has to make an individual move to beat the defender.
Stacy described a switch that goes off when he finds himself in a one-on-one situation with a defender in the open field. That’s when he steps up to make a play.
“Oh yeah, (running backs) coach Des Kitchings always talks about beating a guy athletically or physically,” he said. “That’s the mindset we have each game.”
Norman and Stacy have made good on big-time plays this season while operating under 100 percent. They both dealt with knee issues in the two weeks leading up to the season and haven't completely recovered.
When fully healthy, the two demand the full attention from opposing defenses.
In 2009, Stacy and Norman combined for 1,298 yards rushing, even with Stacy missing two games due to injury. The big plays were there.
On the road against Rice, Norman got loose for a 58-yard touchdown in the forth quarter. In the first half against Georgia Tech, Norman returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. On the next VU drive, Stacy took off for a 62-yard touchdown. Big plays tend to motivate others to make big plays.
“It just gives momentum to the offense,” Stacy explained. “It’s good we have a rotation system going on throughout the game because Warren makes a big play, and then I come in fresh. That’s expected, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Caldwell and his staff are grooming several young wide receivers and hope they develop into big-time playmakers. In Norman and Stacy, the Vanderbilt backfield has two playmakers that can take it to the house when the opportunity presents itself. That’s where the team will look to find an offensive spark to build momentum as they head towards Saturday’s road opener at Ole Miss.
“Our playmakers right now are our backs,” Caldwell stated. “And they’re not a hundred percent, but they’re still our playmakers.”
• Vanderbilt practiced with artificial crowd noise on Tuesday. In order to prepare for the first road SEC game against Ole Miss, the coaching staff blasted recordings of raucous crowd noise over the sound system at the team's practice facility.
“We’re just doing everything we can to try and distract them and make sure they concentrate,” Caldwell said.
• Junior cornerback Jamie Graham, who missed the first two games with a groin injury, is on track to play Saturday.
“He practiced some (Tuesday) and it looked like he opened his hips up a little,” Caldwell said. “I think he may make it for Saturday. I’m ready for him.”
• Caldwell is slightly altering the Vanderbilt’s traditional road schedule this week. He said the team would practice in Nashville on Friday morning, before heading down. In the past, the team has practiced in Tupelo or Oxford the day before playing Ole Miss on the road.
“We’re going to make it a business trip,” he said. “We’re going to go down there, get to work and come back.”